A recent piece on the TV news caught my attention. It seems a small boy wondered from his father’s watchful eye one morning while the two were visiting an uncle. The uncle kept an exotic cat–a 400-pound Bengal tiger–in his back yard within the confines of a large fence. The youngster, unmindful of the danger, stuck his arm through one of the holes in the enclosure to pet the animal. The tiger bit the child’s arm just short of his elbow and severed it from the rest of his body.
The last thing that I heard from the media was that the appendage had been reattached via a nine-hour surgical operation, but that the youngster would never regain full use of it again.
This certainly was a distressing story; it was troubling to hear that this four-year-old had suffered such a severe injury. But the incident reminded me of a vital, Bible truth: relationships–especially marriage relationships–require certain verbal “fences” or boundaries. These fences protect against unnecessary emotional injury; they provide a measure of safety and security to the union.
No normal couple can live in a relationship as complex and challenging as marriage without arousing some strong feelings. These feelings ought to be expressed with the shared conviction that certain words and statements are not acceptable because they can render serious damage to the marriage.
I hear the apostle Paul saying the same thing. “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth … let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, will all malice” (Eph. 4:29a, 31). Marriages need secure boundaries–they need fences. Some things you just don’t do or say. You don’t stick your arm through a fence to pet a tiger (no matter how tame or domesticated it’s supposed to be), and you don’t say purposely hurtful things to your spouse. Words can wound, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21); they can cause permanent harm (Matt. 12:34-37; Prov. 4:23-24; 6:16-19; 15:1; 16:32; 12:22; Jas. 1:19; 3:2ff; Luke 19:22; Rev. 21:27).
An old church hymn states,
“Angry words! O let them never
From the tongue unbridled slip;
May the heart’s best impulse ever
Check them ere they soil the lip.
Any words are lightly spoken,
Bitt’rest tho’ts are rashly stirred,
Brightest links of life are broken
By a single angry word.
Dear friend, have you put the fence up at your house yet? Think about it.
Some things in a marriage relationship simply shouldn’t be spoken.