Remember that old saying, sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me? One time I split my head open on a rock. Dr. Kameny took some metal clamps and squeezed them in the top of my head.
In a couple of days I was fine. But an insult, a thoughtless word, can penetrate where no stone can ever reach, or no stick can ever touch, because it can get to the soul. The words we use have incredible power. They can encourage and build up, but they can also cause incredible harm.
Today on Renewing Your Mind, Dr. R.C. Sproul looks at the profound impact our words can have in the relationship between husband and wife. Once again I'd like to welcome you to this series of lectures on Christian marriage. According to the recent polls and the surveys that have been taken among the researchers, the number one reason given in the United States for the breakdown of marriage is sex. The second greatest problem, according to the researchers, in destroying harmony in the home is money.
And the third reason that is frequently given is the problem of interference of in-laws. Now I certainly recognize and grant that those three problems have wreaked havoc in marriages in this country. But I think there's something that is even more severe in its power to hurt and destroy marriages. The number one problem with marriages is the human tongue. It's what we say to each other that I think contributes more than anything else to the breakdown of trust, the breakdown of love, and the breakdown of respect between two people in the marriage relationship. That problem may manifest itself sexually or in the arena of money. We can understand how those problems come to bear as well as intrusion of in-laws.
But we haven't learned how to talk not only to each other by way of communication, but we have often been cruel and thoughtless, inflicting damage on each other with unguarded remarks. By way of contrast, let me read to you a brief section from the Old Testament that involves a celebration of love, which is found in the Song of Solomon. The fourth chapter of the Song of Solomon begins like this, where the author is saying, Behold, thou art fair, my love, behold, thou art fair. You have dove's eyes within your locks, and your hair is as a flock of goats that appear from Mount Gilead. Now that may not sound very complimentary to say that your hair reminds me of a flock of goats prancing up and down the mountainside of Gilead.
But in antiquity, that of course is a romantic, indeed poetic expression of beauty. And then it says, Your teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing, whereof everyone bears twins. I wouldn't say that about me. I said no two of yours are alike. But here the person is described as having teeth like twins, where each one is identical and matching. One with the other, and none is barren among them.
That is, there aren't any gaps between the teeth. Your lips are like a thread of scarlet, and your speech is comely. Your temples are like a piece of palm granite within your locks, and your neck is like the Tower of David, built for an armory, whereon there hangs a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.
Your two breasts are like two young rows that are twins, which feed among the lilies. Thou art all fair, my love, there is no blemish in thee. Now tradition has it within Christian groups that what we find in the Song of Solomon is an extended, symbolic form of address, an allegory of Christ's perfect love for His church. That what we have here is a spiritual song celebrating the love that Christ has for His bride. Dear friends, I think that represents, more than anything I could point to, the distortion and intrusion into the Christian faith of that Greek view I was talking about, that sees physical attraction and physical love as being something that is intrinsically evil. I would say just by way of passing, you don't have time to defend it from an academic perspective, that there just simply is no justification whatsoever for interpreting the Song of Solomon simply as an allegory of Christ's love for the church. What this is, is a divinely inspired love song, where the Holy Spirit is celebrating romance between two people.
I think it's fantastic. Now, because we have a hard time with that, we have to reinterpret it and make it somehow a spiritual lesson. But think of this, before this thing could even qualify to be an allegory of spiritual love, it would first have to be acceptable to God for the content that's in there.
So why can't we just take it at face value? But what I want us to see in here is that in this divinely inspired expression of love, the verbal relationship between the man and the woman is one of compliments. You don't hear in this love song, in this celebration of romance, the man saying to the woman, why don't you do this?
Or the woman saying to the man, you're always late, you're never going to make anything of yourself. In other words, the tongue is being used to honor the partner. The New Testament tells us that the tongue is a small member that boasts of great things and has a capacity by one spark to set whole forests ablaze, but the tongue is the most destructive member of the human body.
With it we praise God, but with it we also bring curses down on each other. I remember when I was a child how there was a fellow in our community that was a bully and he used to make fun of me. I used to go up the street to play with the guys and he would say, here comes Bucky Beaver, and he would make fun of my buck teeth.
