Kind Words
by Jack Wald | January 13th, 2013

James 3:1-12

A boy runs into the house crying because someone said something mean and the boy’s mother holds her child and says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me,” as a way of soothing her son. This is a children’s rhyme that first appeared in print in 1862 and was quoted as “an old adage,” so it is somewhat older than that. This phrase is used to help children overlook the words that are said, telling them that words are not that important.

But every one of us knows this is not true. I was walking with a friend in a park one day and kids were throwing rocks at each other. I got in the way and was hit just under my right eye. I went to the doctor and he put in eighteen internal and external stitches. The doctor was very good and I have only a very faint scar from that incident. I have scars from various accidents. I have a scar on my right hand from trying to pull a cork out of a broken bottle and the scars of teeth marks on my right arm from being bitten by a donkey. Most of us have scars from some physical incident. But we also carry emotional scars from words that were spoken to us. Every one of us carries the memory of words that were said about us at one point or another in our lives that are seared in our memory. These words affect how we feel about ourselves. We carry with us the memory of words that encouraged us and words that hurt us. Words do matter.

We are continuing a series of sermons from the book of James, the brother of Jesus, who wrote this letter to the early church. We looked at the text last Sunday that talks about the connection between our faith and our actions, our deeds. What we believe must be accompanied by our good deeds and actions or our belief is empty and meaningless.

You may have heard the phrase: “He can talk the talk but can he walk the walk.” There are those who say they are Christians but do not live as through that were true. It is easy to say I am a follower of Jesus but much harder to live a life that shows I am a follower of Jesus. So James said that faith without deeds is not really faith. After writing this, I can imagine that James put down his stylus and thought about what to write next. If deeds are what matters, then are our words important? Perhaps James thought about some recent conflicts in the church and how some misunderstanding between members of the church was creating trouble. As he thought about these situations he decided to talk about the power of words because words do matter.

James wrote that our actions, our deeds, need to line up with our faith and now James takes that thought and says our words also need to line up with our new faith. Our words and our deeds both need to be in sync with our faith. What we say is important. What we say matters. Words are not insignificant.

Words are powerful. In the beginning of the Bible, in the story of creation God spoke creation into existence. (Genesis 1:3)
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

We say a picture is worth a thousand words but God did not paint creation into existence. God did not dance creation into existence. God spoke creation into existence. Painting and dance do things for us emotionally that words cannot do. God speaks to us through painting and dance and other forms of artistic expression, but it is words that communicate most clearly.

John began his Gospel describing Jesus as the Word. (John 1:1)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Jesus is the logos, the word, and the scriptures that testify about him, the Old and New Testaments are the word of God. Words have power.

In the history of the world, there have been great orators who have been able to move nations with the power of their words. In WWII both Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler used words to great affect. Hitler is now the epitome of evil and Churchill the great defender of freedom, but they both used their oratory skills to inspire people to follow them.

I want to share with you this morning the power of words to destroy, the power of words to build up and thirdly, how words reveal what is in our hearts.

Words have power to destroy. James wrote:
5–6 It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.

Words affect nations but they also affect individuals. An actor is about to go on stage and someone trying to undermine the director by ruining the play comes up and tells the lead actor, just before he goes on stage, “I think you will do wonderfully despite the fact that the director told me he thinks you are nothing more than a pretty face.” The life of the actor drains from his spirit because of the wound created by these words, his performance lacks life and the play is ruined.

A woman is jealous of her sister and so she tells the suitor of her sister that her sister laughs about him behind his back. This makes the suitor feels foolish and so he backs away rather than risk more rejection by asking the sister he loves if this is true. This little spoken word ruins a romance.

In both of these situations, what makes them so disturbing is that these actions are maliciously evil. This is how the devil works. The devil knows our insecurities and then carefully places a word that is destructive to undermine what we are trying to do. We plant one word, passing on some gossip or starting a rumor and the evil word races on.

You may have heard a quote attributed to Mark Twain, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” This is a great quote but if Mark Twain said it, he took it from C.H. Spurgeon, the great English preacher. The point is that a word that is spoken can spark a forest fire. Words matter. Words have power. Once they are spoken you cannot take them back. And because of our human nature, evil words travel rapidly. We love gossip.

Lance Armstrong, the cyclist who won the Tour de France seven times, is supposed to give an interview on Monday during which he will finally confess that he was doping during those years. This is hot news and the ratings for that show will go through the roof. We love to hear bad things about people. It makes the news interesting and exciting.

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, warning them that his next visit would deal with the negative reports he had received. (2 Corinthians 12:20)
For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.

Look at the importance of words that are spoken in these negative behaviors. Quarreling. Outbursts of anger. There is an argument and then the words begin to be heated and soon people are saying things they later regret saying.

Slander. Words are spoken that undermine others, words that attack the integrity and character of others, words that misrepresent what happened.

Gossip. We all make mistakes but when someone takes the report of a mistake we made and spreads the story, more damage can be done by the spreading of the story than the mistake that was made.

