What Did You Say?

The Latest Word from John Ed Mathison

Words are powerful. Words can build up or tear down people. Words can be constructive or destructive. I read once about a little boy who said ugly things about people. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that he had to hammer a nail into the back of the fence every time he said something ugly. The first day the little boy had driven 11 nails in the fence.

Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his tongue, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled. He discovered that it was easier to hold his tongue than to drive those nails into the fence. Finally the day came when the boy didn’t say anything ugly. When he told his father about it, the father told the boy to go pull out one nail for each day that he was able to control his tongue.

The days passed and finally the nails were gone. Then the father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, “You did a good job son, but look at the holes in the fence. This fence will never be the same. When you say ugly things about or to other people, the words leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out – it won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there. A verbal wound is as bad as a physical one.”

What if nobody spoke words that were ugly? Benjamin Franklin said, “If all printers were determined not to print anything until they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.” Wow! What if that were true today? You would see very little in print. Facebook, social media, and newspapers might go out of business!

When literary works were published in the 19th century, the printers had a supply of precast letters. It is said that whenever Alfred Lord Tennyson submitted a work for publication the printer always had to find an extra supply of the letters “L” and “V” because he used the word, “love” so much. How many “L’s” and “V’s” would you need today if you had to write out every word you spoke?

A great pastor who influenced me, Dr. Pierce Harris, shared 3 excellent suggestions for using our tongues.

1. Put a double lock on your tongue – keep one key in your pocket and the other key half a mile away. By the time you get to the second key you might not want to say what you had planned.

2. Train your tongue to say nice things – do not withhold praise. You never make an enemy by being nice or saying nice things.

3. Don’t believe a word you hear when the person telling it has to whisper! Let the speaker speak out or shut up and you do the same.

“Keep your mouth shut and you will stay out of trouble.” (Proverbs 21:23) “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.” (Ephesians 4:29) “Whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light” (Luke 12:3)

Will Rogers said, “So live that you would not be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.”


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