And that crushed me, he was older than I was, and I wanted to be accepted with the older kids to be able to play with him. And every time I showed up the same kid kept talking about my buck teeth. And I came home one day crying, and my mother met me at the back door and she said, what's the matter? And I said, so and so called me buck teeth again.
And my mother felt sorry for me and she was trying to help me deal with this kind of thing that happens in everybody's life. And she said, son, let me tell you how to handle that. When somebody says something to you that's not very nice, you just say to them, sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.
And I said, okay, that sounds good. So I went back up, I went up the street, and here comes this same kid, he said, here comes buck teeth again. And I looked at him and I said, sticks and stones will break my bones and names will never hurt me.
And I'm thinking in my head, that's a dirty law because it still hurts. And I found out that what my mother told me wasn't true because one time I split my head open on a rock. There was blood all over the place. I came home, I thought I was going to die. Dr. Kameny took some metal clamps and squeezed them in the top of my head. In a couple of days I was fine. Another time a guy comes, breaks my arm, puts it in a cast.
Six weeks later my arm's fine. But an insult, a thoughtless word, can penetrate where no stone can ever reach or no stick can ever touch because it can get to the soul. I had a counseling experience, which is my favorite illustration of this, where a woman came to see me because her marriage was in trouble. And I could not help but notice as that woman came into my office that she was an extraordinarily attractive woman. She really was. And she began to tell me about the problems that she was having with her marriage, and then she spilled out her story and she said that she could not respond to her husband because she knew that she was not attractive.
And I thought, oh, no. Here I get, just like my mother. My mother used to buy her clothes at Maxine's in downtown and at Saks Fifth Avenue, and then she'd go to the beauty parlor and then she'd come walking into the house looking like Grace Kelly, stepping out of Vogue magazine or something. And she'd say, oh, I look awful tonight. And our standard comment was, oh, you're going fishing again, Mom. She was fishing for confidence because my reply was supposed to be, oh, no, Mom, you look terrific.
You look the most beautiful mother in the neighborhood. And so when this woman did that to me, she said in the counseling chambers that she couldn't respond to her husband because she knew that she just wasn't attractive enough. I wanted to say, cut it out, lady.
Don't play games with me. But I realized she was serious. So I began to explore into her past, and here's what she said. She said that when she was a young teenager just growing into adolescence that she struggled with her appearance for several reasons. The first thing, she was afflicted with teenage acne, adolescent acne, zits. Had to put clearacil on her face every night. In addition to that, when her adult teeth came in, they came in all crooked, and so her teeth were funny. And she was one of the first girls in her class to have to wear glasses, and her prescription was so strong that her glasses were like the bottoms of Coke bottles. So here's this girl running around. She's got braces on her teeth.
She's got clearacil on her zits, and she's got bottoms of Coke bottles looking around, and she's walking around, and she's not too pretty, right? However, at the same time, nature endowed her with a very beautiful body. She was one of the first to develop, and the boys noticed it. One day she was walking across the schoolyard when she was 13 or 14 years old, and the guy who was the super athlete and the big man on campus kid saw her coming, and he laughed and said to another fellow within her hearing, look at so-and-so, put a bag over her head, and she'd be terrific.
Now what happened in the ensuing years? The braces did the job. Her teeth straightened out. She outgrew the adolescent acne. Contact lenses replaced the Coke bottle glasses, and the ugly duckling emerges as a beautiful young woman, and everybody that saw her noticed her beauty except her. I mean, 25 years later, she was still convinced that all she lacked to be a good wife was a bag over her head.
The human tongue can devastate another person. I was at an airport once looking for something to read, and I was going through the paperback book rack, and I saw this book that attracted my attention, and the title of the book simply was Criticism. I picked it out of the rack, and I looked at it, and I couldn't recognize the name of the author, and the publishing company I'd never heard of. I opened up the pages.
The paper was cheap-grade paper, and the print was on wavy lines, and I thought this is some vanity press. Somebody printed it in their basement, but I didn't have anything else to read, so I bought the book, and I took it on the airplane, and the book started with a story where this man told about visiting New York City. That was his first mistake, and he decided to explore the city at night.
