Last week, we witnessed the destructive power of words as they enabled the action of evil and terroristic acts against politicians, grandparents, & worshippers; all of whom are our fellow image bearers. These tragedies highlight that our words matter. Our words make room for action. They can create or destroy, heal or harm, build up or break down.
Here is a brief biblical overview of the importance of words and why we ought to consistently seek control over them. The way of our words is one of the most discussed aspects of life throughout Scripture.
Words Hold the Power to Create
In Genesis 1, the phrase, “God said…” appears 10 times. Also, consider this verse: “In the beginning was the Word… All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1).
God used speech to create, call things to order, and speak something from nothing. God is the Word and because we were made in the image of God, our speech holds a trace of his power.
When we use divisive words, they have the power to create wounds, divisions, and obstacles to unity… (Proverbs 12:18, Romans 16:17, Jude 1:17-19). When we use uplifting words, they have the authority to create health and life (Ephesians 4:15-16, 25-32; Proverbs 18:21). Remember: “Gentle words bring life and health; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4).
Words Hold the Power of Identity
“Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” (Genesis 2:19).
God empowered Adam to name to all the animals. To ‘name’ in this context was to proclaim the animal’s distinctiveness, as if to memorialize the animal’s identity.
When we name-call or vilify a person or people group, our words hold the power to memorialize them in that way, which can oppress or crush them (Psalm 10). When we build up a person or people group, our words hold the power to proclaim to them and others their God-given identity, which leads to the unity of the body of Christ (1 Thessalonians 5).
“Having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin… Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:25-32).
Words Hold the Power of Your Heart
“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give an account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words, you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:34-37).
Your words both reflect and direct the state of your heart.
When we speak wickedly, it shows the corruption of our heart (Proverbs 10:22) and increases ungodliness in us, which spreads like cancer (Matthew 15:18; 2 Timothy 16-17).
When we speak truthfully, we build up the body of Christ, and our hearts will be blessed. Our days will be filled up with good, we will embrace life, and our God will look on our speech with approval. Our hearts will also be full (1 Peter 3:10, Ephesians 4).
“If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless” (James 1:26).
A Word on How to Use Your Words
Consecrate your words. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
Before you get online, go to work, talk with your spouse or children, write a text, or practice any form of communication: pause and prepare your speech by setting it to God’s purposes.
Ask for help. “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).
James 3 is clear about the natural destructiveness of our speech. Without God’s help, it is bound to fail. It does not matter how hard you try. If you’re not receiving the grace and assistance of Almighty God, your speech will do more harm than good. Petition the Word to guard your words.
Practice restraint. “I said, ‘I will guard my ways, Lest I sin with my tongue; I will restrain my mouth with a muzzle, while the wicked are before me’” (Psalm 39:1).
Your words, as shown above, have phenomenal potential, for both help and harm. If you’re not intentional, your words will get away from you. Pause when angry. Breathe through your pain. Spend time in prayer before you respond. If you’re not willing to slow down your hot take, there’s a good chance it won’t be worth giving.
Use the right seasoning. “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:6).
Spend as much time seasoning your words as you do your food. Use the right spice for the right situation. Sometimes your speech will call for tabasco. Sometimes it only needs a pinch of salt. Be wise with your seasoning.
As we witness our country running wild with an unbridled tongue and watch words transform evil into terrorism, and as we hear speech that divides the body of Christ, let us pray that God transforms our grief into healthy engagement, our anger into advocating for the oppressed, and our words into vessels of healing ointment and godly balm.