The Power Of Words
Words can influence a nation, a community, a family and individuals for either good or evil. They are not neutral, and we often struggle with using words to express our thoughts. Words reveal the condition of our heart and what we are really like. How do we speak words that are good and true? This requires a transformation of the heart – a repentant heart, a thankful heart, a heart that knows God’s love and a heart that loves people.
Words are powerful. They create or destroy, encourage or discourage, build up or tear down. Powerful speech flows from an inspired heart either for good or for evil.
Words can affect a nation
During World War 2, Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspired England to greatness by using his words to construct a picture of victory in the face of certain defeat. His famous speech challenging the nation never to surrender turned Britain’s darkest hour into its finest hour. His words created faith in a nation and inspired the whole world to believe that good could triumph over evil. His words influenced a nation for good.
In stark contrast, dictator Adolf Hitler used his skillful, manipulative way with words to inspire a nation to evil. His words were so powerfully motivated by the appalling intent in his heart that he nearly succeeded in his grand scheme of world domination. His words created fear and inspired men to do inconceivable evil on a colossal scale.
On their journey to the promised land, Moses selected 12 men to explore the land of Canaan. After 40 days, they returned with pomegranates, figs and huge clusters of grapes – and two different reports.
The majority report was: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan” (Num. 13:27-29 NIV). Their words instilled fear that there were powerful giants in the land.
Joshua and Caleb’s minority report was: “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it … The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, He will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them” (Num. 13:30;14:7-9). They were positive, saying “God is with us. He will help us. We can do it.” They were seeking to instill faith in the people, not fear.
But the other men who had gone up said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Num. 13:31-33). This bad report instilled fear in the people. They began to believe it, and then began to complain and grumble saying it would be better if they were back in Egypt – and they wanted to kill Joshua and Caleb (Num. 14:1-4,10).
The bad report affected the whole Israelite nation. The consequence was that those over 20 years of age died while they wandered in the desert for 40 years (Num. 14:26-38). Those who brought the bad report died of a plague and only Joshua and Caleb survived to enter Canaan.
Words can affect a community
Words can also affect a community such as a school or local church. Recently I helped organize an outing for students at the school where I teach. When some complained and grumbled that they didn’t want to go, I gave them more information about the outing to instill positive attitudes in them. I said, “You will have a great time,” and reminded them of this again over several days. Some students accepted this and influenced their friends. By the time of the outing, most of the students had been won over, showing the power of positive words in a school community.
In about 50 A.D. Paul sent Timothy to visit the church at Thessalonica. After Timothy returned Paul wrote, “Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith” (1 Th. 3:6-7). So Paul and others in the church at Corinth were encouraged by Timothy’s good report. On the other hand, today we can see local churches that are divided because of bad reports sent from one person to another, because of words said without love and without consideration of others. A church can split up because of bad reports spread.
Words can affect families and individuals
Disagreements between family members can lead to raised voices, angry words, attacks on the character of others, and result in people being hurt by what is said. The outcome may be unhappy situations where family members refuse to speak to each other, possibly leading to a family being broken up. The lesson here is that, “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1).
Words can have profound affects on our lives. Parents can sow seeds of rejection in their children if they constantly criticize them with negative words, such as saying that their birth was a mistake, rather than encourage them with affirmations. Such negative attitudes inhibit the development of a healthy self-image. A parent’s fears can lead to children thinking that care and worry are normal responses to life; their anxieties are passed on to their children. On the other hand, words of encouragement build confidence. Words can have a significant impact on individuals.
Words are not neutral
The seventeenth century French philosopher, mathematician and physicist, Blaise Pascal, once said “Cold words freeze people, hot words scorch them and bitter words make them bitter.” Words can create life or death, encouragement or discouragement, peace or strife, health or sickness, blessing or cursing, wealth or poverty. Everyday we have a choice to make between these two. We should set our mouths in the direction of our desires. If we want peace we should not talk about anxiety, cares and worries. If we want success, we should not talk about defeat.
