Have you ever heard the old adage “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me”? We used to repeat it all the time as kids. I’ve probably even called to mind this catchy saying as an adult, treating it as a magical power that would somehow protect me from the insults of others. Parents teach their kids to recite this at a very young age, presenting it as a truth to be relied upon. The problem is not only is it not true, but it is an out and out lie. This phrase, as well meaning as it may be, contradicts what the Bible tells us about our words. Not only can names hurt people, but they can do lasting damage, it can even shape a person’s perspective of themselves.
Consider what the Bible tells us about words in the book of Proverbs.
10 The name of the LORD is a strong tower;
The righteous run to it and are safe.
Where the old adage addresses names that hurt, this verse is an example of a positive name helping. Yahweh, the proper name of God, is a place of safety for the individual who runs to it. You don’t need to repeat a mantra to be safe, you need to seek protection in the name of the LORD.
Over the years my perspective of, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me”, has evolved in my thinking to mean something like, “words don’t really have power over me.” Although it may be true that actions often time speak louder than words, it does not mean words themselves are powerless.
Again we turn to the book of Proverbs for insight.
20 A man’s stomach shall be satisfied from the fruit of his mouth;
From the produce of his lips he shall be filled.
21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
And those who love it will eat its fruit.
We find New Testament evidence that this was true for Jesus. He healed on more than one occasion simply by use of His words. But for us? Really? Are Death and life truly in the power of our tongues? How could what we say “satisfy our stomachs”?
Maybe we can write this scripture passage off as metaphorical? Well, if that’s the case, what’s the point this metaphor is designed to communicate? I’ve never taken a dead person by the hand and brought them to life by saying, “rise”, like Jesus did. But no matter how I slice these two verses I keep seeing that words, my words are powerful. Words communicate my perspective, opinions, desires, likes and dislikes. I can build you up or tear you down by my words, and you can do the same to me with your words.
So if in my words death and life are found, what about God’s word? What can God’s words accomplish? In the very first book of the Bible we see God creating the world by merely speaking His will into existence. In the first chapter of John we see the Word of God becoming flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. All throughout the gospels we see Jesus healing and performing miracles with His words. We see Him proclaiming individuals justified before God with only His word.
12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
The scripture has so much more to say about our words and God’s words than I could ever hope to write about. So now let me ask you a question.
Why study God’s word?
Hmmm, you tell me.
All Scripture quotations from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.