The Power of Words

Lately, we have all been barraged by words. Media is no longer relegated to a few articles in a newspaper, casually glanced over during breakfast. It’s no longer objective and informative; no longer coming from a few reliable sources. It’s now as accessible and constant as the air we breathe, laced into nearly every daily activity. The current state of things only amplifies that, as there hasn’t been a slow news day for months. Everyone has been affected, and everyone has input. We’re being told silence is violence. Emotional investment is so high on every side that there seems to be no option to remain quiet. So much is on the line, and when we feel helpless or unwilling to change things through action, we resort to words. Everyone is talking, writing, yelling.

As someone who has always valued the power of words, I have found myself particularly caught up lately in the flurry of ideas and discussions. Like everyone, I feel strongly opinionated and often find myself wanting to be informed. The additional information then leads to stronger opinions or shifted opinions. Soon, the influx of information inserts itself into conversations with people or social media posts, often without passing through the filter of God’s Word or being given the time to percolate in and through truth. I’ve found myself leaving nearly every social interaction wishing I could reel back in certain things I’ve said.

This same regrettable over-speak can be seen on the small, personal level and the massive, world-wide level every single day. The more that is said, the more error is present (Proverbs 10:19). Unfortunately, retraction is never really possible. What’s been said and heard is done, and it has unavoidable, irreversible impact. Like never before, we need to value the advice of God’s Word regarding what we take in and what we put out. Communication and language are beyond important- they are God-given means of edification and information and correction- however, He has designed a process for using these tools/weapons.

The Bible has no shortage of references to the power of the tongue, to either do good or harm. It is the megaphone of the heart (Luke 6:45). We know for sure that our hearts are far from perfect, given to deception (Jeremiah 17:9) and zeal without knowledge (Proverbs 19:2). The last thing we want to do is speak freely and frequently from the heart, without first investigating its state and how it is aligning with the truth of God’s Word.

Proverbs 18:4 says, “The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.” Like we see around us, the presence of opinion and information is like a giant lake: deep, wide, and plentiful. However, not at all pure. Wisdom, however, is fresh and alive like a spring bursting forth from a mountain. It’s worth taking the time to climb up to, although this requires more effort. Once there, information is worth ingesting, and worthy of sharing. The deep waters are public opinion, social media, rants, and careless conversation. The fountain is God’s Word. If we take the former in disproportionally to the latter, our minds and hearts are polluted.

We all can fall into the thinking that we are wise on a topic, and that our wisdom is worth sharing. The more we consider ourselves to be well informed, the more prone we are to speaking out. The Bible, though, argues that the truly wise person is the quieter one who knows listening and reflecting is more important than speaking, and at the very least, must serve as a precursor to words. As the saying goes, it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. Proverbs 17:28 says the same: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” The Bible calls anyone who is unthoughtful with his words a “fool” (Prov 15:1-2; 18:2,6-8,13; 29:20). This is in complete contrast to the way we treat language today.

I enjoy and appreciate stream of consciousness in writing, and in conversation I often value this as transparency. The sharing of one’s heart can often look messy, and there’s a beauty and relatability to that kind of rawness. The creative writer in me wants to defend this practice. When viewed through the lens of scripture, though, I am reminded how careful we need to be with this. Language is a wild horse that needs to be bridled (James 1:26; Prov 18:21). Words are weapons. The Bible isn’t devaluing discourse and processing through sharing ones heart. In fact, it is valuing it much more highly than we do and reminding us to treat it with an abundance of caution.

We have to remember, amidst this trend of speaking out quickly and passionately, that a slower, measured response is almost always the wiser approach. It’s easy to jump to conclusions about others’ reluctance to speak out on something, but more often than not, this is a testament to their wisdom, not their carelessness. The words they speak in due time, or choose not to, will be through the filter of time and truth, rather than emotion.

 “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore, put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” James 1:19-21

When it comes to what words we allow ourselves to ingest, and which we deem worth sharing, let’s keep in mind how the Bible speaks of language. It is powerful enough to satisfy and bring life (Prov 18:20); to build up, fit the occasion, provide grace (Ephesians 4:29); to be sweet, judicious, and persuasive (Prov 16:21-24). But, when used flippantly, it can be deadly, corrupting, foolish, and troublesome (Prov 21:23). With increased access to communication, there is all the more need to weigh our words carefully, to take time holding them into the light of God’s timeless truth, so we can deliver what will edify, build up, and remain beneficial through the changing tides of opinion. 

By Anne Gould, wife of Mark Gould

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