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What does the Bible say about the power of words?

Proverbs 18:21 says, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits." James 3 talks at length about the harm the tongue can cause, figuratively describing the damaging power of words. Ephesians 4:29 says, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." Proverbs 10:11 says, "The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence." Words can do great harm or great good.

As is perhaps obvious, words carry meaning. Words are what we use to communicate to one another, and effective communication is a bedrock to functional relationship. Through our words we can communicate beneficial, life-giving things like love, grace, truth, and forgiveness. We can use our words to build others up, to encourage, to correct, to affirm, and to comfort. Or we can use our words as destructive weapons, speaking lies or malice, manipulating or seeking to put others down. How we speak to one another matters a great deal, both in terms of our personal relationships and the overall functioning of society. But more importantly, our words matter to God.

Christians are told that "speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (Ephesians 4:15). We are to "address[] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5:19–21). Jesus said, "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45). Our words should reflect the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. As He works in us, the way we act, think, and speak change. Romans 12:1–2 talks about being renewed by the transforming of our minds. When our minds are transformed, that will be reflected in our speech.

Our words are also the way the world hears about Christ. Our words should reflect His character and His truth. Romans 10:13–15 says, "For 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'" As Christians we are called not only to edify one another with our words, but to speak the truth of the gospel, which "is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). Sharing the gospel is perhaps the most powerful words we can share.

The Bible also talks about the power of God's Word. By His Word He created the entire universe. Jesus is referred to as the "Word of God" in John 1:1. We also know that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, "breathed out" by Him and "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Hebrews 4:12 tells us that "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." Ephesians 6:17 says that the sword of the Spirit, part of the spiritual armor of God, is the Word of God. Isaiah 55:10–11 tells us that God's Word is effective in what it is sent to do. Clearly our words do not carry the same power as do God's. But recognizing the power in His Word helps us understand just how powerful words can be.

As a brief clarification, there are those who believe that spoken words themselves carry a type of mystical power. While it is true that there is a sort of psychological strength in speaking things aloud and, as we've established, what we say certainly has great power, the phonological construction and physical mechanisms of speaking words carry no power in themselves. The power of words is in the meaning they convey and the effect they have on the human heart.

May our "speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person" (Colossians 4:6).


Related Truth:

Does the tongue really have the power of life and death?

What does it mean to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)?

What does the Bible say about Christian behavior?

What is meant by the command to love one another?

Does positive thinking have any power?


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