I was thinking lately about the power of language. As I thought about how God used the spoken word to create the universe I was struck by the reality that there is great power in our use of language. It is something we often take for granted. God said, “Let there be….” and the world and all that is in it came bursting forth into existence.
We cannot create a universe, but we can create divergent realities with our language. Think about the power words have over children when they are still learning. What is said to that child can determine the course of his or her entire life. Think about how criticism can break a person emotionally and psychologically. Conversely, think of how a word timely spoken can redirect the course of a person’s entire life in positive ways. Words are more than just ideas verbalized. They are a form of power that we wield every time we open our mouth. As such we are to use our speech in ways that honor God and direct people to the path of life.
The Bible has much to teach us about the use of our words:
- “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).
- “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:4).
- But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:8-10).
- “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6).
- “Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you” (Proverbs 4:24).
- “What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:12-14)
- Jesus said, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:11).
- The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence” (Proverbs 10:11).
- “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36).
- “An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue” (Proverbs 17:4).
That’s just a sampling. It appears that God is very concerned with how we talk.
Our ability to speak is a product of being created in his image. Speech did not evolve over time. It was given to us because we are created in his image. When we speak we are exercising that great privilege of utilizing an attribute of God. Either we use it for his glory or we misuse it and bring dishonor and shame to his name. Every time we speak we have the ability to reflect him back into the world. When used correctly, we can speak life into people. When misused we can tragically speak both death and chaos into people’s lives.
When God speaks, he speaks life. Think of Jesus calling Lazarus out of the tomb. How did he do it? He called his name and commanded him to rise. The result? A dead man rose again and walked out of his grave after being there for four days. In Ezekiel 37 God gave the prophet a vision. He was brought into a valley filled with dead people – only skeletons remained. The prophet looked and noticed that the bones were old and dry. God then asked him a question: “can these bones live?” God told the prophet to speak to the bones. Life was breathed back into them. The bones came together. The bodies were recreated. Life was given. It was no longer the valley of dry bones.
God seeks to give life away. He has given us the ability to give life by using our speech the way he does. While I cannot go into a graveyard and raise the dead, I can give the words of life to those who are dying around me, and I can see them brought back to life.
God is the author of life. He delights to give his life away – and to give it away in abundance. He delights to raise the dead. He proved this through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He created people to enjoy his life. And he saves people so they can freely and joyfully give his life away too. We have great power, the power to give life. All we have to do is speak the words of God, and we will see God’s power flow through our words imparting his life, love, and truth – transforming them as did the prophet in the valley of dry bones.
To this end we must never gossip, slander, or accuse another. We must never attack and tear down through criticism and discouragement. We must never be self-righteous fault finders. We must not be name callers and mockers. Even if we think the things we say are true. This type of speech is violent in nature. The outcome is always painful and leads to a form of death in the ones to whom it is directed. If we must confront someone (at times it is vital and necessary) it should be done in a way that teaches and corrects. We must seek to always turn people to Christ. When Jesus confronted the woman at Jacob’s well he revealed her sin, but did so in a way that made her crave his words. Her life was changed – because even when confronting her sin, he spoke words of life to her.
Words that speak death never cause healing and never imparts life. It may feel satisfying for a moment to speak with violence to another. But, in the end those words will be turned back on ourselves. That’s why Jesus said, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37). If we speak words of death and chaos it’s because we have those things in ourselves. Thankfully we can repent. Even from the depths of death God’s words of life can reach us and bring healing and life back to us.
We should consider, though, that our words have the ability to reveal our spiritual identity. We all fail every day, some days worse than others. But, every day reveals patterns of behavior. Do we normally speak life into those around us, and only occasionally, through sin, speak in violent ways that produce death in others? – and then repent because we know we were wrong? Or, do we normally speak words of death and only occasionally speak words of life to others?
We must consider carefully the use of our words. Jesus said we will give an account for every careless word we speak (Matthew 12:36). If we live a life of repentance, then every careless word we speak will already be accounted for on the Day of Judgment. But, if we know nothing of repentance (a good sign we speak words of death), then in giving our account, we will come to understand why we are condemned.
- What do our words reveal about our spiritual identity and what do they reveal about our eternal destiny?
Thankfully we can call upon Jesus and be healed and forgiven of our sin; and we can be assured of an eternal life filled with his abundant life in us and flowing through us to those around us.
Speak life and live.