How do you measure a word? What’s really inside one? Why is it that words command, control, and influence our lives? They don’t weigh anything physically, yet they seem to have a unique ability to weigh thousands of pounds in our hearts and in our ears; they haunt us long after they enter our ears.
Interestingly, words are literally free; they don’t cost us a single cent. Someone has tried to grapple with this strange monetary reality by quipping the now well-known phrase, “Talk is cheap!” But, if that’s true, why do our words often cost us the equivalent of millions in relational capital? Yes, it may be true that words don’t weigh anything physically, don’t cost us anything monetarily, or have measurable watts or degrees, but we are fools if we go on living as if words don’t hold disproportionate influence over us as we speak them to people and as others speak their words to us.
What you are reading is the first of five different posts on the subject of how you and your words function in the world you inhabit. The first couple of posts will be uncomfortable, but they are foundational to understand how you sin against others with that broadsword you call a tongue. In this first post, I attempt to convince you that you are ever on the verge of destroying your closest relationships because you often use your words for death instead of life. Oh sure, your family and close friends may not abandon you, but we all know that you can limp along in unloving relationships for years. I want to help you dodge that train wreck.
In the second and third post, I’ll come alongside you and do some heart work, that hard kind of heart work where we’ll peek underneath the hood of your motives and deep-rooted sinful impulses. I pray the Spirit will reveal particular verbal sin tendencies, unhelpful postures, and habits of the heart. If you stay the course of this little series, I think it will result in more peaceful relationships and ultimately more joy in our triune God.
Your Words Are like Velcro
Let’s play with the idea of what’s in a word a bit more. We have established that words have a way of metastasizing into the cracks and crevices of our heart and then marinating on the memory. It’s similar to a song as it burns into a CD or MP3; words are burned into the material of our memories. How does this happen? Words aren’t physical creatures. No one has ever touched a word, so why do some words attach themselves to us like barnacles to the side of a great blue whale? Even printed words cannot truly be touched! You can touch a word on a page, but printed words are just alphabetic symbols, stand-ins for the concrete realities that lay behind them. In this sense, words have whole universes of meaning and capability in them! This is in part why they are so powerful. What daughter, with even the best of mothers, can’t immediately recall a moment in her childhood or teenage years when her mother spoke a cutting word that still stings to this day? Or put positively, you might remember when your father, a coach, or perhaps a mentor, spoke a kind word of godly affirmation over you that caused you to soar with a good and holy confidence. It was a deep word of resounding influence and it had life-shaping implications, didn’t it?
This is the power of words.
The book of Proverbs says that the power of life and death resides within the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). If we pause to think about it, we have experienced this and know it to be true.
God’s Word and Words
Consider the first pages of Scripture. When God created the universe, He did it with words. Genesis 1:3 declares, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” The very first thing God created, out of nothing, was light and He spoke it; He worded it into existence by speech. For God, then, words are invisible spiritual creatures, and in a sense, that is true for us too. When God uses words, they have immense physical potential, and to a far lesser degree but no less real, the same is true for you and me. When God speaks something, it always happens (Isaiah 55:10-11). We speak because God spoke first and because He deems it glorifying that we mirror Him in this way. What we see in Scripture is that God speaks (you could say He "words") us into existence. That’s right. You are in essence words that exist in the mind of God, spoken and created in eternity past and then actualized in real time. Within the mind of God, in eternity past, you were fashioned with a name, and in that mysterious place of God, your name represents whole rooms of possibilities and realities that are at this very moment being realized.
Hebrews 1:3 shows that we exist by the power of His word and that He is holding us together even now by His will (cf. Col 1:17). What an amazing reality to ponder! All that we are—when and where we were born, our height and eye color, our mental capacity, disposition, and much, much more—was once spoken into existence by God through this powerful vehicle known as words. We are the fruit of His mind, every intricate detail that makes you, you.
Your Words are Investments
Imagine for a moment that you had in your possession hundreds of millions of dollars. It was all yours to spend on whatever you wished. The sheer thought of giving an account to the Lord for that kind of coin is somewhat overwhelming to me. But, what I am arguing for is that every one of us has the equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars that God has entrusted to us. It’s just that this particular currency is in the form of words.
God has entrusted each of us with an almost immeasurable quantity of words, a gargantuan gift to be stewarded and wielded for His glory. Yet, we rarely stop long enough to consider how we spend our allotted verbal currency. Upon whom and how do we invest this great verbal wealth? How do we use it? Indeed, we all have a considerable portion of words to spend, depositing them into one of two bank accounts: the account of death or the account of life. This reality is powerfully at play each and every time you speak. You and I talk all day long, and in this technological age we have created, new ways to take our words further and faster than ever before.
Your Words Will Incur Judgment
Jesus said in Matthew 12:36-37, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” In this short series I aim to get you ready for that day, a day according to Jesus when we will all give an account for every single word we have ever breathed out of our mouths. Let’s learn to speak wisely, and let’s learn how to speak words of life, not death—words of thankfulness, kindness, encouragement, and affirmation to our fellow man and about our Maker.