Hurtful and Harmful Words by Woodrow Kroll
The Proverbs in the Bible say that there are two types of people who have less hope than a fool. A fool is a fool. But who could have imagined that a fool has more hope than these two types of people? Who are they? They are the people who:
1. use hasty words—Proverbs 29:20 TEV says, “There is more hope for a stupid fool than for someone who speaks without thinking.”
2. are conceited—Proverbs 26:12 TEV says, “The most stupid fool is better off than those who think they are wise when they are not.”
And why do they have less hope than a fool?
i. For the people who use hasty words, it is because they have very small chance of salvaging their hasty words. Hasty words once spoken cannot be taken back. They do their mischief and no amount of apologies, excuses and explanations would be able to undo the damage they had done. Hasty words betray a heart that has little self-control.
ii. For the people who are conceited, it is because they are too proud of themselves. They can’t see beyond themselves. They are not humble enough to see their own faults. Conceited people tend to be too critical and too harsh. Their harsh and critical words could create wounds that last a long time.
All the passages below are taken from Woodrow Kroll’s book, “God’s Guide for Life’s Choices,” which was published in 2003 by Servant Publications.
1. Hasty Words
The Book of Proverbs mentions just two things for which there is less hope than for a fool. One is conceit. Proverbs 26:12 says, “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” The other is hasty words. Proverbs 29:20 asks, “Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”
Like arrows from a bow, words once spoken cannot be recalled. Apologies sometimes don’t make up for the hurt caused by hasty words. God’s wisdom says, “A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a castle” (Proverbs 18:19 NKJV). Hasty words cheat the mind, betray the heart and ruin a life. There is but one cure for hasty words—always take your time before you respond.
1.1 Hasty Promises
We live in an era of telemarketing technology. People seeking funds for their causes don’t have to go door-to-door anymore. Phone solicitors are able to reach us in the inner sanctum of our homes. Everyone has answered a ringing telephone only to find a person at the other end wanting us to pledge to some worthy cause. How can we say no to the heart fund, the cancer drive, the leukemia foundation and so forth? Usually we cannot.
The problem is that most of us have limited funds. Out of these limited funds we must support our local church, Christian ministries and missions. It’s impossible to stretch your dollars to cover everything. Critical choices have to be made. You may indeed be touched by the need represented by the telephone solicitor and will feel led to contribute, but never make a hasty promise. It could turn out to be a lie. Instead, tell the caller to send you some information about that charity. Tell him you have to weigh your obligations. And then pray about it. Give yourself some time to get some guidance from God for even these routine matters of life. Don’t compromise God’s resources by making hasty promises. Know what His priorities are and then follow them.
1.2 Hasty Commitments
Time is another precious commodity that can be compromised by haste. The temptation to over commit ourselves is universal. We see so many needs: the Sunday school needs teachers, the youth need sponsors, the church needs deacons, the mission needs volunteers. Before you know it, you have promised to do it all. “I’ll pray the Lord gives me strength,” you say. Sometimes you learn the hard way that God gives strength for what He wants you to do—but not for the 101 other things you feel you need to do.
You cannot meet every need, and you are not called to meet every need. If you have no time for your family, if you have difficulty finding time to get alone with God, if your health is faltering because you are so exhausted meeting your commitments, likely you’ve said yes more often than God led you to.
When someone requests more of your time, don’t commit immediately. Again, tell him you need an opportunity to pray for God’s green light. Rarely should you make a commitment on the spot. Get away from the woeful eyes and pleading voice and listen to God instead. Talk it over with your spouse and pray together (he or she is the one who usually suffers the most when you are overextended). Then, when you reach a decision, stick to it.
1.3 Hasty Conclusions
In addition, never come to a hasty conclusion. Like one office worker said to another, “We don’t need a fitness program. People around here get plenty of exercise jumping to conclusions.” Hasty conclusions are often based only on partial facts, and the consequences can be embarrassing.
The Piltdown Man, discovered in 1912 near Piltdown, England, was supposedly proof of the apelike character of early man. This conclusion was based on some fragments of a skull and a jawbone. More than 500 doctoral theses were written on this subject. In 1953, however, it was discovered that the bones had been gathered together and placed in a shallow grave by a practical joker. They didn’t even come from the same carcass. Hundreds of scholars had been embarrassed by jumping to the wrong conclusion. “Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”
1.4 Hasty Retorts
Have you noticed that the first words that come to mind are often not our best words? When these words are inspired by anger or sarcasm, they can be devastating. British author and playwright George Bernard Shaw once sent Sir Winston Churchill two tickets to the opening night’s performance of one of his plays. Accompanying the tickets was Shaw’s short note, “Bring a friend, if you have one.” Churchill, also adept at saying a lot in a few words, replied: “I’ll wait for the second night, if there is one.” Such cuts and jabs may not be fatal but they are painful. They are wounds we should not inflict upon either friend or foe. “A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back” (Proverbs 29:11 NKJV).
