When I was growing up I was taught a big, fat, lie. It was not from my parents or a teacher or some other trusted adult. The lie came through friends who they themselves learned from someone else. And the lie came in the form of a childhood rhyme that you probably know very well because you were taught the same big, fat, lie. And it goes like this…
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.”
I am not too sure why I bought into that lie. I think maybe I used it as a make-shift shield against bullies trying to make me cry (and believe me ~ I had a few of those people in my life growing up). Maybe it was because I knew that those bullies would never use sticks and stones to actually break my bones so you might as well stop with the names. But all the while I was using this rhyme as a weak, invisible shield, I was being hurt more than any damage that sticks and stones could inflict.
Names and words do hurt.
I started thinking about this rhyme as I began my sermon prep this week on the 8th Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” And as I was remembering, all those names I was called as a child came rushing back. I still remember the pain those names caused. I still remember the laughter of those kids. In a way, I wish they had broken some of my bones with stick and stones instead of using words to hurt me.
And today, the use of words continues to be a problem as many kids experience bullying online. Even rough and tough football players are not immune to the power of words. In the book of James, the author says that the tongue is something that can not be tamed. The same tongue we use to praise God is used to hurt our neighbor. And I think the worst thing about this is that often times we don’t realize the pain we are causing because so many people try to hide their pain lest they look weak.
Maybe we spread a rumor about someone (true or not, it doesn’t matter). Maybe we attack a person’s character without all the facts. Maybe we participate in back stabbing. Maybe we betray a person’s trust through sharing a secret. Maybe we use words in a way that sounds comforting but really causes more hurt. Whatever the form and context of our words, we need to be very mindful of what we are saying. Luther’s Small Catechism has a great explanation of this commandment; one that we would do well to remember:
We are to fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain his actions in the kindest way.
Romans 10 says that faith comes from hearing. Since that is true then how do we proclaim the Gospel and build faith if we are using words in destructive ways? May God be praised in all we SAY and do.
Dear Lord, grant me a kind tongue that seeks to speak well of others and gives you glory. May my words not harm my neighbor but rather lift them up. In Jesus name, Amen.
The pastor -|—