Words, words, the power of words. Words can be edifying. Words can be like poison arrows to cause death. Did you ever hear the saying, “loose lips sink ships”? Another pithy statement is, “the tongue is an unruly evil.” That is from the book of James. We can move mountains with our words. We can also use words like drawn swords. We can speak words without thought and slander our best friends. But “a soft answer turneth away wrath.” (Proverbs 15:1) In this article I want to explore the power of words for good and evil, the source of words, and the direction that God gives us regarding the control of the tongue.
First, there are many verses in both Psalms and Proverbs that show the power of words for both good and ill. Let’s look at a sampling of them.
The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes.
For he flattereth himself in his own eyes, until his iniquity be found to be hateful.
The words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit: he hath left off to be wise, and to do good.
Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully.
Thou lovest evil more than good; and lying rather than to speak righteousness. Selah.
Thou lovest all devouring words, O thou deceitful tongue.
The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords.
The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.
The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD: but the words of the pure are pleasant words.
The words of a man's mouth are as deep waters, and the wellspring of wisdom as a flowing brook.
Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thine heart unto my knowledge.
For it is a pleasant thing if thou keep them within thee; they shall withal be fitted in thy lips.
These verses give us the contrast between words that cause evil and words that bring good. The power of words is in the tongue. The tongue can be used to speak words that are beneficial or words that are negative. The tongue is used as a figure of speech to represent the man speaking words. The tongue is not evil of itself, but when it is used by a man to speak negative words, it brings evil results.
James 3 shows us how the tongue is used for both good and evil. The whole chapter concludes with a contrast between the wisdom that is from above and the wisdom of the earth. The Aramaic translation makes the passage very clear. This chapter gives us the beginning keys to understand how to control the tongue so that is can be used for good.
So also, the tongue is a small member and it exalts itself. Also, a little fire causes large forests to burn.
And the tongue is a fire and the world of sin is like a forest. And the tongue, though it is [one] among the members, defiles our whole body and sets on fire the successions of our generations that roll on as wheels, and it burns also with fire.
The tongue is compared to a little fire or a spark. One small fire can set a whole forest ablaze. Verse 6 goes on to explain that the tongue (our words) can defile our whole life AND the continuing generations that follow us. This can be seen in a simple example of a parent who tells his child, “You will never amount to anything.” That child then in turn tells his children something similar. This is a mild example compared to some of the things that parents actually communicate with words to their children. Generational curses such as these need to be broken in the name of Jesus Christ, so that the pattern and powerful hold of them can be replaced with blessings.
For all the natures of animals and of birds and reptiles, of the sea and of dry land, are subjected to the nature of mankind.
But the tongue, no one is able to subdue. This evil, when it is not restrained, is full of the poison of death.
Does this verse say that no one is able to restrain the tongue? Please read it again. It says that no one is able to subdue the tongue. But it IS possible to restrain the tongue and control it so that it will not be “full of the poison of death.” This requires diligence and much awareness of the potential effect latent in words.
With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who are made in the likeness of God.
And from the same mouth proceed blessings and cursing. My brothers, it is not right that these [things] be done so.
There is an inherent power in words. With words the heavens and earth were created. The power of speech is what differentiates men from animals. With words, whole nations have been deceived and brought under control of certain small groups of people. An example of this is how the entire population of Russia was controlled by first the czars and then the communists. With words we can bless and praise our God and Father.
With words we can curse, not only our enemies, but also our friends and loved ones. This is where we have the most trouble with realizing the power of our words. What we speak about our friends and our families have the most powerful effect. Why? It is because we know them well, so we know what words will have the most result. We easily condemn, gossip, and throw slanderous accusations. To those we love the most!! How can this be? Many times we do this without even being aware of it. Everyone has cursed someone else at some time. No one is exempt from this problem.
For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.
Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee:
For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.
The passage in James begins to explain how we can solve this dilemma and the answer begins by realizing the source of our words.
Is it possible that from one fountain sweet and bitter water spring forth?
Or is it possible for a fig tree, my brothers, to produce olives, or a vine, figs? Likewise, neither can you make salty water sweet.
The source determines whether water will be sweet or bitter. The type of tree determines what it produces. These verses show the comparison that the source of our words will determine the results they produce. So how does this apply to our speaking words?
O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.
We will not concentrate here about speaking evil. The point of what Jesus was saying was that the source of our words comes from our heart. Our heart (or mind) shows what our true thoughts are and then our tongue brings those out. So if our minds are filled with spiritual words, then that is what we will speak. The gospel of John is full of passages regarding words and believing Jesus’ words. Jesus showed that his words came from the Father and thus were spiritual words. Those words then brought life to people who believed them.
It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.
