Words Can Kill—Literally

Screenshot taken from YouTube Inside Edition

Written By Jasmine Koh, Singapore 

Is telling someone to commit suicide a crime? According to the verdict of a landmark case in US, it is. For urging her boyfriend to take his own life via text messages that led to his suicide in 2014, Michelle Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter this week.

In dozens of text messages and phone calls, Carter had encouraged Conrad Roy III, who had a history of depression, to kill himself. And when the 18-year-old had last-minute jitters after filling his truck with poisonous carbon monoxide gas using a generator, Carter even ordered Roy by phone to “get back in”. It was these final words, said Massachusetts judge Lawrence Moniz, that constituted “wanton and reckless conduct”.

Many legal experts had expected Carter to be cleared of the charges, and were shocked by the verdict, which sent a strong message that encouraging someone to kill himself can be considered as severe as the act of killing. Some have denounced the verdict as unconstitutional, saying it violates free speech protections.

Whatever we may think of the judge’s decision, what we can probably agree on is this: words have power. The Bible notes this too—God spoke the world into being through His words; Jesus healed many just by speaking through to them; and we are reminded of how words can build up or tear down (Proverbs 12:6). In Roy’s case, Carter’s words clearly played a part in destroying his life.

We need to consider the weight of our words and to control our tongues. James 3:6 says, “And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell” (NASB, emphasis mine) .

The comparison of the tongue to a fire is apt: it encapsulates the perverse, powerful nature of this tiny part of the body. Just as a fire that starts at one part of the body can burn up the entire being, misusing the tongue can bring about massive and dire consequences on our lives.

That’s why the apostle Paul, in Ephesians 4:29, urges believers to “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”.

May we learn to be mindful to speak words worthy of Christ, and to use our words to show God’s love and saving grace in our daily lives.

Would you make this your prayer? “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

Hurtful Words I Needed To Hear

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

Every Wednesday, I meet with a team leader and my colleague Abigail* for lunch fellowship. Though it’s just the three of us, we thought to heed the call in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Two weeks ago, our leader was on sick leave. Deep down, I was not very keen on meeting Abigail alone as I found her a rather defensive and self-centered person. But Abigail was keen to meet so I relented.

That day, Abigail brought food from home to heat up in our office pantry before fellowship. While she was in the pantry, another colleague, Jacqueline, asked if I wanted to join the rest of the team for lunch. When I told her that Abigail and I were getting ready for fellowship, Jacqueline said in a friendly manner, “No, you should join us for lunch. You don’t have to go for fellowship since your leader is not here. Anyway, both of you don’t really get along, and you always grumble about Abigail anyway. You should join us, learn about the other gods and be open.”

Jacqueline’s words cut like a knife. Yet, I knew exactly what she was referring to. For the past couple of weeks, I had been complaining about Abigail behind her back, telling others about her selfish attitude and lack of team spirit. Still, Jacqueline’s words hurt me and made me feel like a failure. Though I had claimed to be a Christ follower, I had given in to my flesh and neglected the Spirit.

A few days later, I came across John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The words struck me and I thought of the earlier incident again. I knew for a fact that God was using this passage to speak to me.

I needed to love Abigail and accept her, not just on the surface, but completely. I had to stop pretending to be friendly with her, and complaining about her behind her back. This showed disunity between me and Abigail, and disunity between my faith and my actions. How then could others see that I am Christ’s disciple?

I had to change and start speaking words of grace, words that reflected Christ. I needed to fight against my flesh and allow the Holy Spirit to work in me to produce fruits of love, kindness, and self-control.

As I remembered how gracious and patient God had been with me, how He didn’t give up on me no matter how self-centered, mean, and defensive I had been in the past (Romans 8:1), I repented and stopped complaining. I told my team leader honestly about the struggles I had, and she arranged for Abigail and me to talk about it.

Initially, Abigail was upset at me. She felt that I had misunderstood her, and said that she couldn’t trust me anymore. We did not speak for a few days after that. Our leader was very concerned and spoke to us individually on a few separate occasions. Eventually, we both reached a common understanding.

