The Power of the Tongue

My home was filled with the sound of classical music.  I know it’s hard to believe, but this relaxing sound was coming from a computer game.  As I stood in the kitchen chopping watermelon, my youngest daughter, Katelyn, sat playing an American Girl game.  I could overhear my two daughters talking and all seemed to be going smoothly.  As with any game, however, the purpose is to eventually present a challenge and these challenges can test my daughter’s patience.  The relaxing atmosphere was soon interrupted.

“Urrr! I HATE this computer!”

I held off on correcting the outburst.  My older daughter, however, wasted no time.  “You shouldn’t say you hate the computer, ” she corrected.  “Well, I don’t hate the computer, I just hate its attitude,” Katelyn responded.  This clarification brought a smile to my face.  Obviously, my daughter has been listening to my own clarifications concerning her behavior – that I love her, but I do NOT love her attitude at times.  The fun in my eavesdropping did not stop here.  My older daughter again felt the need to voice her counsel.  “Still,” she intoned, “you shouldn’t curse the computer.  You should bless the computer.”

The power of words.  This is a lesson my children have heard from me time and time again.  Whether it be about their power to encourage or discourage other people around them, or whether it concerns their own “I can’t!” outbursts, I have attempted to ingrain in them the principle that WORDS MATTER! 

There seems to be a spreading emphasis on this principle within our culture, both in the secular and Christian arena.  Our nation spends millions of dollars on motivational speakers and various spiritual gurus who base much of their influence on teaching the power of words.  It should be obvious from practical everyday experience and it’s likely that every counselor could attest to it, but in case there is any doubt, neuroscientists have also studied and confirmed the impact words have on our brain signals.1  From the perspective of my faith, the power of words extends beyond just their chemical effects.  Though some within the Christian circle have taken the concept too far with a “name it-claim it” mentality, I believe there are spiritual consequences dependent upon our choice of words.

Judeo-Christian studies are the richest in teaching the power of words.  The oft-quoted Genesis reference in which God creates the universe with nothing but words should clue us in on the way our world operates.  Nonetheless, this alone can easily be refuted by reasoning that this reference pertains only to God’s power of words and not our own.  This rebuttal is not supported throughout the rest of Scripture, however.

Soon after the opening chapters of Genesis, we see the use of blessings and curses in the words Noah declares over his three sons (Genesis 9: 24-27).  Not much farther into the Genesis account, we come across the situation between Jacob and Esau.  Ever wonder at the importance laid upon Isaac’s blessing?  Rebekah did not underestimate its weight.  This is why she instructed Jacob to deceive his father into believing he was Esau, thus “stealing” his father’s final blessing.  It is tempting to dismiss this.  Why couldn’t Isaac simply bless Esau as well, once he’d learned of the deception?  Esau wondered the same thing as he cried out, “‘Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me . . . Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” (Genesis 27:36,38).  Despite Isaac’s grief over what had occurred, he did not recant his blessing.  Rather, he repeated what he had spoken, that Esau would serve his brother.  Did this blessing consist of money, of material possessions, or at least a written contract specifying an assignment of wealth?  No, his blessings were not even within Isaac’s power to provide, they were for the Lord’s provision and it consisted “only” of words.

Jacob (later referred to as Israel) carried this understanding with him when it came time for his final blessing.  Two chapters are dedicated to quoting the blessing Israel spoke over his sons and over Manasseh and Ephraim (Genesis 48 -49).  King Balak of Moab attempted to hire Balaam to come against the Israelites.  Was it with weapons?  War strategies?  No.  It was with words.  God, however, made sure to interrupt and place blessings inside the mouth of Balaam instead of curses, much to the frustration of King Balak (Numbers 22-24).  Further reading of the prophetic books confirms the power of spoken words.  On and on this emphasis is repeated, whether it be in the form of a Proverb or within a letter of instruction:

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21).
“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).
“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).
“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships for an example.  Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.  Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire . . .” (James 3:3-6).

This is by no means an exhaustive list, yet it should lay sufficient grounds for us to stop and think before we speak.  Or at times we may consider our need to stop our silence, open up our mouths and say something!  Our words are like seeds being continually planted into our own lives, situations, and the lives of others.  What kind of fruit do we want to bear? 

Finally, if our own spoken words carry this much impact on our lives, consider how much more powerful it is to speak the Word of God!  As Balaam oracled: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change his mind.  Does He speak and then not act?  Does He promise and not fulfill?  I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot change it” (Numbers 23:19-20).

The Power of the Tongue written by Lesley Rieland

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