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Don't underestimate the power of words


Our words really matter. Whether we realize it or not or acknowledge it or not, what we say impacts people in profound ways — and so does what others say to us.

It’s been said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But that’s not true, is it? It has never been true. We can be deeply wounded by words, can’t we?

Some of us may remember — all these years later — hurtful words spoken to us as children or teens. Maybe it was a parent, an older sibling, or someone else close to you. Words were said, such as: “You’re unattractive … you’re overweight … you’re lazy … you’ll never amount to anything” and we have carried the echo of those words even into our adult years.

Then again, someone might have spoken something like this to us at a vulnerable time in our lives: “I see potential in you … I think you’re special … I believe in you.” And the one who said those things may have no idea how those comments have encouraged us through the years. Maybe it was from a parent, grandparent, a teacher, a coach, or a pastor.

Words matter. Proverbs 18:21 (NIV) says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 25:11 (CEV) says, “The right word at the right time is like precious gold set in silver.”

And I would add to this that the wrong word at the wrong time can be incredibly devastating. We’ve all heard stories of young people who have literally taken their own lives because they were bullied online, or because hateful people said cruel words to them.

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Dedicated to God, our words can be a powerful force for good. But left unchecked — and especially when yielded to the enemy, the devil — our words can do great harm.

The apostle James explains it like this:

If we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.

…The tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches…but a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. (James 3:2, 5-6, NLT)

So what do we learn from this passage?

What you say reveals who you are

James tells us that if we could just control our tongues we would be perfect — or mature — and control ourselves in every other way. Your words are like a barometer of your spiritual maturity. Socrates once said to a young student, quote, “Speak, friend, so I might see you.” Effectively, Socrates was saying, “Speak, and I’ll be able to evaluate you.”

If your life has been transformed as a follower of Jesus, then your words will be transformed as well. The reality of your faith is demonstrated in what you say — and also in what you don’t say. Jesus said, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart” (Matthew 12:35, NLT).

Bottom line? Whatever is in your heart will ultimately come out in your words.

We need to control what we say

The Bible says that “you must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19, nlt).

But the reality is that we’re often slow to listen, quick to speak and quick to get angry. By the way, there are inside and outside thoughts, aren’t there? Some things are best left unsaid. You might think them, but that doesn’t mean you should say them. James 2:6 says that the tongue is set on fire by Hell. In other words, an uncontrolled tongue has a direct pipeline to hell. We all know that a single spark from a match or a campfire can destroy a forest. And one word foolishly spoken — one rumor, one lie — can be set fire by Satan himself. Mountain climbers say that “The vibration of one whisper can bring down an avalanche.”

Our words used wrongly can do so much damage

James says, “The tongue is a small thing.” Think about it. This mere two-ounce slab of mucus membrane can do so much evil or good, depending on who it’s controlled by. Through his demonic rhetoric, Adolph Hitler sent a nation to ruin. His words were responsible for the death of 6 million Jewish people in the Holocaust — and many Christians as well. Hitler’s tongue was set on fire by hell itself.

But now consider someone who used his words well. Billy Graham was a farm boy in Charlotte, North Carolina, who aspired to be a baseball player. But one day God put His hand on Billy, and through his preaching around the world, millions of people changed their eternal destiny.

Indeed, death and life are in the power of the tongue.

Controlling your tongue is a sign of spiritual maturity

I heard about a little boy who went to a pastor’s house who happened to be doing some carpentry. The little guy just stood there staring at the minister while he worked. Finally, the pastor said, “Son, I see that you’re trying to pick up some tips on carpentry.” The little guy said, “No, I just want to see what a preacher says when he hits his thumb with a hammer.”

Whether we realize it or not, there are people who are not believers who are watching us, maybe in some ways hoping that we will do something wrong. So we want to be very careful to represent our Lord — by what we do and say.

Use your words to build up, not to tear down

James 3:8-9 (NLT) says that the tongue “is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.”

Have you ever had a word of encouragement change things for you? Maybe you were feeling down, wondering if anyone noticed or appreciated what you do. Then someone shoots you a text with encouraging, faith-filled words — and it changes your whole day.

We should use our words to praise God

Why did God give us this tongue and the ability to verbally communicate? One of the reasons is so we could bring glory to our Creator. I love the words of David when he says, “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands” (Psalm 63:4, nlt).

You need to express your praise to God verbally, just as you need to express your affirmation of people. Guys, it’s not enough to look at your wife and think, I sure love her and she looks beautiful today. She’s not a mind reader. Tell her! It’s the same for wives, too. Tell your husband you appreciate him. Tell your parents you appreciate them. Tell your children how much you love and value them. Verbalize these things and verbalize your praise to God as well. Others will hear and turn their faces toward Him.

Finally, use your words to preach the Gospel

The primary way God has chosen to bring non-believers to faith is through the verbal articulation of the gospel. The Great Commission doesn’t say, “Go into all the world and be a good example.” No, Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel.” And by the way, to “preach” doesn’t mean you have to yell. To preach literally means to proclaim or publish. You can speak softly, you can tweet it, you can type it, you can post it, you can text it, or you can share it conversationally.

Just do it every chance you get.

And know that nothing anywhere is more powerful.

Greg Laurie is the pastor and founder of the Harvest churches in California and Hawaii and Harvest Crusades. He is an evangelist, best-selling author and movie producer. “Jesus Revolution,” a feature film about Laurie’s life from Lionsgate and Kingdom Story Company, releases in theaters February 24, 2023.

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