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  • Writer's pictureDr. 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 3:8-9

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 SixthCommandment 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.

As children we were taught to say, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never

hurt me.” I remember being given that limerick as a memorable way to deal with name-calling

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 unless 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. This kind of pain that mocks who we are as if there is something

wrong with our being is very real, with often deep and long-term psychological effects. It’s funny,

I played outside all the time and 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 further 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 do 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.


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