“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me!” Have you ever spoken that familiar phrase?” Has anyone ever spoken them to you? These words serve as a good defense mechanism for someone who is being ridiculed and taunted. But those who use this phrase also know that it’s not true. Words do hurt! Words sometimes hurt more than cuts and bruises inflicted by sticks and stones. Moreover, the pain from hurtful words seems to linger far longer than any physical abrasions and welts we may have received.
How we use our tongues or the gift of speech is the subject of the Eighth (Ninth as others number them.) Commandment found in Exodus 20:16 – “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” This commandment barely touches on the many sins we can and do commit with the precious gift of speech. Marriages destroyed, friends alienated, wars between nations started – all over words.
As we enter another campaign season, we can find ample number of examples of sins against the 8th Commandment. Political mud-slinging and name-calling have been going on for years as candidates conclude that degrading and denouncing their opponent will eventually win them the election. Unfortunately, in our sinful world today, that approach is often successful. That however doesn’t make it right.
Yet it is not just politicians who sin against the Eighth Commandment. We all do it. When we lie to or about someone else, when we betray another person’s confidence, when we say things that ruin another’s reputation, we are sinning. Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you” (Mt ). What usually happens is that we will tell everyone else about what our brother did but never speak to them. “Did you hear that Randy is having an affair?” “Did you know that Angie is pregnant and she’s only 16!” So it goes. We spread the news. We destroy people’s reputations. We hurt their feelings. We sin against the Eighth Commandment and we do it over and over again.
In James 3:2 we are told that if we could control our tongue and keep it from sinning, we could control the rest of our body as well. The truth is – “we can’t.” We need God’s forgiveness in Christ.
If only we would follow our dear Lord’s example. Speak the truth in love. Use your words to help and heal, to admonish and instruct, to witness to the Lord and praise his Name, to bring the Good News of the Savior to others.