Spend just a few minutes listening to kids as they play on the playground or in the park, and there are a couple of phrases you will almost certainly hear spoken. If a younger girl catches her sister doing something that she is not supposed to do, the little sister will soon exclaim, “I’m telling mommy and daddy!” Find a little boy who is being teased by another group of children, and you may hear him say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!”
As we well know, however, the words that people speak against us or about us can be incredibly hurtful, leaving deeper scars than physical blows ever could. When others say phrases that wound us, and we know that such people really do mean what they say deep down in their hearts, then the persistence of these emotional scars is entirely reasonable. Sometimes, however, we put too much stock in what others say. We hold on to hurts caused by words spoken in a fit of anger or frustration and not out of a rationally settled opinion about us. Furthermore, we also hold grudges against those who have spoken unkind things against or about us, even when the offenders have apologized and gone the extra mile to show us that they are truly contrite.
Today’s passage points out the foolishness of holding on to such grudges and the silliness of taking words spoken in a fit of anger too seriously. Why? The Preacher gives two reasons. First, we might “hear [our] servant cursing” us (Eccl. 7:21). What may be in view here is the idea that if we pay heed too closely to the vindictiveness of even those who are not likely to hurt us, we will unnecessarily have our emotional life disturbed. It does not make good sense to listen to those who cannot really hurt us. If we do, we will be distracted from the important work that God has given us and caught up trying to make peace with people who never really want to be at peace with us. As Proverbs 26:4 teaches, in many cases we must “answer not a fool according to his folly.”
The second reason why we should not take to heart all the bad things that are said against us has to do with the fact that we have cursed others ourselves (Eccl. 7:22). This seems to be the Preacher’s way of getting us to judge others by the same standard we use for ourselves. We know that we have said or thought things in the heat of the moment that we did not really mean, so we should allow for the possibility that others have done the same.