We are all familiar with the little poem: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” It might be nice if that were true. But, as Jeff Abrams says, there’s a Greek word for that: baloney! Likely, we have all been the recipients of hurtful words slung intentionally or spoken unintentionally. Many of us have been the intentional or unintentional slingers of the same hurtful barbs.
Jeff Abrams has written a book (2011) titled Sticks and Stones: A Study of Hurtful Words and Helpful Remedies. You can order a copy from his website: sticksandstonesbooks.com. It is a small book, with only 115 pages in 17 chapters. It does not take very long to read, about two hours. But learning how to control our tongues is a lifetime endeavor! Abrams brings a truly wicked sin of the tongue to our attention and challenges us to control it better. That specific sin is gossip.
Most of the book is about gossip. His book is full of Scripture quotations, especially from the divine book of wisdom on tongue control: Proverbs. Yet, Abrams also weaves human interest stories and quotations from other writers seamlessly into the book in a way that makes it very compelling, engaging, and challenging. For its use in a Bible class, he provides questions for discussion at the end of the book for each chapter.
Abrams’s ability to string words and phrases together makes it easy to envision what he is describing: “Satan devours with malicious words – they are his most effective utensils of destruction. As he devours us, he desires us to devour others. His devouring words are not to be ingested, digested or regurgitated to others. They are to be hated, avoided, vanquished from our vocabulary” (pg 13).
As I mentioned, most of the book is about gossip – about the first seven chapters. But he also provides a few chapters on how to handle being a target of gossip and reminds us that great men of the Bible were targets of gossip. He also warns us what the end will be if we persist in the sin of gossip.
Without a doubt, our words will be a factor on the day of judgment: “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).
In his final chapter, “Your Tongue on the Day of Judgment,” Abrams writes: “The one who whispered on earth, will scream in hell. In this life the whispers were heard by many. In eternity, the screams will be heard by no one. There will be no network of nitwits to impress. Words that once terrorized and traumatized will be muted. The backstabber’s once powerful blade will crumble. If you are an unrelenting, unrepentant gossiper, consider yourself warned. The hell your words put others through, will soon be your permanent address. You will be neighbors with all who spoke the devil’s language. Your place will be the chorus of the eternally cursed” (pg. 113).
The “Better Way to Talk,” Abrams points out in page 84 (and I first heard from Wendell Winkler) is to “Think” before you speak:
T – Is it true?
H – Is it helpful?
I – Is it inspiring?
N – Is it necessary?
K – Is it kind?
Abrams’s book Sticks and Stones would be good to read personally, good to study in class, and good to preach from the pulpit. Words do, often, hurt. We should wield them wisely.