At mealtime a parent may comfortably give their toddler a spoon, but never a knife. Eventually the child’s place setting will include one, but not until there is the maturity and self-control to safely employ its use. Perhaps this restrictive image is one we should recall when we consider God’s warning that “rash words are like thrusts of a sword” (Pr.12:18). Sadly, we often prove to be more like toddlers than responsible children when we fail to exercise the needed maturity and self-control to wield our words constructively (Eph.4:29).
A cautious respect for the power of words is something frequently encouraged in Scripture. “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire” we are told in James 3, when advised concerning the serious damage our words can cause (v.5). What huge ships, like the entire course of our lives, can be quickly redirected by such a small rudder (v.4). So let us be reminded of the high cost of immature outbursts and childish rants, and echo the prayer of David: “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil” (Ps.141:3–4).
Let us heed the instruction of James 1:19 and “be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” And let us always remember that when we have cut and injured with our words, our words can also bring healing—begin by making it right with the Lord, as Hosea 14:2 tells us: “Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to him, ‘Take away all iniquity.’” And then, of course, let’s make it right with each other, as we sincerely apologize, seek forgiveness, and genuinely reaffirm our love for one another. As the exhortation of James on the power of words concludes: “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (3:18).