I stand with my back to the hot sun as my friend rests on the park bench. In the fallout of a fight I witnessed, she tries to justify her side of the story. As she lists his crimes against her and her family, she finds creative and vulgar ways to tear her opponent down through her speech, not unlike the insults he hurled at her in his rage the day before. When asked how trading insult for insult will help the situation, she responds that it won’t. But by her forceful, “I can forgive, but I can’t forget,” I don’t think she wants it to. Instead, she finds pleasure in spitting obscentities as if it will somehow make up for what he said to her.
As Christians, we must not only be aware of the subtle power of words, but of the overriding power of the Word made flesh, who teaches us how to use words for rebuke and restoration, not revenge.
Words are more than just sounds we make, symbols we write, or keys we tap. They can give life or, like the fight I witnessed, injure. They can be used as tools to encourage or to degrade. And more often than not, the manner in which a seemingly innocuous word is spoken can be more damaging than a vulgar insult. We are called to speak and write for the glory of his name rather than the glory of ourselves. The Great Commission sends us out to be peacemakers and restorers by speaking the good news of salvation.
Jesus’ words are not always compliments that we would like to hear. In Matthew 23, he has a number of choice words for the Pharisees and teachers of the law, including “a brood of vipers” and “whitewashed tombs”. However, he was not responding to personal insult but to their unjust treatment of others. He didn’t stop there; he explained their wrong actions and laid out a path for correction. Our words should similarly be motivated by love and the good of the other, even if they must sting.
As we speak, may our tongues proclaim the love of the Father. As we write, may our words turn others’ attentions to the beauty and complexity of creation. May our language probe brokenness and contemplate healing. As we walk through life, may we be people who make great the name of the living Word, who humbled himself to dwell among us—not people who seek to make our own names great.