The Sticks and Stones Fallacy

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Many of us heard these words spoken repeatedly on the playground as children. While it is a well meant sentiment intended to build resilience in the face of brutal verbal bullying, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Such a statement is logically unsound, implying that only physical acts have consequences; however, words do have the power to move us to action. In history’s very first recorded words, God spoke light into existence. In His omnipotence, He could have chosen to snap His fingers or illuminate the world with a silent thought, but He spoke, indicating the importance He places on the spoken word. While we don’t possess the creative ability of God, our spoken or written words have the capacity to inspire chaos or calm. Consider Proverbs 15:1 which tells us that “A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” As much as we would like to think otherwise, words do have consequences.

Words are a currency that once spent, cannot be refunded. Many times I have wished it were so, but it’s impossible to snatch them out of midair once they leave my mouth. They are instantly etched on the heart and inscribed on the mind of the recipient. My grandfather had the following statement scribbled on the inside cover of one of his Bibles: “I’ve regretted often the things I’ve said…but I’ve never regretted my silence.” He was a wise man. Words can be wielded with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel when spoken by a friend for healing, or with the carelessness of a machete when employed by an enemy for harm. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb: sweet to the taste and health to the body.” Technology further weaponizes words in online culture as we celebrate mic drops, revel in putting others on blast, and encourage the lobbing of truth bombs. WE OFTEN FEEL THE NEED TO GO INTO ALL CAPS MODE TO FURTHER EMPHASIZE A POINT. Given the arsenal at our disposal, it’s more important than ever to remember the power of words. My words matter, our words matter, and most importantly, God’s Word matters.

My Words Matter

Research reveals that women speak between 10,000 and 20,000 words per day. If I allow myself a very generous eight hours of sleep per night, that means I speak an average of 625 words per hour that I am awake. As I engage in conversation with my daily allowance of words, my main goal should be to point others to Christ. While the name of Jesus doesn’t necessarily come up in every conversation, my words are certainly an outward manifestation of Christ’s work in me. We are admonished in Colossians 4:6 to, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.” Just as salt enhances the flavor of the food it seasons, my words should enhance the flavor of a life lived by grace through faith. Only then am I able to gently and respectfully give an answer for the hope that is in me (I Peter 3:15). Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias reminds us that behind every question is a questioner. Only when I have taken the time to listen to the person on the other side of the conversation can I chose words that adequately address the doubt, pain, or fear behind her questions. My words matter as I speak life to those divinely placed in my path each day.

Our Words Matter

With the advent of social media, we say things to each other online that we would never say face to face. We quickly tap out words on a keyboard, add a clever emoji or GIF, and press send before considering the impact on the person at the other end of the digital pipeline. Many times we are more interested in being witty or right than we are in being kind. Arguments escalate at gigahertz speed, and we forget that it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable. Colossians 3:16 provides a different approach as we are encouraged to “Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” As we consider that the living Word, Christ Himself, dwells among us, we become more aware of how we speak to each other, online or in person, and are inclined to treat each other with greater deference. We then understand that we can charitably seek clarity without insisting upon complete agreement in all things. The words we share between us matter because they are the outward demonstration of the emotions and thoughts we have settled in our hearts and minds.

His Word Matters

John 1:1 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus, the Word wrapped in flesh, was with the Father when He spoke the world into existence. As the breath of God moved each inspired stroke of the pen, His earthly messengers inscribed this very Word throughout the pages of scripture. This Living Word then came to earth, lived sinlessly among us, died an excruciating death, and was resurrected on the third day. For us, the Living Word leaps off the pages of God’s written Word and embraces us with the truth of the gospel. As beneficiaries of God’s grace, the light of the gospel safely guides us through the dark valleys of this world, and serves as “a lamp for our feet and a light for our paths.” (Psalm 119:105) God’s Word, the gospel, matters most of all because it is the “power of God for salvation.” (Romans 1:16)

If words are so important to our Heavenly Father, shouldn’t we be more careful about how we use them in our daily interactions? We should select our words with precision, and consider their potential for both building up and tearing down. Just as a skilled sculptor chips away at the marble to reveal the masterpiece hidden within, our words have the power to bring the best in each other to the surface or to dredge up the less desirable attributes in our fellow image bearers. Keeping this in mind, let’s choose our words wisely, speak to each other kindly, and follow the light of God’s Word daily.