Don’t bad-mouth each other, friends. It’s God’s Word, his Message, his Royal Rule, that takes a beating in that kind of talk. You’re supposed to be honoring the Message, not writing graffiti all over it. God is in charge of deciding human destiny. Who do you think you are to meddle in the destiny of others? (James 4:11-12 MSG)
As I listened to this individual outline the various things she had been "holding onto" for fifty some years, I was grieved to see how much she had "held tightly" to the words spoken all those many years ago! Words which likely did not get spoken with the intent she perceived, but which still hung over her like a dark cloud, influencing all her future interactions with not only the one who spoke them to her, but everyone she now tries to form relationship with! She perceived the words as pointing out her deficiencies in character - holding onto them all these years, allowing them to "color" her opinion of herself. Now, if this doesn't speak to us of the power of our words, nothing will!
In hearing the words which were spoken to her, I was amazed to hear how she "interpreted" what was said and actually internalized them as "truth" she held onto. Now, these many years later, she is still dealing with the "words" which were simply "truth", but which she took as an affront to her character. Hear this: Our words may NOT come across as they are intended, even when spoken in truth! The hearer is the one who "interprets" the meaning of the words! How they are "received" is often the most important part of communication. I wasn't part of the conversation back all those years, but I knew the individual she spoke of quite well and find it hard to believe the "intent" of the words spoken as they had been "interpreted". So, because words were spoken, sometimes in haste or with carelessness, the door was open for them to be interpreted and "held onto" as "fact" all these years! I wonder how many times I have spoken carelessly, causing another to "hold onto" something which they "received" in a manner which does not accurately reflect the intent behind the words?
James paints us a word picture here. Say things haphazardly, in a manner which almost places another's reputation or character on the chopping block, and you might as well take out a can of spray paint and be painting disgusting words of graffiti all over the testimony of Christ! We might have an opinion on how another should act, speak, or perform a certain task, but is our opinion always "spot on"? Not likely! In fact, if we go back to our definition of "bad-mouthing" another, we find our "opinion" is often doing nothing more than expressing our "disloyalty" to another! The main thing I think James wants us to see is the power of our words - the obligation we have to speak truth, but to always (and I mean always) KNOW how they are received! If we never seek to validate what the "receiver" hears, we may just go on believing our words were taken as they were intended, not realizing how much they were "misinterpreted" and the resulting damage they will do!
Many years ago, I visited Mazatlan. I enjoyed the beaches, the friendliness of the people, and the lovely weather. A few years back, I returned to the same city, took the same ride through the city, and was surprised to see the damage done by graffiti. The city was riddled with all manner of graffiti - some buildings so consumed with the ugly stuff that the identity of the business conducted within the walls no longer was evident! The city had turned into one huge "billboard" of words - haphazardly written, ugly and disgusting. I asked a local about all the graffiti and was told how they tried to keep it under control at first, but in time, the sheer work of doing it became more than the local authorities could handle, so now it just is the way they live. I have to think this is kind of like what happens when our words just get flung out there, haphazardly spoken. The first words may be easy to "erase" with a little work on the part of the one who spoke them. In time, when the words are not dealt with, the next are added, then the next, all the while "covering over" the true identity of the individual upon whom they "land". Like graffiti, they obliterate the truth of what is underneath!
May we just take a few moments as we wrap up this year to begin to examine our words a little more closely. We never really know how they are received unless we take the extra step of ensuring they are received as intended. More importantly, we need to be vigilant about WHAT we speak - for some words are nothing more than "graffiti" - ugly, haphazard, and not easily erased. Just sayin!