In all of this, I had been too quick to judge and condemn. I also began to realize that Abigail is actually a very nice friend to have, because she is quick to forget grievances and does not hold grudges for long. Subsequently, I also noticed how her attitude towards the rest of us changed; she is a more helpful person now.

I realize now that condemning and complaining had prevented me from seeing the good side of Abigail and learning more about the grace of God. But now I am free. I am glad that Abigail and I both have learned more about one another from this episode, and we are now able to love one another through the grace of Christ. We are sisters in Christ, we have the same Abba Father, and we have the same eternal home.


*Not her real name.

ODJ: Words and Life

August 28, 2016 

READ: Proverbs 25:11-18  

Soft speech can break bones (v.15). 

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” That saying has been used to cushion the blow of unpleasant words for more than 100 years. We know, however, that harsh words can pierce our hearts and shatter our spirits. Bruises and broken bones can heal with time, but a broken heart and crushed spirit caused by harsh statements aren’t easily mended. Some wounds can even prove to be fatal.

Solomon was intentionally graphic in describing the hurt and harm we inflict on others when words are misused. “Telling lies about others is as harmful as hitting them with an axe, wounding them with a sword or shooting them with a sharp arrow” (Proverbs 25:18). Elsewhere he warned, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords” (12:18 niv). Note the similar letters in words and swords. Swords maim and kill. So can words.

But words, like swords, are also doubled-edged. The tongue has the power of life and death (18:21). It holds great potential for good! In fact, “lovely” words are “like golden apples in a silver basket” (25:11). And, paradoxically, when carefully used, “Soft speech can break bones” (v.15). With truthful, thoughtful and tactful communication, we can heal relationships and break the ‘bone of contention’—the barriers that divide us. It’s true, “A gentle answer deflects anger. ...It is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time!” (15:1,23).

Our words are powerful. They can hurt and harm or help and heal. “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (16:24 esv). Proverbs 12:18 sums it up well: “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.”

May we speak words of life as God prompts and helps us today!

—K. T. Sim

365-day plan: John 12:1-11

What do Prov. 15:1-4, 7,23,26,28 and Ephesians 4:29 say about the use of right and wrong words? 
Is your tongue quick to criticise but slow to apologise? How can you use words that will better honour God and bless others? 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)

ODJ: Tongues Afire

July 25, 2016 

READ: James 3:1-12 

The tongue is a flame of fire (v.6). 

Over the past month or so, my wife and I have had some hard conversations. Places of deep hurt have become visible again. As we’ve talked, amid much sadness, I’ve had to reckon with a lasting wound I left on her heart. Years ago, before we were married, Miska and I endured a significant conflict. In that turmoil, I spoke words to her that were foolish and immature, words that lodged into the most tender and vulnerable places of her heart. I didn’t speak in anger or malice, but rather with ignorance and stupidity. I’ve asked her forgiveness multiple times, and she has freely forgiven me. Still...the wound is there. My words can’t be taken back.

James reminds us of how our words carry immense capacity for good or for evil. “The tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches,” James says, “But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire” (3:5). Fire is the perfect metaphor, for our words carry great force, and often they recklessly pour out of us. “The tongue is a flame of fire,” James says (v.6). Even small words can have immense repercussions.

In fact, the tongue “can set your whole life on fire” (v.6). How often have you had a conversation that turned ugly or angry—so much so that the fall-out consumed you or consumed a relationship or left a friendship smouldering in the ashes? It’s true, “no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison” (v.8).

Thankfully, this isn’t the whole story. Proverbs tells us that it’s possible for our gentle words to bring restorative life, to bring wholeness (Proverbs 15:4). The tongue’s fire doesn’t have to be destructive. It’s possible for our words to reflect the beautiful and life giving words God has spoken to us.

—Winn Collier

365-day plan: Mark 9:38-50

Read Proverbs 15:4. How different is the imagery here from what we find in James 3? How does Proverbs envision the impact of our words? 
When have you recently endured the wound of another person’s words? Where do you believe your words have caused harm, and where do you want to see your words bring healing by God’s power? 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)