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 ax, 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” (Proverbs 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 (Proverbs 18:21). It holds great potential for good! In fact, “lovely” words are “like golden apples in a silver basket” (Proverbs 25:11). And, paradoxically, when carefully used, “Soft speech can break bones” (Proverbs 25:15). 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!” (Proverbs 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” (Proverbs 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!

NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: John 12:1-11