There is a lot of debate in the United States now about the right for people to own assault weapons that have been used in mass killings. But we carry a far more powerful weapon, our tongue, and we can use it to build up or destroy.

Quarreling, outbursts of anger, slander and gossip are behaviors that use words as ammunition to blast away and destroy. We are armed with words and walk through our day maiming people with our inability to control our tongues.

Some hurtful words are not spoken with malicious intent. When I was a boy, working with my father on some project and I made a mistake, I would begin to explain to him, “I thought…” and he would cut me off with, “That’s the trouble Jackson, you thought.” My dad was not a mean man, but he did not understand the power of his words and those words which I heard many times undermined me and ate at my confidence.

If we are not careful, in our preoccupation with a task or in the irritation of the moment, we can say hurtful things simply because we are not thinking about how our words will be heard.

When we were moving from the AMEP office to Villa 91 a couple weeks ago, I was wrapping books with students and I was aware that I was being very task oriented. I had a specific way I wanted the books to be wrapped for the move and some of the students were not doing exactly what I wanted to be done. I picked up that some of those working with me sensed my disapproval of how they were doing things and I tried to soften my attitude and begin to be more encouraging. After all, these students were volunteering their time to serve the church and did it really matter if the books were not wrapped exactly as I wanted?

We have to be aware of the impact of our words on others. What we say is important and does make a difference.

Words have the power to tear down but they also have the power to build up and we have vivid memories of both.

When I was a Boy Scout, about 16 years old and working on my Eagle badge, I met with a man who was advising me and I can still visualize the room where we sat as he told me that I was an impressive young man and I had a great future in front of me. The power of his words is reflected in my vivid memory of the scene when he spoke to me.

I spoke at the wedding of Joel and Happiness yesterday and one of the things I talked about in my message was the power of words in a marriage relationship. Because we open ourselves most intimately in marriage, the power of words that are spoken is greater. Suppose there is a financial crisis and the husband loses his job. When the wife says to her husband, “You are a failure, just like your father,” his spirit is crushed. But when she tells him, “I know who you are and believe you will find a way to get out of this crisis,” he is encouraged to persevere.

When a husband tells his wife he admires her ability to manage people, she is encouraged to work harder at her job. When he says to her, “You are so beautiful. I love looking at you,” she is affirmed and strengthened.

I have told before the story of the three secrets I shared with my daughters each night. Because I grew up with a poor self-image, I was determined to speak strength into my daughters. So every night when I put them to bed I would whisper these three secrets into their ears: “You are smart. You are beautiful. You are fun to be with.” From their earliest years I told them this and after awhile I would ask them to remind me what our secrets were. They would tell me, “I am smart. I am beautiful. I am fun to be with.”

We moved when our daughters were in 4th and 6th grades. Our daughters came into their new school in the middle of the school year, the middle of December. In February when Valentine’s Day came, all the girls in my daughter’s 6th grade class received Valentine’s Day gifts from one or more of the boys in the class, all the girls except my daughter. When I came home that night from work, she was on her bed crying. I held her, talked with her about what had happened, and told her to tell me our three secrets. It took some time but eventually she told me what they were. I told her that boys like flirty girls and she had much more substance than that. I told her someday she would meet a man who would think she was wonderful.

I realized once again that the world is trying to beat life out of our children and the responsibility of parents is to continually speak life into them. We have to defend our children against the attacks of the world by reminding them of who they are and how they are loved. This is a primary responsibility of parents. If we do not encourage our children and build them up, who else will do that? This is why parents who are physically or verbally abusive toward their children do so much damage. The one place children should feel safest becomes a place where they are attacked. Parents need to build up and encourage their children.

I take this responsibility now for my grandchildren but I also take this responsibility for other children in the church. And I take this responsibility for adults in the church as well. I am far from perfect and I know there are others who are much more encouraging and affirming than I am, but I try to build people with my words.

There is a young woman I have known since her birth. She has difficulty relating to people so she has bumpy relationships. She doesn’t like many people but I am one of those she likes and the reason she likes me is that I have consistently, over the years, encouraged her and affirmed her. I have consistently spoken words of life to her and that has made a difference.

As I said, I am far from perfect, but I want to be someone who builds others with my words, not someone who tears them down.

As you walk through your day you can spew destructive words or encouraging words. Let me share some ways to encourage others with your words.

Your words need to be kind, they need to be true and they need to be insightful.

Speak kind words to each other. Why would you want to wound someone with your words?

I am amazed sometimes when I hear people talking with their friends. I was with a woman who called one of her friends on her cell phone. The friend was talking with someone else on a second phone and put her on hold and this woman berated her. She said mean things to her and I wondered why she was being so mean. Things are said between friends that do not reflect friendship. The communication is demanding, insulting and insistent. I do not hear kindness and it pains me to hear this talk. It tells me that these people have not experienced kindness in their lives and do not know how to give it.

We need to learn how to be kind to each other. We need to learn how to be polite and respectful of each other. Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit and as we grow in our relationship with Jesus our words should become more kind.

Learn how to make people smile, inside and out, with the kind encouragement you offer.

