By Charles Gerber
I remember hearing three common sayings about communication as I grew up: (1) “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” (2) “I am rubber, you are glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you,” and (3) “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Statements like these can be misleading. Words can hurt. Hurtful words can stay with us. Love means saying eight powerful words: “I was wrong. I’m
sorry. Please forgive me!”
Words have power. Solomon understood this. Communication is a common theme in Proverbs. Proverbs 18:21 states, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 13:2, 3 states, “From the fruit of his lips a man enjoys good things, but the unfaithful have a craving for violence. He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin” (NIV, 1984) Proverbs 15:4 notes, “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”
These three passages alone show the great power wielded by the words we speak. In this sense, there are no neutral words. Words are either positive or negative. If we guard our mouth, we guard our life. Rash words cause ruin. Anthony Robbins said, “The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.”
Our words can heal, and they can injure. Our words can crush the most important part of a person, the spirit. Words can destroy a person’s dreams and desires, goals and expectations.
The apostle James compared the tongue to a ship’s rudder (James 3:4, 5). Communication directs the course of our lives—the quality of the cruise. Communication determines the depth, direction, and duration of a relationship. Rollo May observed, “Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy, and mutual valuing.” As a Christian counselor, one of the things I work on the most with couples is communication. Solomon wrote, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Proverbs 10:19).
David wrote, “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence” (Psalm 39:1). In other words, every thought does not have to become a word.
James adds, “The tongue is also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:6-8).
In this instance James says nothing positive about the tongue. He uses such words and phrases as: fire, corrupts, cannot be tamed, restless evil, full of deadly poison. Think of the destructive power associated with these words.
Principles of Communication
Everything we do communicates something. Wearing my Chicago White Sox baseball cap communicates I am a Sox fan. Ironically, the cap was given to me by one of my elders, a Yankees fan. I am assuming he is communicating he is not a White Sox fan; therefore he gave me the cap.
Everything we say is open to the interpretation of the listener. We don’t always know how our words are perceived by those who hear us.
Men and women communicate differently. Bill Cosby said, “Men and women belong to different species and communications between them is still in its infancy.” Mack and Brenda Timberlake have observed, “Communication between two human beings can be confusing, especially if one is the husband and the other is the wife.”
We need to listen to what is not being said. Sometimes what a person chooses not to say is as important as what he says.
Once a word is spoken it can never be taken back. I teach a communication class at Central Christian College of the Bible in Moberly, Missouri. Four of my favorite discussion starters are: (1) As you were growing up, what words did you fail to hear that you wanted to hear? (2) What words did you hear that you did not want to hear? (3) How difficult is it to get rid of negative word memories? (4) How difficult is it to get rid of the feelings you harbor because of negative words and memories?
The tongue has amazing power to affect how we think and feel. Words can lower a person’s self-esteem in a heartbeat. People tend to be like Velcro when it comes to receiving criticism and like Teflon when it comes to receiving compliments. I wish this were reversed. We tend to hear criticisms as true and compliments as false. What would happen if we believed compliments? What would happen if we considered the source of the criticism before taking a statement to heart?
The High Five of Communication
Ephesians 4:29 is one of the key communication passages in the Bible. Through the Holy Spirit Paul provided a series of principles I call “the high five of communication.”
Nothing unwholesome should come out of our mouths. The Greek word unwholesome (corrupt in the King James Version) means “rotten” or “worthless.” Rotten reminds me of food I can eat, which goes back to “those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21). Rotten food is neither healthy nor nutritious. Proverbs 10:21 states, “The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of judgment.”
Our communication must be helpful, not harmful. Words should offer hope and encouragement. Words should be fruitful and bless.
Our communication must build up, not destroy. The word build means “to edify,” which can mean to build a structure or to confirm. Paul writes in Romans 14:19 about mutual edification and peace. The two words go hand in hand.
Our communication must meet needs. We must be aware of a need before we can meet it. One of the best ways to determine needs is to listen and ask questions. Listening is a powerful communication skill. Listening shows concern. Asking questions shows interest. Since Jesus never asked a question to which he did not already know the answer, why did he ask? Because answering questions based on needs strengthens relationships.
Our communication must be beneficial. The KJV uses the phrase “may it minister grace” (Ephesians 4:29). Paul instructed the church to make sure their conversations were “full of grace” (Colossians 4:6, NIV, 1984).
What would happen if Christians built all their communication around the high five? This pattern has the power to set people free from their pasts. Such words have power to heal broken relationships, hearts, and minds (Proverbs 12:18). This verse highlights the contradictory power of words. Words can wound but they can also heal. Words come from the heart (Matthew 12:34; 15:19) but can also wound the heart. Words express values, but also diminish a person’s value.
The tongue’s ultimate power is judgment. Jesus said we will have to give an account for every careless word we have spoken (12:36). The word careless appears only once in the New International Version (1984). It is defined as “lazy, useless, barren, and inactive.” Does this describe much of the communication we receive today?
Jesus also said, “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (12:37). Perhaps the best prayer we can pray regarding our communication is, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
Charles Gerber is a freelance writer in Muncie, Indiana.
Curbing Conflict with Your Words
The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande
Growing Through Conflict: Lessons from the Life of David
by Erwin W. Lutzer
(Kregel Publications, 2012)
The Ten Commandments of Working in a Hostile Environment
by T.D. Jakes
(Berkley Hardcover, 2005)
Conflict-Free Living: How to Build Healthy Relationships for Life
by Joyce Meyer
(Charisma House, 2012)
Peace: Overcoming Anxiety and Conflict
by Jack Kuhatschek
Everyday Battles: Knowing God Through Our Daily Conflicts
by Bob Schultz
(Boulder Creek Books, 2011)
Conversation Peace: Improve Your Relationships One Word at a Time
by Mary Kassian
(B & H Publishing Group, 2004)
Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent: Building Relationships, Buying Breakfasts, and Other Secrets for Connecting with Your Teenager
by Jonathan McKee
(Standard Publishing, 2011)