A mouth opened in haste to make a promise, to incur a commitment, to draw a conclusion or to speak a word in retort can become a reason for regret that lasts a long time. Instead, we need to follow the wisdom in Proverbs 13:3: “He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.”
2. Lying Words
Clubhouse Magazine, published by Focus on the Family, conducted a contest in which kids were asked to give the best excuse they had ever given for not doing their homework. One boy wrote, “I went on a hot air balloon ride and we were going to crash because there was too much weight in the basket, so I threw my homework out and it saved our lives.” Where do kids get this kind of “creativity”? Likely from their parents.
“Mommy, what is a lie?” a little boy asked. His mother answered, “Son, a lie is an abomination unto the Lord—but a very present help in time of need!” By our attitudes and actions, we often teach our children just how true this is.
Writing in Boardroom Report Peter LeVine revealed, “When the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ran a help-wanted ad for electricians with expertise at using Sontag connectors, it got 170 responses even though there is no such thing as a Sontag connector. The Authority ran the ad to find out how many applicants falsify résumés.”
Of the seven things that are an abomination to the Lord, recorded in Proverbs 6:16-19, “a false witness who speaks lies” is one of the most damaging. We lie much more often than we realize. One survey showed 91 percent of Americans lie routinely. Perhaps we don’t even recognize some ways in which we lie.
But Scripture says we are lying when we:
2.1 Leave Out the Truth
This is the first lie in the Bible, told by the Father of Lies himself. In Genesis 3:1, Satan asked Eve, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” This seems like an innocent question, but behind it are several unspoken lies. First, Satan knew what God had really said. As the prince of the air with a host of demons at his command, it is likely that he knew of any conversation God had with Adam and Eve. Second, Satan was implying that God would be so strict that He would forbid them to eat from “every tree of the garden.” By withholding the truth that God had Adam’s and Eve’s best interests at heart, Satan lied.
When you imply something false by withholding the whole truth, you lie. Allowing someone else to take the blame when you are at fault is a lie. Failing to speak out with the truth when someone else is propagating error is a lie. Silence is not always golden; sometimes it’s a plain lie.
2.2 Add to the Truth
In response to Satan, Eve also lied. She said, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it lest you die’” (Genesis 3:2-3, NKJV italics mine). God had said nothing about touching the fruit (Genesis 2:17). By adding to what God had said, Eve told a lie. “Do not add to His words,” Proverbs 30:6 warns, “lest He reprove you, and you be found a liar.”
When we repeat what others say, we stand a good chance of telling a lie even if we don’t mean to. Somehow the truth loses its accuracy the more mouths and ears it has to pass through. Do you remember playing the “telephone game” when you were a child? You passed a message down the line by whispering it in the next person’s ear. Invariably, by the time it reached the end of the line, the message was so radically changed it was unrecognizable.
When you must repeat something verbally (such as a prayer request), check to make sure you have all the facts straight. Don’t intermingle your interpretation of the facts with the facts themselves and thus “enhance” the truth. Adding to the truth is just as much a lie as not telling the whole truth.
2.3 Contradict the Truth
The Garden of Eden story also includes blatant lies. Satan said, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5 NKJV). That is a direct contradiction of what God said (see Genesis 2:16-17 NKJV). God is truth; therefore, whenever we contradict Him, we are lying.
A group of Protestant and Catholic academicians are touring the United States with a presentation called the “Jesus Seminar.” It is an obvious attempt to contradict God. These so-called theologians assert that, among other things, Mary was not a virgin when she bore Jesus, He did not descend from King David, He was not born in Bethlehem, there was no slaughter of the infants, and Christ’s birth did not take place at the time of the census described in Luke. When we deny the Word, we find ourselves caught in a liar’s web—and we even begin believing the lies we tell others.
God’s wisdom warns us about lies. Whatever their shape and form, big or little, untruths must be avoided. Proverbs 17:4 says, “An evildoer gives heed to false lips; a liar listens eagerly to a spiteful tongue.”
God’s guide for life’s choices also tells us of other kinds of words that should be avoided by all who want to please Him.
3. Hurtful Words
When you were a child, did you ever chant; “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? Now that you are older you realize just how untrue that childish ditty is. Words can be very hurtful.
They are especially hurtful if they are:
3.1 Bloody Words
These are words that incite bloodshed. They are fighting words, sinister words, words filled with venom. “The words of the wicked are, ‘Lie in wait for blood” (Proverbs 12:6a NKJV).