That was mistake number two. But the real Lulu came when he decided to take a shortcut in New York City at night by going through an alley. And so he starts down this alley at night in New York, and as he gets halfway back into the alley, and there's a full moon out, he sees in the shadows two guys come up from behind garbage cans with knives glistening in the moonlight and start moving toward him.
And at this point, the author interrupted his own narrative, and he says to the reader, what do you suppose this man did in that circumstance? What would you do? If you had half a brain, what would you do? Run like the devil, you know, the other way. I mean, if you saw two guys walking at you with knives in New York City in an alley, and you could run to get out of there, that's what you'd do, right?
That's the natural instinct, self-preservation. He said, but we know to run from that, but we don't know how to run from this. What do you do when somebody comes up to you and says, I'd like to give you some constructive criticism? The Bible tells us to speak the truth in love. How many times have you ever had a Christian friend come up to you and say, Brother or sister, I want to tell you something in love. My best advice to you is if somebody comes up to you and says, I want to tell you something in love, the best thing you can do 95 times out of 100 is turn around and run.
Run for your life. There is such a thing as constructive criticism. I know that. And I don't know what the exact percentages are, but my best guess is that at least 95 out of 100 criticisms that you receive and that you get from people are destructive criticisms, and they're not mentioned in love. But we're taught all of our lives to accept criticism gratefully.
We give people a license to criticize us. And when somebody comes up and says, Brother, I want to tell you something in love, and they stick the knife in, as Christians, here's what we're supposed to say. Oh, thanks. I needed that. That's really going to help with my sanctification. And if you really love me, do it again.
Twist it in there a little deeper so that I can grow in the Spirit while they're killing you, when if we had any brains, we'd turn around and run. Again, there are forms and ways to experience constructive criticism, and we all need it. I remember when I wrote one book a few years ago for Harper & Row, I turned it in to my editor, and I got it back after he took it through copy editing, and I counted up over 10,000 corrections that had to be made.
They were minor, a comma here and there, but my manuscript came back with so much red ink on it, it looked like a Christmas tree. And I was so depressed, and then I remembered something. The lady had said to me once, R.C., don't ever let anybody tell you you can't write.
The experience that I had there happened like this. A consultant came to me and said, R.C., I want you to write down on a piece of paper the five most meaningful compliments you've ever received in your life. And so I said, well, that's a fun exercise, isn't it?
I mean, I get to sit down here and sit back and try to remember nice things that people said about me. So I wracked my brain. Everybody's had at least five compliments in their life, and I just wrote down the first five that came into my mind.
And I was shocked with what I saw. Had that man come to me and said, R.C., write down on a piece of paper the 50 people who've had the most positive influence in your life, I don't know whose names I would have written down for those 50 people, but I know I never would have dreamed to include this woman whose name appeared twice in that list of five compliments. It was my eighth-grade English teacher, the one that stood out the most. She had given this assignment to write a descriptive essay.
It was our first experience with creative writing. So I wrote this little essay that I made up about a mountain, and I turned it in, and she took the papers home. It came time to grade them.
She brought them back. She's going to deliver them to the class and pass them out. She said, class now, we're going to pass out these papers, but before we do it, I want to read one to the whole class. She read my paper to the whole class, and then when she was done, she went over to this bulletin board that was above the blackboard, and she took a thumbtack, and she put my essay up on the bulletin board, and it said on that paper, A+, don't let anyone ever tell you you can't write. Do you have any idea how many people have tried to tell me that I can't write?
Do you know how many people have tried to discourage me from doing what I wanted to do artistically with a pen? And I have nurtured to my bosom. I have held on sometimes with my fingernails to the kind statement that that woman made to me, because I believed her compliment. I know that she meant it, and I trusted her authority. It would be a good experience for you to do.
