Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Avoid Hurtful Words and Actions
But no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God. James 3:8-9NKJV
Today we complete our study Question 136 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?” The final part of the answer states, “The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are… provoking words, oppression, quarrelling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.” Last time we examined our freedom to enjoy the good things of life, so long as we do so with moderation. Today we consider our duty to avoid destructive words and actions. When we were children we used to say, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” I remember being taught that limerick as a memorable way to deal with namecalling bullies on the playground. The rhyme tries to offer comfort by reminding us that words cannot directly cause any physical harm. I suppose that is always true except only when the words are loud enough to cause structural damage to our ears! However, as anyone who has ever been called names knows, even what does not directly harm our bodies can hurt us in other far more lasting ways.
When I was very young I was periodically teased for being a “redhead.” For the most part I did not let it get to me but I still remember one time quite vividly. The sorrow and embarrassment lasted a long time afterwards. We all can identify with this kind of pain, for it is real, and often deep and long-term. It’s funny, playing outside as boys play, I know I was hit by sticks and stones on multiple occasions, but sitting here I cannot recall a single specific instance of it! Yet without even trying I can easily remember several painful times where I was made fun of, called names, or in other ways attacked with words. Oftentimes such occasions provoked in me animosity and a swift counterattack with like hurtful words, or else simmering anger resulting in the quiet plotting of future vengeance. Shamefully, I can recall being on the other side as well, when I was the one doing the provoking. Surely everyone can testify to similar experiences. How many bitter rivalries, feuds, fights, and even murders have been caused simply by words, which supposedly can never hurt me? And we have not even considered the mental anguish, stress, and anxiety caused by hurtful words, which do result in harm to our physical bodies. Thus, because of the potential danger to our lives, the Catechism wisely warns us that such speech is a violation of the command, “Thou shalt not murder.”
Additionally, just as we should avoid injuring the lives of others through “harmless” words, so also, we must not engage in any action that “tends to the destruction of the life of any.” The Catechism specifically mentions quarreling, striking or wounding. Being a boy in a small town I was in my share of quarrels where we would hit and kick each other. I don’t remember anyone getting seriously injured; and we were certainly not “trying” to kill each other; yet this is how accidents happen. Usually the fight would break out suddenly over a disagreement or argument that continued to escalate, but sometimes there was a plotting or provoking of a fight. I remember a couple of older kids who would occasionally come to our playground and constantly try to get some of us younger kids to fight one another, merely for their amusement.
As Christians we cannot do such things! We cannot desire or do what could result in harm to others. Again I remember daring one another to keep jumping out of the tree from a higher branch, or to keep walking farther out onto a frozen body of water, and other dangerous stunts; getting pleasure from the danger. Life is the precious gift of God. Even children should be taught to protect life and not harm it. As adults we may not play these kids’ games, but we too can injure one another’s lives through careless words and actions. May God grant us the grace to do all we can to avoid anything that may be destructive to the life of another human being.