Why do we ever say words that we later regret? Why do we criticize others or grumble over minor annoyances? Why do we exaggerate in order to prove a point? We know that these things are destructive and wrong. So why do we do them again and again? The Bible says, “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (Jas. 3:8).
Words reveal the condition of our hearts
Jesus said, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Lk. 6:45). No wonder our attempts at self control regarding gossip, grumbling or angry outbursts are destined for failure because of the condition of our heart. Constantly using our mouths to gossip, wound, hurt, criticize, and judge others reveals the kind of person we are. These types of words often spring from a heart that has been hurt, wounded and rejected.
If we are always complaining, it’s likely that we have never learned to be thankful or obey God’s command to focus on the good and beautiful things around us (Phil. 4:8). If we have a tendency to brag, it’s likely we are seeking to please people more than God. If we stretch the truth to cover our mistakes, we may be unrepentant about our sin. If we angrily broadcast the sin of people who have wronged us, we have probably failed to forgive. If our speech centers on ourselves or if we are prone to angry words, we may be lacking in love.
We need a change of heart
We need to allow God to transform or change our heart. What kind of hearts should we seek? First, a repentant heart. After each transgression of the tongue we need to examine our hearts and confess the sinful attitude there. If we fail to be grieved about attitudes such as self-centeredness and pride, if we don’t see them as an ugly affront to God, we will inevitably fall back into the same old speech patterns. Only a truly repentant heart can be transformed.
Then we need to aim at having thankful hearts. “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Th. 5:18) is a command, not a suggestion. As we begin to grasp what God has done for us and focus on these things daily, our hearts will overflow with gratitude. Then our words will point others to God’s goodness. Criticism of people will disappear as we focus on their strengths. Complaints about our circumstances will give way to anticipating how God will work in an unpleasant situation for His glory.
We also need to have hearts that know God’s love. Our words will be transformed as we begin “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:18-19). As we grow secure in God’s delight in us, our need for the approval will fade away. We will no longer be tempted to boast in order to impress people. We will stop seeking the ego-boost that comes from being the center of attention. As our hearts are transformed by God’s love, we will gradually become more consumed with helping others experience that love than with trying desperately to get others to love us.
As we respond to God’s love for us, our hearts will be filled with praise. Then the words that flow from a heart enthralled by God will naturally draw others to Him and we will be like David who wrote, “my tongue will speak of your righteousness and of your praises all day long” (Ps. 35:28).
We also need to have hearts that love people. How many of our speech problems would disappear if we truly loved other people? Then our words would be patient, kind, free from jealousy, humble, considerate, other-centered, truthful and protective of others (1 Cor. 13:4-7). They would communicate that we believe in others, that we will never give up on them. If our hearts are filled with love, our words will seldom go wrong.
Our greatest hope of speaking life-giving words is to be in intimate fellowship with God, learning to listen to His voice. Then we will be able to say that “the Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary” (Isa. 50:4).
Often today people can’t keep their word. We make contracts for everything, not only for marriages and mortgages, but for small things as well, because people are often dishonest. But, God’s Word is true and what He says in His Word He will fulfill: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change His mind” (Num. 23:19). Often people break their word; we can’t trust politicians even though they are in high positions of authority. But we can trust God and His Word.
God’s Word is not only true, it is also living, powerful and eternal. God’s Word offers us abundant eternal life. God’s Word can revive us, encourage us and build us up as we read and meditate on it. May our prayer be like David’s that our words would be pleasing in God’s sight:
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes … They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb … May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Ps. 19:7-14).
What kind of report are we sending to those we work with and worship with? What kind of report are we sending to our family? Are our words encouraging? Do they stir others up to live our faith and love our God? Or are our words destructive and discouraging? David also asked for God’s help: “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Ps. 141:3). Let’s remember that God can change our words, but He needs to transform our hearts for that to happen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Mylonas and his wife live in Sydney, Australia where he teaches mathematics at a Christian school and has a passion for the ministry of small groups.
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.