I mean, if you really want to find out about yourself, go home and do that same thing. Write down the five most meaningful compliments that you can think of that you've ever received, and then when you're done, if you want an exercise in terror, turn the paper over and write down the five most painful criticisms you've ever received and who said them, and that will give you a quick route to the center of your own emotional pain, a place where you are hurting, and you will be shocked, I'm sure, to see that you're carrying around in your life comments that people made years and years and years and years ago that still paralyze you and still hurt. Then you will begin to see the power of the human tongue. We need to understand that, because what we say to each other in marriage is what creates the environment of trust, of intimacy, and in love. When I married my wife, I vowed to cherish her. I know that women today do not want to be put on a pedestal in the sense that they are not real, they're objects and so on, and I'm not sure I understand all of that, because I'm a man and I'm not sure I understand women.
I'll never understand women, okay? But I've never met a woman that didn't want to be cherished, and I've never met a man that didn't want to be cherished. What I say with my mouth is what communicates how much I cherish my wife. Of course, what I do speaks as well, but nothing can destroy her sense of being cherished faster than an unkind, thoughtless, cutting remark that comes out of my mouth. The Bible tells us again that in any kind of healthy relationship, not just husband and wives, but with friends and associates, is that we are called to build up each other, to edify each other, not to tear each other apart. But what happens in the marriage is that we get angry with each other and you say something to me that hurts. What's my natural response?
Fire with fire, wound for wound, retaliate, hit back, and pretty soon it escalates into a war. And then we say those awful words, honey, I didn't mean that. And she wants to say, then why did you say it? You know what the Bible says? There are certain things that you cannot recall.
The flying arrow, once you pull that bow back and you let loose of that string and the arrow starts to fly, you can't call it back. And included in that list of the Bible is the spoken word. Once I say it, I can apologize for it.
I can pretend that I overstated it, but I said it and she heard it and it's stored and it may be doing its damage for another 30 years. But where there is love, there is kindness. And when there is kindness, there is a desire to do as Christ has told us to do, to present our brides to Him without blemish, to be willing to give our lives to honor the one that we live. I'm a man and I'm in the public eye and I have women come up to me from time to time and bat their eyelashes at me, oh, you're so cute and all that stuff, I don't know. I mean, I look in the mirror, I know that's not true. But they start playing these games and I can respond in one of two ways. I can respond and allow myself to be flattered by that and therefore tempted, or I can see that as a threat to what I cherish. Now, flattery is empty. We even have the expression flattery will get you nowhere. And I'm not saying to couples, lie to each other about your gifts and your strengths. Telling your wife she's a great cook when she's a lousy cook is not what I'm talking about. She knows she's a lousy cook and she won't trust that compliment if you tell her she's a good cook when she's not a good cook.
But what an authentic compliment is is believable, where you take the time to find something of value in your mate, crystallize it, put it into words and tell her, tell him that you've noticed. And when we honor each other in that way, we can heal the damage that's been done. Psychologists tell us it takes nine authentic compliments to outweigh the pain of one criticism. So we need to be slow to speak and to wound and to keep our anger in check so that that tongue does not set the forest on fire. There's probably no better marriage advice in the world than those few words. Be slow to speak, keep our anger in check, honor one another. Thanks for listening to Renewing Your Mind on this Friday.
I'm Lee Webb. We're wrapping up highlights of Dr. R.C. Sproul's series, The Intimate Marriage. This week he's shown us that if we follow God's principles, marriage can be a celebration of joyous intimacy.
You'll find R.C. 's biblical practical advice in each of the six lessons in this series. Let me encourage you to contact us today and request this series on two DVDs. It's available to you for your gift of any amount. You can make your request online at renewingyourmind.org, or you can call us at 800-435-4343. We'll also send you a digital download of the series along with a PDF of the study guide with an outline of each lesson along with questions for discussion. No matter your stage in life, whether you're newly engaged or celebrating a decades-long marriage, this series is a wonderful resource.
So I do hope you will contact us today either online at renewingyourmind.org or by phone at 800-435-4343. And as always, we are grateful for your donations of any amount. Well, we've all heard the notion that marriage should be a 50-50 proposition. Would you agree with that?
What does the Bible say about it? We'll find out Monday here on Renewing Your Mind. I hope you'll join us. Thank you.
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