Hurtful Words

Posted on: June 3rd, 2012

We’ve all been on the wrong end of another’s snide, cruel, and malicious remarks; and I can tell you this, it’s no fun. Sadly, even though we know the pain and heartache caused by such words, most of us dish it out as well. I don’t know why, but it’s almost as if we relish the chance to hurt others. Perhaps we feel superior by unleashing our vile and denigrating remarks on another. It’s also possible we talk bad about someone else to hide our own insecurities and low self-esteem. Whatever the reason happens to be, there’s no excuse for Christians to spew out crude comments.

I want you to think about the company you’re keeping when you mock and make fun of others. The Athenian pagans mocked Paul’s teaching about the resurrection (Acts 17:32). Herod and his soldiers made fun of Christ (Luke 23:11). Pilate’s soldiers mock our Lord by placing a crown of thorns on his head and saying “Hail, King of the Jews.” They then spat on Him and struck Him on the head with a reed (Matt. 27:28-31). As Jesus hung on the cross the people and rulers “sneered, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God’” (Luke 23:35). The soldiers continued their ridicule by saying “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself” (Luke 23:36-37).

Jesus was above their foolish and ignorant jeering, and in fact He even asked God to forgive them (Luke 23:34). He did not lower Himself to their level nor did He reply in kind. Why didn’t He react as many of us do when we find ourselves the object of another’s scorn? I would suggest that our Lord overcame because of His high character and confidence. Christ also remained focused on His purpose and mission, knowing that atrocities would come from the unrighteous. He accepted these as “part of the job”.

As Christians we have a spiritual job to do, and we need to approach our duty just as Jesus did. We need to realize that people are going to be mean to us on two fronts. First, people mistreat people and so we will face what everyone does. Then add to this point the reality that evil people will oppose and mistreat Christians. Jesus did not try to hide this truth, but rather He encouraged His disciples to do right under all conditions (John 15:18-21). If you want to know how to respond when people are ugly to you, there’s no better example than Christ (1 Peter 2:18-24).

Peter tells us the best way to avoid another’s cruelty is to live right, but he also warns this is not a failsafe guarantee (1 Peter 3:13-17). He also urges us to not be afraid or intimidated when people unjustly speak evil of us. If you’re maligned because of your faith or for doing right, don’t cower down but rather defend your hope. He tells us to do it with “gentleness and reverence” instead of reacting in kind with malice and harshness.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I recall saying this as a child when kids made fun of me or said something ugly about me. What I also remember is that words did hurt. It was the reason I retorted with this little cliché, hoping to deflect any more unkind remarks.

God recognizes the harm words can do. Paul talks about “violent” or “despiteful” conduct in Romans chapter one and warns that God will judge those who practice such (Rom. 1:28-32). Scholars tell us the Greek word for violent or despiteful include both injurious words and acts. Diotrephes was guilty of speaking maliciously against John (3 John 9-10). Filthy, foolish, and crude language must “not even be named among” Christians (Eph. 5:3-5). Again, the idea involves words that harm others. Do you really want to face God’s wrath because you viciously make fun of someone?

One of the most fundamental teachings of New Testament deals with the way we should love one another (Gal. 5:14). Paul follows up with a warning against biting and devouring one another to a point where we consume each other (Gal. 5:15). He then talks about the “works of the flesh” which include acts perpetrated by the tongue (Gal. 5:20-21). These too involve malicious and hurtful words. He emphatically states “that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

We sometimes excuse our words as good clean fun or just joking around. How do I know when I’m crossing the line from something innocent to speech that condemns me? The first test is my motive for saying what I say. I know my purpose, whether it’s a jab to insult or to make the person feel bad.

It’s also important to consider how the person is taking “my little joke”. If he doesn’t think it is funny then perhaps it’s not. Why in the world would I want to continue the “fun” if it’s hurting the other person?

I believe some matters are off limits and we know it. You should not make fun of another’s physique, looks, or intelligence. You should never disparage a person’s family. Don’t try to make someone look bad in front of others. Even if we don’t mean anything by it, making fun of these can get quickly out of control.

Christ states a good test for me to judge the nature of my words in Matthew 7:12. He says “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.” We would avoid many problems if we would just apply this principle. Words matter, so be careful what you say and how you say them.

– Terry Starling