“… a careless word is like the thorn of the honey locust thorn tree – it can cause a deep wound that can lead to the ‘infection’ of bitterness…” – Wally Armstrong, Practicing the Presence of Jesus
“All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God forgave you in Christ.” – Eph. 4:31-32
I have been on the receiving end of bitterness, anger, slander – spiteful words. I am quite certain we all have. As a young person, these words damaged me to my core. Thankfully, I have healed from these wounds and walk free from their pain. As an adult and a believer, I have felt mostly compassion and sorrow for the unbelievers who rage against me or my worldview. I cannot expect those who do not understand me or my views to accept them, and their opinions do not injure me.
However, there is one party from whom careless words continue to hurt – fellow believers. While there is not typically shouting involved, or even discernible anger, careless words from believers can cut a person’s confidence, self-worth, and spirit. They can cause a person to question his/her calling or even leave the church. This pain has not been my experience alone, but the story of many people I have walked with over the years. Careless words lead to a wound of offense, which can easily become bitterness. Tragically, I have seen many walk away from friendships, from churches, and even from the faith, over offenses rooted in careless words.
I am talking about hastily delivered criticisms.
I am talking about sarcasm;
about snarky side commentary;
about words said out of earshot,
because they weren’t really out of earshot. These things have a way of getting around.
I am talking to myself. I used to pride myself on my sarcastic humor. You know what sarcasm means? To tear the flesh. And I gloried in it. Now my six year old son calls me out on it, and I realize my foolishness.
Careless words break trust. As believers, we should be covenanted to one another, preferring one another in love, anxious to honor each other.
“But I’m speaking the truth in love!”
Is it in love? Is it patient and kind? Is it rude or self-seeking? Does it always protect and always trust?
“People are too easily offended! That is their problem!”
We have a responsibility to forgive offense, yes. We have an equal responsibility to guard our words, to be slow to speak. The Bible charges us to use our words to encourage, heal, and extend grace.
If we find that offense tends to follow us, perhaps we are the problem.
If I am to dwell in unity with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I must carry slow to speak and quick to forgive in equal measurings like offerings. Then I can give in trust the words of grace which build and heal.