words matter
The Witness

Words Matter

Branden Henry

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.


3 thoughts on “Words Matter

  1. Thomas W.

    “which you see as doing the same damage as what I referred to.”

    To be clear, I am not suggesting the Witness is to blame for violence, so no, the damage is not on par. Just attempting another example of how words matter in different context for discourse and climate of conversation. If I didn’t distinguish that difference well enough, my apologies.

    “Eve first sinned because of false words spoken to her. The words of the serpent opened the door which she stepped through. ”

    I get what you’re trying to say here, but it’s poorly worded, and a poor example. Satan directly encourages her to do it, but he no more opened the door than the door was already open with or without him present. He didn’t enable what wasn’t already enabled for such an act. You further see that in her attempt, like Adam’s to blame shift, but God doesn’t shift the responsibility.

    “In the same way, the words of the President opened the door for these and many other acts of violence. His words weren’t the cause.”

    Which words? Be specific, but I don’t think you have any. It’s an ambiguous, fill in the mind concept. Is it truly inflammatory? Or do we just think that because we’re being told it is 24/7?
    The President has never suggested to make pipe bombs, kill Jews, much less harass any American. He’s especially kept the common person out of it.
    And I highly doubt that it’s fair to consider blame for 1 in 150 million who may be emotionally/mentally sick on top of that for someone’s name calling rhetoric. And I’d give the same even to Auntie Maxine.
    Thus, I think it’s a high stretch and no better than Trump’s rhetoric to suggest blame. It only furthers the gap, rather than make things better. Further, it undermines a discussion of anti-semitism and other issues, when we keep trying to make it more so about fringe correlations we can’t prove and lack substance in backing up such a claim.

    Science shows that the simple repeating of these incidents across news outlets 24/7 gives far more association to the next person considering the same. It’s unintentional advertisement, but it’s advertisement. And there’s far more of it than one person’s words.

    As you mention restraint above. I think it’s a great point. It’s the thing we ought to practice, especially in knee jerk reactionary viral culture. We respond without greater consideration, context, and fall right into one typical response or another believing our view is crystal clear and correct.

  2. Branden

    Hey Thomas,

    Thanks for your questions and thoughts. You made a lot of points, but the main concern I hear of yours is that sites like ‘the witness’ aren’t looking at themselves and their own rhetoric, which you see as doing the same damage as what I referred to. Certainly their is always room for introspection, especially when we’re upset, which is precisely why I wrote this article.

    In this article, I spoke to ‘us’ -the readers of this site- rather than ‘them’. My goal was for this audience to prayerfully and carefully use our words as we live in this current culture and climate.

    As to your initial question of how much effect words had on the terroristic attacks last week, I hope my look through scripture would suffice when I say, they had a lot to do with it.

    Eve first sinned because of false words spoken to her. The words of the serpent opened the door which she stepped through. In the same way, the words of the President opened the door for these and many other acts of violence. His words weren’t the cause, but for sick and immature people, words of hate and violence stick. You and me might hear inflammatory speeches and recognize the words used as being false, exaggerated, or for show- but I truly believe that emotionally sick folks can’t hear it that way. Words of violence stick. That would be the same for folks who promote violence on the left, which I don’t believe this site to do.

    I hope that answers your concerns. If not, let me know.


  3. Thomas W.


    How specifically did words enable evil by Bowers (He was a Jew and Trump hater (saw Trump as a Jew lover)? Can you be specific on what you’re referencing? How much blame can we put on words and political climate versus their innate evil nature? (I think it’s more like 95% evil nature, 5% outside influence, and the blame shift isn’t that helpful).

    I think a good reading list on how we’re persuaded/influenced is Scott Adams, Robert Chaldini, and for a christian perspective I enjoyed, Os Guiness’ “Fool’s Talk”.

    Words matter, and I appreciate the in general talk on it as I think the media largely manipulates our filter/worldview for our often lack of restraint and knee jerk responses to their narrative.

    For instance, labeling people anti-christ or Hitler provides moral justification for any response, specifically violence too, in order to stop the expected greater threat and risk. How much do you think a few years of the media shaping that view of the current party in charge has played into this climate? It’s certainly shaped people’s views here.

    If we posit that political rhetoric influences a Sayoc, it would reason for consistency that other rhetoric has contributed to other acts such as the ball field shooting, ricin mailings, Charlottesville this year and other antifa led acts of violence and racism.

    Yet, I dont’ see much introspection or responsibility taken by those who contributed to the characterization of their opposition. In other words, where are people like Waters or Clinton or the WaPo and Atlantic admitting to their own past contributions? It makes the cry of “words matter” over the weekend, ring hollow.

    Where is this community and the words it chooses to use at the Witness? Was it too silent this year on opposing the violence and racism during this year’s Charlottesville march by the left? Where was an article like this after the Scalise shooting? Or even, are terms like “white fragility” creating demeaning and devaluing concepts of white people that aren’t necessary and create further division?

    I think this community often makes the same mistake the early pro-life movement made. It’s concern was largely with judgement of the sinner. Often demeaning and devaluing the girl that was walking into an abortion clinic with a host of words from murderer to whore. And in some ways they were right in judgment and speaking “truth”. The sin being undertaken was wrong, but what the pro-life movement learned is that it didn’t foster change. Since it’s focus has largely shifted to alternative options, care, opportunity, relationship, it’s impact has grown far more than ever. I would encourage that here after hearing the expressions of frustration and the focal points of politics that have hampered this movement.

    And if you aren’t sure how to do that or what it looks like…watch Kanye hug the president. Those actions/words do far more to counter this divisive culture than finger pointing.

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