In the beginning was darkness . . . then God spoke. He stretched out the heavens like an artist preparing his canvas, then draped them with the sun, moon, and stars to light the earth. He spoke and the oceans gathered so the dry land could surface. At his command, plants and trees sprang from the earth like obedient soldiers waiting for orders. He molded dust into shape and breathed into its nostrils, making it come alive.
Such is the power of God’s word. Even now, the reason the earth continues to revolve around the sun, the reason each atom remains in its proper place, and the reason your heart continues to beat is because God sustains it with the word of his power (Heb. 1:3). As R.C. Sproul said, there’s not a single maverick molecule in all his creation that doesn’t submit to his powerful Word.
THE POWER OF WORDS
There is a vast difference between creator and creation. Only God’s words have the power to create, and only his words can hold up the universe. However, as people made in his image, our words do have power. We cannot create out of nothing, nor can we manifest something to happen according to our will, but there is power in our words, for good or for evil.
Scripture says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Prov. 18:21). Proverbs also teaches, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (12:18).
We can encourage and edify in ways that bring peace and healing, or we can tear down and destroy. We can speak words that minister, or we can wound with foolish words thrusted wildly like swords. The adage that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” simply isn’t true. I suspect there are more people who’ve experienced hurt and pain from words spoken (or unspoken) than those who’ve been hurt by sticks and stones.
When I first developed an interest in writing, I applied for a three-month writing mentorship being offered by a well-known Christian writer. Hundreds of people applied, but there was space for only twelve, so I knew my chances of being accepted were slim.
A few weeks later I received the email . . . I had been accepted! I’m not sure if I was more excited or surprised. I told the first person I saw, who responded, “Are you sure they didn’t just pick you because they felt sorry for you?” Immediately, all the excitement was gone. The air had been sucked out of the room; my balloon of excitement was immediately popped. I went from feeling elated to discouraged in a matter of seconds.
This is just a minor example of the power of words. Much harsher words have dealt much deeper and longer lasting damage in people’s lives. Relationships have been destroyed, confidence has been deflated, encouragement has been chased away, and wars have started all due to the power of a rash word swung like a sword thrust.
WHAT CONTROLS THE TONGUE?
To illustrate the power of words, the book of James compares the tongue to the rudder of a ship. Such a small part controls the massive ship and directs its course. Likewise, a small bridle in a horse’s mouth directs the large animal.
But who controls the rudder, and who controls the bridle? The pilot and the rider. While our tongue has great power, what controls it?
Jesus tells us that the words of our tongue come from our heart. “The tree is known by its fruit,” he says. “How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matt. 12:33–35).
If your tongue habitually spews forth words of death in the form of discouragement, anger, or jealousy, then you must realize that it’s a heart issue before it’s a tongue issue. You can try to control the tongue, but it will be driven by what’s in your heart. No amount of self-discipline can kink the hose between what’s in your heart and what comes out of your mouth.
WISDOM FROM ABOVE
After warning of the dangers of the tongue, James goes on to argue that those who are wise and understanding will display these qualities in their conduct (3:13–18). Those with jealously and selfish ambition in their heart lack such godly wisdom. Their false wisdom creates disorder and division, whereas the godly person brings about peace and mercy.
If our words give us a backstage pass to the state of our heart, do we like what we see? Do our words show that we are filled with a godly wisdom from above that is “pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (3:17)? Or do we see constant fighting, bitterness, and selfish ambition?
What do those closest to us experience as a result of our speech? What do the words we communicate on social media say about our heart?
CREATING OR DESTROYING?
Thankfully, God forgives us for our careless words when we confess and repent (1 John 1:9). God promises good, peaceable, and sincere wisdom to those who ask for it (James 1:5; 3:17). Only God can breathe life into something lifeless, but our words have the power to metaphorically breathe life into others: “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life” (Prov. 10:11). When we encourage and build others up, we reflect our life-giving Creator.
Evil, on the other hand, perverts God’s good creation. It tears apart and divides. It cannot create, but it can destroy what has been created. When we spew words of anger or division, we tear down instead of build up. We destroy instead of giving life. We reflect the father of lies instead of the Father of life.
May our words reflect the life-giving nature of God instead of the destructive works of the evil one. By his grace and the power of his Spirit, we can be wisdom-spouting, life-giving, edifying people instead of those who tear down and destroy.
This article originally appeared at Gospel-Centered Discipleship.