One of my core childhood memories starts in my dad’s home office. He was working on something on the computer and really only paying half attention to me. I was complaining about something and I don’t recall exactly what pessimistic thing I said, what prediction of doom my 10 year old brain shared, but it caused my Dad to stop typing and turn to me and say, “Don’t say things like that. Words have power. Spoken words, and written words have power. When you say things like that, you are calling down curses upon yourself.” The concept that I could possibly cause harm to myself or others simply by speaking or writing words was so stunning to me that I didn’t speak for a moment. When I recovered myself, I asked him what I should do, and he told me, “Say, ‘I break that curse in Jesus’ name. Call upon the name of Jesus and ask Him for protection. Then try not to say things like that, or even to think them.”
My Dad isn’t the only one who believes in the power of words. The great wordsmith Maya Angelou did as well.
Ms. Angelou is mixing up Genesis with John 1:1 in this video (an understandable error given both Genesis and John start with the phrase “In the beginning”) but the point she makes is valid. The bible does refer to God Himself as “the Word” with a capital W. (John 1:1)
John also refers to Jesus using the same terminology, he calls Jesus “The Word made flesh” (John 1:14). When God sent Jesus into our world, into the valley of the shadow of death, He sent him armed only with words. Jesus traveled from town to town using God’s words, preaching the good news of salvation to Jews, gentiles, and Romans, even through places largely considered to be dangerous. It was for his words that Jesus was crucified, and by God’s word that he was resurrected.
The bible is considered the holy word of God. Jesus told us that God’s word is life-giving when He said “man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4).
God literally spoke creation into existence. In the book of Genesis, chapter 1, line after line begins with “and God said,” followed by “and it was so.” He said it, and it happened. The evidence is clear, Maya Angelou was right. Words are things. My dad was right. Words have power. We are words, spoken into existence from the very mouth of God, and created in His image.
Given that words are powerful, we should be careful how we use them.
James, the brother of Jesus, wrote about the damage that can be done with our tongues in James 3. James 3:5 says, “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” and James 3:7-12 states, “
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”
Have you ever said something horrible and immediately felt physically bad? Like sick to your stomach and disgusted with yourself? Vile words are physically damaging.
These days so many people are desecrating words. You see it in the news, on social media, on television, in the political debates, everywhere. People are twisting words around until they no longer have any meaning. People are using words to sow hate, to divide and destroy rather than to create. Circumlocution and derision have practically become sardonic art forms.
As Christians I implore you, do not engage in this behavior. Do not defile the holy gift of speech with a twisted tongue. Instead, speak truth. Speak love. Speak kindness. Use your words to build bridges, and to create harmony. Imagine your words are things, and you can see them falling about on the shoulders of the people to whom you direct them. Do they fall like refreshing rain on a parched field? Or do they fall like bombs, destroying everything in their path, sowing death and destruction?
Choose your words wisely.