I think that most of us have heard the rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!” It seems one of those sayings that parent learn to encourage kids to keep going when faced with mean people. Yes, the motive is good, but this children’s rhyme is far from the truth.
The exact roots for this children’s rhyme that lives on until today finds its earliest appearance in Alexander William Kinglake “Ethogen” a travel journal of sorts. It is later mentioned in The Christian Recorder in March of 1862 and again in another source in 1872. It seems likely that the source for this rhyme is unknown but was very well known just as it is today. I can remember hearing it and repeating it as a child and even as a adult until I stopped to ponder the words.
The older I have grown the more I am reminded of the power of words. The Bible has much to say about to power of words. The most significant is that fact that one of the names for Jesus is the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) It is here that John reminds us that Jesus was God and that he was there in the beginning with God and that he is the true God! One scholar writes, “John is asserting that the “Word” is the source of all that is visible and antedates the totality of the material world.” (Tenney, M. C. (1981). John. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts)
The Bible is filled with reminders of the power of our words. Solomon reminds us that understanding the right words give us life changing understanding. He reminds his son of the power of words to deceive us. They also have the power to direct us in life. He reminds us that speaking many words often leads to sin. He also compares rash words with the thrust of a sword, injuring others contrasted with wise words that bring healing. Words can also be used to encourage those who are burdened. Words can be used to avoid conflict, or to contribute to it. He reminds us that being intentional with our words leads to good.
Jesus’ brother, James, using the word “tongue,” remind us that our words contain the power to make a difference. “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.” (James 3:2) Thinking of the power of my words and researching the childhood rhyme I came across this poem by Ruby Redfort.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can also hurt me.
Stones and sticks break only skin, while words are ghosts that haunt me.
Slant and curved the word-swords fall, it pierces and sticks inside me.
Bats and bricks may ache through bones, but words can mortify me.
Pain from words has left its’ scar, on mind and heart that’s tender.
Cuts and bruises have not healed, it’s words that I remember.
Real life reminds us of the impact that words have had in our lives. We also need to consider the impact our words have on others. I am reminded of the necessity for the follower of Jesus to use their words to build up, encourage and even to help heal others. Speaking of childhood influences, here is a verse that my wife taught our kids at an early age that relates to how we use our words. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
-Pastor Joe Parkinson