In November 1995 the world was shocked at the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He was slain by a twenty-five-year-old student who claimed, “I acted alone on God’s orders, and I have no regrets.” But the months leading up to this crime had been filled with words of hate poured out upon the prime minister. Leaders of the Jewish settler movement had branded him a traitor for negotiating the return of land to the Palestinians. Extremist rabbis called him a murderer and said it would be morally acceptable to kill him.1
We Christians are not entirely innocent in using such words. The more conservative branches of the church not only have fought for fundamental principles of the faith, some also have fought among themselves over issues that are far from fundamental. The singing of praise choruses versus traditional hymns, the use of tile or carpet for the fellowship hall and other equally unimportant matters have been fuel for the flames. George Sweeting wrote, “Contentious tongues have hindered the work of God a thousand times over. Critical tongues have closed church doors. Careless tongues have broken the hearts and health of many pastors. The sins of the tongue have besmirched the pure white garments of the bride of Christ.”2 Let’s commit that, by God’s grace, such hurtful words will never pass from our lips.
3.2 Gossiping Words
In Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s sitting room was a pillow with the embroidered motto, “If you can’t say anything good about someone, sit right here by me.” Unfortunately, many people are willing to accept the invitation. The hurt that results from gossip is tragic. Proverbs 17:9 warns, “He who repeats a matter separates the best of friends.”
Someone personified gossip and said, “I tear down homes, break hearts, wreck lives. I travel on the wings of the wind. No innocence is strong enough to intimidate me, no purity pure enough to daunt me. I have no regard for truth, no respect for justice, no mercy for the defenseless.”
God’s wisdom says, “The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body” (Proverbs 18:8 NKJV). The Hebrew word for “tasty trifles” literally means “things greedily devoured.” In our hearts, most of us enjoy a juicy bit of gossip. But hearing gossip is like eating something delicious that once ingested, never seems to sit right in your stomach. Gossip is destructive to the gossiper as well as to the one gossiped about. Even though most people like to hear gossip, they do not respect the one gossiping. It tarnishes our testimony and turns us into birds of prey; always looking for the next morsel. “A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter” (Proverbs 11:13 NKJV).
How can we avoid gossip? Alan Redpath offered this solution. Before speaking of any person or subject, ask yourself:
T — Is it true?
H — Is it helpful?
I —Is it inspiring?
N — Is it necessary?
K— Is it kind?3
Think. If we were to think of the harm gossip does both to us and others, if we were to follow this simple formula, imagine how much hurtful gossip would be eliminated.
3.3 Harsh Words
Although harsh words are frequently used in the heat of the moment, they are never the answer to a problem. Instead, Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” In other words, a gentle answer can defuse a potentially explosive situation, but a harsh answer worsens the situation.
Researchers from the Speech Research Unit at Kenyon College in Ohio discovered that people addressed by the telephone or intercom respond in the same tone of voice that they hear. Even when they consciously try to answer in an opposite tone—a quiet voice to a loud one, or a gentle voice to an angry one—they have a hard time doing so.4
This is important to know both in the home and the workplace. If as a parent you use angry, harsh words that hit your children like blows from a sledgehammer, you may find yourself living for a lifetime with a crushed son or daughter. Words that explode at an impressionable moment can rarely be forgotten.
One pastor told of a forty-two-year-old man named Tom. As one who frantically worked himself into exhaustion, Tom spent every dime he made for impressive artifacts of luxury and success. He had a volatile temper that exploded at the slightest hint of disagreement or criticism. The pastor asked Tom to tell him about his childhood.
At one impressionable point in his boyhood, Tom said, he displeased his father with the way he did a chore. His father said, “Tom, you’ll always be a bum!” Whenever he and his father had angry moments, his father made the same prediction, so that eventually it burrowed its way into Tom’s spirit like shrapnel embedded in flesh. Thirty years later, he still suffered from his father’s verbal abuse. Even though his father was dead, Tom remained unsure whether or not his father’s prediction had come true. When anyone suggested that Tom was doing something wrong, he unleashed a barrage of hostility because of old accusations from his thoughtless father.
Be very careful of the words you say to your children, especially in anger. Harsh words can create wounds that last a lifetime, but a “gentle answer turns away wrath.” (166-174)
1. Anthony Lewis, “Once again we learn that words of hate have consequences,” Lincoln Journal Star; November 7, 1995, 6A
2. Sweeting, 77-78.
3. David L. Olford, ed., A Passion for Preaching (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 1989), 159-60.
4. Research of the Speech Research Unit, Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, as quoted in Boardroom Reports, April 1, 1995, 7.