In order to do this, the kind things you say need to be true.

If you tell someone you like their tie, but they are not wearing a tie, what good does the kind word do?

If someone is doing poorly in school, it does not encourage them to say they are good students. But here is what is true: intelligence is not defined so narrowly that only those who do well in school are intelligent. Some people are intelligent in terms of reading books, taking exams and writing papers. Others are intelligent in terms of knowing how to relate to people. Others are intelligent in knowing how to work with their hands to fix and repair things. Others are intelligent in knowing how to create art. When you take the time to identify the way a person is intelligent and compliment them about that, your kind word will be an encouragement because it is accurate and true.

You can encourage someone by telling them you like their haircut or suit or dress, but this is all superficial and the encouragement only goes so far. But when you take the time to learn more about someone and you gain deeper insights into this person, then the kind words of encouragement you speak will be much more powerful.

If your kind words are to be encouraging, they must be true. If they are to be deeply true, you will have to take time to think about the person you want to encourage. And if you want to encourage someone at their deepest level, you will need to see them with God’s eyes. This is a good thing to pray. “Father, help me see this person with your eyes.” I have prayed this many times for many people and it is amazing how this prayer always gets answered. As I pray I see the person in a new light and I have a deeper and more affectionate understanding of that person.

So build the people in your life with kind words that are true and insightful.

Words have the power to destroy. Words have the power to build up. And words reveal what is in our heart.

We are very skilled at covering up who we are when we come to church. We can have a huge argument at home and come to church and be all smiles. But the truth of who we are at the heart level will sooner or later be made known in our speech. We can control ourselves for awhile but eventually what is in our heart comes out.

James uses the teaching of Jesus more than any of the other epistles of the New Testament and this teaching that the tongue reflects what is in the heart is part of the teaching of Jesus. (Matthew 12:33–35)
“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.

Our words and our deeds come out of what is in our heart. James took this teaching and built on it.
7–10 This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!
10–12 My friends, this can’t go on. A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? Apple trees don’t bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry bushes don’t bear apples, do they? You’re not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?

James looked around at the church and observed the damage done by words. He observed the arguments during the week and the praise given in worship and he grieved that the same tongue that lifted up Jesus in worship tore down a brother or sister in Christ in an argument or dispute. Twice in his letter James wrote about not being double-minded. The inconsistent use of the tongue is one more illustration of a double-minded person.

James wrote about the need for our actions and our words to be consistent with our faith and realized that the problem is not a superficial one where we need to learn new behaviors. The problem goes deep to the heart because what is in the heart is what will be reflected. Someone who tries to cover over a polluted heart will only be able to do that for a period of time. Eventually what is in the heart will be revealed in our actions and our words.

So when you see someone who is critical, there is a critical heart. Bitter words come from a bitter heart. Boastful words come from a heart that feels small and worthless. Hurtful words come from a hurt, angry, self-loathing heart.

Philo of Alexandria said, “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” When you meet a critical person or a bitter person you know a battle is being fought. Speaking kind and encouraging words that are deeply true can begin to cleanse a polluted heart.

So if the words of our mouth reflect what is in our heart and if we want to speak kind words, then we have to guard what we put in our heart.

So what do you put in your heart and mind that will help you to have kind words toward others?

I was with some of my nephews, all young adults at the time, and they were playing a video game in which the goal was to shoot as many deer, turkeys, and other wild animals as possible. As I watched them slaughter virtual wildlife I was disturbed. Here is a question to ask, “Would Jesus enjoy watching you have fun killing as much of his creation as possible?”

Would Jesus enjoy watching you play a video game in which the goal is to kill as many human combatants as possible?

War is evil but is sometimes necessary. What makes war evil is that it destroys life. God creates and the devil destroys. War destroys those who are killed and also destroys those who kill. Sometimes war is a necessary evil but the thrill of killing should never be fed. War destroys the human spirit and video games that celebrate the slaughter of life also eat away at our human spirit.

Pornography is a world of fantasy that attacks healthy human interaction. What is watched on television and the internet stays with us and affects what we think about and how we relate to others.

We are constantly feeding our heart and the question is, “What am I feeding my heart?” Am I feeding my heart with what will produce kind words or am I feeding my heart what will produce angry and destructive words.

Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8–9
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Why is it important that you spend time each day reading your Bible and reflecting on what you read? You are feeding your heart and what you feed your heart will be reflected in your life.

Jesus concluded his teaching about the fruit trees bear by saying: (Matthew 12:36–37)
But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

James spoke words he regretted. When the Jewish rulers in Jerusalem were threatening to kill Jesus, (John 7:3–4)
Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.”

James came with his mother and other brothers to try to bring Jesus home because they were convinced he had gone mad.

We all have words we have spoken that we regret. Our words matter. What we say has power and consequences for ourselves as well as others. We speak with our mouth and tongue but what is said comes from the heart. So guard your heart. Protect your heart. Feed your heart what will nourish you and produce words that will bring life to those around you. Feed your heart so you will speak kind words that are deeply true.