I’ve been contemplating lately how intensely powerful our words are. We all know the cliche Christian phrase “words can build up or tear down”; or even the secular version of Thumper’s Mama saying “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” But what does that really mean? And who does it apply to?
I’ve known many people who are EXCELLENT at being polite- they really get the concept of good southern principles of being nice, and yet there’s a subtle underlying layer of ugliness that can show through when you’re in private and they’re letting down some of those public charades. So obviously there’s more to the power of words than just “saying something nice.”
What I want to address is the deeper level of the power of words; because it’s not found on the surface of just being nice to other people. It’s found in the power of what you say to yourself. Language is a serious thing, and scripture never talks of it lightly. Our words are a gift; they are used to create moving speeches, gripping adventure stories, melting fairy tales, every day conversation used in personal relationship; in fact they have such importance that God chose to use words as His primary communication with us, His children.
Learning to build up and give LIFE deeply and truly, beyond just the surface level of Thumper’s Mama’s advice begins with a very simple acceptance of the inherent power of words. We must throw out any beliefs we have in the wretchedly common saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” We must choose to believe that those words we are about to say no matter what the topic or circumstance, or how unimportant we think they are, are in the same boat as the words referred to in Proverbs 12:18; “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” and Proverbs 18:21; “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
Either your words are rash (unplanned, unfiltered, taken lightly) or they bring healing. There is no in between. Scripture never tells us that there are certain words or topics that are just “meh” and we don’t need to worry about them.
Learning to build up and give LIFE deeply and truly, beyond just the surface level of Thumper’s Mama’s advice means not just taking ALL of your words seriously with gravity, it also means going beyond the charade we perform in front of the watching world; it means taking ALL of your words seriously, with gravity, behind closed doors. Not just closed doors with your spouse or roommate or best friend who knows all your secrets, but further: behind the closed doors of your own heart. You see words have so much power, but not just over the other humans who hear you; they have an even greater extent of power over your own soul.
Every word we speak that is complaining, critical, judgmental, hurtful, bitter, or blaming, those don’t just tear down the object of our complaint, they reinforce those feelings in our own minds and hearts. Every time we put our anger and hatred and bitterness into words, it’s like we’re sprinkling water on a thirsty weed, (desperate, and quite able might I add to run it’s roots to every corner of your property) and purposely planting it out in the sunshine amidst the intricately beautiful flowers. And as any of you gardeners know, a weed unrestricted and fought takes over everything beautiful in an obscenely short amount of time.
See, real life is not found in the basic words you say when you’re around others, it’s found in the depths of your soul and the choices you make that lead you either to build beauty and love in yourself, or weeds of bitterness and criticism. I have found it interesting that of all the people I know, those who tend towards criticism, criticize everything, all the time. People who tend not to jump to criticism seem to never say an unkind word at all! People who tend to swear and use obscenities use all the “bad” words in every circumstance in life, and people who tend not to swear never use a “bad” word at all.
You can’t view words with a lack-a-daisical don’t-really-matter sense, because if you do then all the negative respects of language take over. It’s only when you accept their gravity, and pursue the life giving words that you can truly give life not only to others, but to yourself. Scripture teaches that what comes out of the mouth, comes out of the heart. [Matthew 15:18]
Do you view words lightly? Do you find it easy to feel irritation and criticism towards people? Do you find it easy to look down on someone else’s problems and judge them for not measuring up? Do you find your natural tendency towards mishaps (or even absolutely no cause whatsoever) be to use filthy language? (Every dirty word used adds to a foundation of tendency towards ugliness. [Colossians 3:8 “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”] ) Do you think your words don’t always make a difference in your own or another’s life? If the answer is yes, then the problem is most likely not in the fact that you aren’t being nice to someone in public, the problem is that you have chosen to cultivate a habit of internal rash words which are destructive to your very soul.
It gets even more vulnerably honest when you ask someone else: “Do you think I’m known for building others up?” I challenge you to ask someone that question, who you can trust to be honest in their reply.
Whether it’s criticizing your spouse for forgetting once again, or leaving the [fill in the blank] undone once again; or taking the opportunity to verbally blame and put down your friend or sibling the moment they slip up for the very first (or fourteenth) time; or, especially, if you’re just muttering/thinking to yourself how bad this person is at doing such and such, or being such and such, remember that every word is powerful. Consider. Thinking or saying those words will not leave you where you were before you mentally processed them; oh no, they will have inched you farther along the easy path towards destruction of your very own self. Consider your words as important, both in public and in private, and embrace the teaching from God Himself that says “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”; or “A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” [Proverbs 15:1 & 4]
As I sit here writing on my front porch I’m able to reflect on a beautiful picture in front of me: spring has come, and the trees and flowers are blooming, the birds are singing, the wind is creating a beautiful percussion in the swaying treetops. And my thought is this: If God’s nature and character was one that created such magic and beauty in His own creation, then surely as humans created in the image of God, and for the purpose of glorifying and reflecting God, how can we be content to use dirty and destructive words?Can that possibly be honoring to His character? What responsibility we have, as ambassadors for Christ to use our words to reflect God’s very nature. And what a privilege! See, we get this insanely beautiful opportunity to create life- life like those intricately beautiful and aromatic flowers blooming this springtime, like the little baby leaves which add so much color to our world. Why allow your words (and so your heart) to tend towards destruction (intentionally OR by accident) when we have such a unique privilege to create beauty in the reflection and manner of the beauty that God Himself has created?
Don’t see your words as a chore, or as meaningless, but use them as the paint colors on your palette to create a beautiful picture of Jesus’ own love and creation. It’s not an annoying chore of sanctification – it’s a reshaping of your very deepest heart strings that allows you to take joy and satisfaction in loving others, and in life itself.
“Keep your heart with all vigilance. For from it flows the springs of life.” -Proverbs 4:23
“Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will Himself be watered.” –Proverbs 11:25