The old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is a lie.
Words have the power to hurt deeply and permanently. You know it is true. Words also have the power to heal. The truth about words is found in the Bible:
Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18
Some of the Positive Effects of Words
The Power to Instruct:
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1)
The reason? Because of the tremendous influential power of the tongue when employed by a teacher or preacher, those who teach and preach are held accountable to God and to man for what they say. The beneficial uses of the tongue carry a great warning:
But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be dro`wned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matthew 12:35-37)
This is our kind and gentle Jesus, Himself, speaking. He is not making this up. Not just the teachers, but everyone will be judged by the words they say.
The Power to Direct:
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. (James 3:3-5a)
Although the tongue, so small, can direct the whole life of a man, notice the tongue also can be steered by a rider or a pilot. Whoever is at the reins or at the helm will determine where the ship or the horse is to go.
The Holy Spirit of Jesus is supposed to be our pilot. We cannot tame our tongues, but He can control our entire lives when we are surrendered to Him.
One way He does this is by urging us to control our input. We know that “garbage-in-garbage-out” is true for electronic computers, but we’ve forgotten it also is true for our brains.
What we see and hear goes into our hearts. And if you are a parent, you have the responsibility also to control what your children see and hear. As a parent, Himself, God holds you, parent, accountable for what your children listen to or watch on the TV, computer, radio, MP3 player, and telephone.
Garbage in, garbage out. Faith in, faith out. It is that simple. A heart filled with good things will produce an overflow of good words from the mouth.
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. (Luke 6:45)
The Power to Encourage:
Sometimes our Pilot steers us into troubled waters where those around us are being tossed by storms. We could rescue our neighbors from these awful waves, but too often we find ourselves succumbing to the storms, drowning in demonic seas of criticism, grumbling, complaining, and fault-finding. We must overcome and rise above these storms and call on God in repentance, to guide and strengthen us against them.
Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:4)
Just do not go there. Instead, in these situations, stop.
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. (Ephesians 4:29)
Find something good to notice. Ask God to show you a reason to rejoice or compliment. When we begin with thankful thoughts, it is then that we can proceed, even with ideas for correction or improvement. If we begin with the bottom of our own ship filled with a swamp of filth, the first decent wave with sink us, along with those we would have rescued.
A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. (Proverbs 25:11)
Here I always imagine a silver bowl of Golden Delicious apples — inviting, refreshing, and royal. I want to be that.
Negative Effects of Words
Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:5b-8)
Fire has many great uses. We love it, when it is contained, to cook our food or warm us in winter or make our glass and steel. However, we know the dangers. We know: “Those who play with matches get burned.” Don’t we.
When we condemn, criticize, slander, gossip, lie, or curse, we are using the tongue destructively. Just like fire, which is destructive when uncontrolled, words are destructive when out of control. As with a spark of fire, it takes only one careless word to create a lot of havoc.
And like little children, we need our Father to be in charge of the matches, the sparks, our words.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (James 3:9-12)
One moment we are blessing God in church, and by the time we get to the lunch table, we are cursing men who are made in God’s image. Criticizing and slandering our fellow man is unholy. This should not be and will not be, if our hearts are right, because words flow from the heart. Nothing gives us away as much as our speech. It shows where our hearts are.
Bitterness, anger, and hatred in the heart it will come out through what we say and how we say it. The heart is the factory that produces all vile speech. The tongue is only the showcase window of the heart.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
I want to go there.