“Actions speak louder than words,” goes the old saying. And there’s truth in that.
If I tell my sister I love her, but I never spend time with her, never show interest in her interests, never give her a nice gift, never let her choose the movie, never help her with a task, never go out of my way to serve her, how is she supposed to believe that I love her?
On the other hand, if I give her the best birthday and Christmas gifts, regularly do chores for her, always let her choose the movie, always drop my own work when she needs me, but my mouth is full of cut-downs, insults, teasing, and rebukes, don’t you think she’ll doubt the sincerity of all my loving actions? Won’t she wonder why under the sun I do nice things for her when I apparently can’t stand her?
She’d think me a hypocrite with some ulterior motive. And why shouldn’t she?
“Actions speak louder than words,” they say. But maybe that’s a bit of a cop-out.
Maybe words are actions.
If we say actions are stronger than words, then we could assume that words don’t really matter that much. And if words don’t really matter, then we can let our tongues run away and spout whatever we feel at the moment. If words don’t really matter, then we can berate and mock our friends whenever they get on our nerves. As long as we do nice things for them otherwise.
That doesn’t sound like a healthy relationship, does it?
Of course not. Because our words need to line up with our actions. We ought to be kind in practical, tangible ways. And we ought to make sure our words are kind as well.
Take a look at this passage from the book of Job. When disaster befell Job and all his goods and even his children were stripped away from him, three of Job’s friends came to “comfort him.” Their version of comfort was to accuse Job of wrongdoing and urge him to repent so God would bless him again.
Here’s how Job felt about it:
“How long will you torment my soul,
And break me in pieces with your words?
-Job 19:2 (NKJV)
Can you hear the pain in his voice?
His “friends” never raised their hands against him. But their words crushed him. Maybe long ago his friends had done him a good turn, and he them. Maybe their actions had proclaimed their mutual friendship. Yet here they are tearing him apart with their words.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones…” But words can torment the soul and fragment the heart.
Words have power.
Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!
And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity.
-James 3:5-6a NKJV (emphasis mine)
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
-Proverbs 18:21a NKJV (emphasis mine)
Job also had this to say about his friends’ words:
“I have heard many such things;
Miserable comforters are you all!
I also could speak as you do,
If your soul were in my soul’s place.
I could heap up words against you,
And shake my head at you;
But I would strengthen you with my mouth,
And the comfort of my lips would relieve your grief.
-Job 16:2, 4-5 NKJV (emphasis mine)
Job’s friends used their words to make him miserable. They pushed his soul toward despair and death.
But they didn’t have to. They could have chosen to speak words of comfort. Words that urged his soul toward hope and life.
We shouldn’t go around assuming that our actions are loud enough to convince our loved ones that we love them. What message are our words sending?
Maybe we’ve gotten very good at guarding our tongues. Maybe we hardly ever let anything unkind slip out. And that’s great.
But do we keep silent when we have opportunity to speak a word of encouragement? Sometimes silence is a form of speaking. Make sure your silence is saying what you want it to.
One more thing: not everything Job’s friends said was wrong of itself. Their statements weren’t necessarily untrue or unrighteous.
But the right word at the wrong time, in the wrong place, or to the wrong person is the wrong word.
Words can have power coming from anyone, even a stranger. But words have the most power with people we’re close to. If I don’t know you, your insults aren’t going to hit home the way insults from my friend would.
So should we not be extra careful how we speak to those we love?
Don’t ever think words don’t matter. They can kill. Or they can heal.
When you speak, that’s just as much an action as when you punch someone in the nose.
So go love someone with your words today. (Just make sure your other actions aren’t contradicting you.)