Sticks and Stones
“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” I heard this proverb a lot growing up from various well-meaning people. I tried to apply the ancient wisdom, but it didn’t work because it’s not true, nor is it ancient, for that matter. There is some debate about who wrote the saying, but it originated in England sometime in the 1800s. A proverb, by design, is a short, pithy, truthful bit of wisdom that helps you navigate life. It’s not designed to say everything there is to say about a subject or build in a thousand qualifications. They are intended to be meditated on, remembered, and kept in your back pocket so when you are out and about in this sin-cursed world and then presented with a problem, you’ve got help to make the right decision or think about the situation in the right way. But they have to be true.
Words can hurt people. David cries out to God for deliverance and mercy in the fourth Psalm. The sons of men were speaking lies against him. Hurtful words, lies, and slanders can bring a lot of sorrow that’s hard to get over. Proverbs 17:22, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” Words can break havoc like a wildfire set on fire by hell (James 3:6). Slander, gossip, lies, and deceitful words are not something you can put back in the bottle. Once you light that fire, it’s going to burn. It’s one of the things the Lord hates (Proverbs 6:16-19) and one of the things people love to be a part of. There’s a good reminder of the wickedness of the heart of man and why people should not assume speaking everything in their heart is a good thing. We don’t like being talked about, but we love being in the inner circle and hearing about what’s happening with the unfortunate object of all the talk. This sort of stuff grieves the Holy Spirit of God. Christians should not participate in such sin but be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving (Ephesians 4:29-32).
Alexander the coppersmith, with his words, did much harm to Paul. He was likely trying to undermine the ministry of the Apostle and turn people against him. So Paul wrote to Timothy and warned him against this wicked man (2 Timothy 4:14-15). Discerning readers may be asking, “Isn’t Paul judging people?” There is a difference between protecting other people, defending the truth, and trying to destroy someone for evil purposes. Alexander was working to destroy Paul, and Paul was telling the truth about Alexander’s malicious, devilish behavior. It’s the tactic of abusers to commit a sin and, when they are confronted, to cry foul and victimhood. Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” Paul was protecting Timothy and speaking truth, Alexander used his wicked words to hurt Paul and the work of the gospel.