The God-Given Power of Our Words

I’ve been thinking a lot about words lately. The weight that words carry, coupled with the fact that I use a lot of them. Interestingly, while I’ve searched diligently for a Proverb that would commend the use of many words, I have yet to find one. In fact, many Proverbs say just the opposite. Here are just a couple:

  • Proverbs 10:19: When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

  • Proverbs 29:20: Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.

Ouch. Most of my thoughts lately are not really about justifying my “wordiness,” though. My husband Warren and I are facilitating our fifth session of DivorceCare at The Crossing and, once again, we have been confronted with the reality that the weapon people most readily reach for, in order to inflict the deepest, longest-lasting wounds, is the spoken word. Words have great power. Sadly, we flawed human beings can wield that power very poorly.

I had the privilege of hearing one of my favorite authors, Paul David Tripp, speak at the Desiring God 2008 National Conference on the subject of War of Words: Getting to the Heart for God’s Sake. In his presentation, Tripp gave a compelling, biblical presentation of the concept that every word we speak has power and, he says, “We speak a lot of words. We are ‘word-ish’ people.” Tripp asserted this as a summation of what Proverbs has to say about the power of words: “Words give life…words bring death. You choose.”

In other words, nothing we say can safely be regarded as “neutral.” All words “carry with them a direction,” says Tripp. “You have never spoken a neutral word in your life.” Your words have direction to them. Everything you say either moves in the direction of encouragement, hope, love, peace, unity, instruction and correction…or of anger, malice, slander, jealousy, contempt and violence.

Experience has taught me that Tripp is absolutely correct; our words have power. And that is exactly as God intended. The Bible talks a lot about what we are to do with that power, giving much instruction. God’s Word directs us to be truthful with one another (Ephesians 4:15). To encourage (1 Thessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 3:13). To love (John 13:35). To exhort (1 Thess 2:12). To rebuke, yes, but to do it in love (Proverbs 27:6). In other words, God’s Word consistently points us to His plan that we would use our words to give life.

God Himself chose the written word, the Bible, as the way in which He most often and most extensively reveals Himself to us. God’s spoken Word, in the beginning, brought life out of nothing (Genesis 1). The ability to communicate with words is one of the ways in which we are made in the image of God.

What I have been thinking about a lot lately, though, is how our sinful hearts take words – our God-given gift of communicating life – and choose instead to deliver death.

We all know that we hurt people with our words. We’ve all done it, and oftentimes we’ve apologized for those words, hastily spoken in anger.

  • “I hate you!”
  • “I want a divorce.”
  • “You can’t do anything right! I don’t know why I expect anything different.”
  • “You think you’re so smart.”

The problem is (and we all know this, too) that even after a sincere apology is offered, the soul-level pain that words such as these inflict – the spiritual death that they bring into our lives – doesn’t go away quickly. Those wounds last long after a physical wound would have healed. It would be better for us never to have spoken than to have spoken rashly, then apologize.

Proverbs again lends us wisdom to this fact; verse 17:28 says, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”

It grieves me to think of the frequency with which I have spoken quickly, out of irritation, frustration, or anger, and wounded someone with my words. It grieves me to see people whose marriages are ending, ripped apart one hateful word at a time, and by the person he or she previously considered their closest ally.

I would love to close by offering up “Five Easy Tips for Controlling Your Tongue,” or some other checklist to follow, but this deeply-entrenched problem is, after all, a heart issue. Certainly Jesus had no illusions about our own ability, unaided by His Spirit, to control ourselves when He affirmed that, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) If, like me, you find yourself unable at times to control your words, I think a good step toward turnabout is to regularly offer up your mouth to the service of God in personal and corporate prayer. Commit Psalm 19:14 to memory and pray that God would make it true in your life. Developing practical strategies for short-circuiting the violence of our mouths is all fine and well, too, but I would suggest that we start by asking God to change us, to cleanse the filth and callousness in us that we can’t change on our own and oftentimes may not even see – or perhaps we simply don’t much care to see. As Christians, may we all be increasingly desperate for God to help us choose to speak life – not death – to others.

Ephesians 4:29-32
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

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