When we are discussing sources of words, this is the best source of all: the Spirit. Spiritual words, such as those from the Word of God, bring life. This is very easy to see when we are standing in the pulpit preaching the gospel or when witnessing to people. But what about after the service is over? Or after the time of fellowship? What do we speak when we are at home with our families? This gets back to the source of words. James 3 shows us that if we have negatives things in our hearts, then these will come out too.
Who is wise and instructed among you? Let him show his works in praiseworthy actions with humble wisdom.
But if bitter envy is in you or contention [is] in your hearts, do not exalt yourselves against the truth and do [not] lie,
because this wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, from the reasonings of the soul and from devils.
For where there is envy and strife, there also [is] confusion and everything that is evil.
These verses should be a wake up call to us as believers! Do not lie to yourself and say that there is nothing wrong with me. If there is ANY envy or contention in our hearts, it will come out in our words and actions. Our whole heart may not be evil, but if there is any portion of our thinking that includes these things, then words will come out that reflect this. Beelzebub is one of the names of Satan and his name in Aramaic is literally, beldebba, which means “master of slander.” Whenever we speak out of contention or strife, we are playing in his ball game and promote the devil. That is all the more reason to become more aware of the words we are speaking and where they are coming from!
Now that we are aware of the problem and the cause of the problem, is there more to learn about how to control the tongue? Yes, of course. I believe that a whole book could be written on this subject and still not cover it all. In this brief article, I would like to conclude with several keys that I believe are crucial to begin to practice this restraint of the tongue.
My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings.
Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart.
For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.
Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.
Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.
Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.
Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.
Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.
The first thing to do in order to restrain the tongue is to fill our minds with the truth of the words of God. This involves listening, reading, and then keeping those verses and teaching in our thoughts. Dwell and meditate on the Word of God and that is what you will speak. The second thing to do is to be diligent to keep your heart pure. This means asking for forgiveness for times of evil speaking, for even times when we were not aware of what we were speaking. It means forgiving others for words that they have spoken against us and for breaking curses that have been sent our way, as well as ones we have sent. “Ponder the path of thy feet” means to consider the areas of our lives that need correction. Is there any envy in my heart? Have I, or am I causing division of any kind? This requires a diligent seeking to root out areas of our lives that may not be pleasant to deal with. Ephesians 5 has some further insight and another crucial key.
Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.
For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.
We need to replace our foolish speaking with giving of thanks. If our hearts are filled with thanksgiving and praise, it is difficult to speak evil of anything. Philippians 4 exhorts us to think these things: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy.” If we think these things, there is no room in our hearts for evil things.
In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.
Another key to keeping control of our tongue is to speak few words. This includes thinking before speaking. A truly wise man is one who considers before he speaks. This will allow time to be able to control the words that come out of our mouth. Ecclesiastes 9:8 also tells us that for every matter there is a correct judgment and time. It also says that “great is the misery of man” if he does not discern both. Many times we may know the proper judgment or the proper thing that needs to be said, but especially if it is reproof, it is important to also have the right timing in which to say it.
The last key is back at the end of chapter 3 of James. Understanding the characteristics of true wisdom gives us a way to evaluate all of our words to tell if they are truly “spiritual words” or not. If they pass these criteria, then we can be certain that they will bring life and not evil.
Now the wisdom that is from above is pure and full of peace and humble and obedient and full of mercy and good fruits and is without division and does not respect persons.
And the fruits of righteousness are sown in quietness by those who serve wholeness.
The wisdom of God always has all of these elements. We can ask ourselves questions to determine the motive of our words. Does it fit with all of these characteristics? One of them that sticks out to me is “full of mercy.” Mercy is a deliberate withholding of judgment, even when one deserves it. The first use of mercy in the Bible occurs when the angels came to Sodom to take out Lot and his wife and his daughters. Genesis 19:16 says, “And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city.” Lot deserved to die with the men of Sodom, but God in his mercy and because of the intercession of Abraham, spared his life. How should we do any less than God?
Another criteria that is crucial is not having “respect of persons.” In Aramaic, this phrase is literally, to receive faces. I look at someone and say, “I like your face better than so and so.” This preference for one person above another will lead to much evil. In fact, in the body of Christ, it is one of the most prevalent tendencies. Let us seek to have the wisdom that is from above in our hearts and that will issue out in our thinking and in our speech!
Words, words, the power of words. Once we become aware of this subject and the potential that we have to cause evil or good, we can apply these principles and restrain our tongue. Let us seek to use the words we speak to bring health and life and to be spiritual words of truth. Let us speak the words of life and endeavor to root out the areas of our heart that need purifying and be diligent to keep our hearts. Let us use our words to pray for others and to give thanks!