Words are Powerful

March 2, 2023 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

From the beginning of the Bible, when God said, “Let there be light,” words have been powerful. When God made us in his image, we have come to share in his creativeness and ability to create through words. Since the Fall, however, the power of our words tend more to tear down than to build up. 

James highlights the power of words in chapter 3 of his letter. He first makes the point that, even though words seem inconsequential, they have huge impact. He draws the comparison between a large ship and its rudder with the human tongue, which is the primary instrument of word creation. He writes, “Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things” (3:4-5). 

You and I both know the old children’s rhyme, “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words shall never hurt me,” is one of the biggest lies told to children. As James explains, words have huge impact on others. From the same mouth we can build up people and we can tear down others. 

James does not stop with just explaining the power of words. He goes on to say we are utterly powerless to control our words. Listen to these words of despair. “And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (3:6-8). At this point we ought to be slain. Can it be that this untamable, restless evil, full of deadly poison, tongue lives inside me? And I have no power to tame it? “Woe is me!” as Isaiah says, “For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips” (Is. 6:5). 

Is there any hope for us? Stop talking? Impractical. Cut our tongues out? Does that really get to the heart of the matter? Thankfully James does not leave his readers in that place of despair. With a couple rhetorical questions in verses 11 and 12 he leads us to our only hope. He asks, “Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs?” What James is drawing attention to is the correlation between the nature of living organisms and how they function. An apple tree produces apples. An orange tree produces oranges. It cannot be vice versa because the DNA of an apple tree leads it to produce apples and only apples. 

The words of James lead the reader to recall the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 12, where Jesus makes the same connection between the nature of a person and the fruit he or she produces. Jesus focuses not on our biological nature, but our spiritual nature. He says, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:33-34). That last line is the key to understanding how desperate our condition is and what our only hope can be. 

The heart, in spiritual, biblical language, is the central processing unit for a human. Proverbs 4:23 says, “from the heart flow the springs of life.” It is the place where we hold our more treasured values that direct how we use our time, spend our money, direct our thought lives, and react to various situations. Everything about us flows from the heart. Unfortunately, in our fallen state of sin, our hearts are “deceitful about all things and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). In Ezekiel 36:26, our hearts are described as stone, totally cold and unresponsive to God. Therefore, if our hearts are blackened by sin, our mouths will pour forth deadly poison. 

The good news? Jesus Christ is a master heart surgeon, who came to do heart transplant surgery and renew cold hearts. In that same verse in Ezekiel 36, God promises, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” God does this through the power of his Spirit on the basis of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. 

While the heart transplant is a completed work of the Spirit in connection with our conversion, our hearts need continual renewal until Christ returns because of the lingering corruption of sin. Christ is our master cardiologist in this need as well. He renews our hearts through the ministry of the Word. Hebrews 4:12 explains, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” As we hear, read, meditate upon, and study God’s Word, the Spirit uses it as an effective scalpel to expose hidden sin, to lead us to repentance, and to assure us of our hope in Christ. 

And Christ also uses prayer to renew our hearts. Paul writes in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” When we cast our cares upon God in prayer, he is working his peace into our hearts to lead us to deeper quietness and trust in Him alone. 

Words are powerful. We can’t tame them. Our words pour forth from the abundance of our hearts. We can’t perform heart surgery on ourselves. If we want the power of our words to be used for good and the building up of others, we need to submit ourselves to the greatest heart surgeon, Jesus Christ.


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