The events in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton have spurred a national discussion on words and their power. What accountability should a person have for their words and their impact on others? It is an important issue. One study I read determined that women on average use 16,215 words a day. Men use slightly less words averaging 15,699 words a day. That means the average person speaks or writes over 5.8 million words a year. With social media, everyone’s words have the potential of being spread around the world. So, do words matter?
This blog is not about sharing my perspective. Its purpose is to bring the perspective of God’s Word, the Bible, to the key issues and questions of our day. On this issue of determining if words matter, the Bible and the Lord Jesus Himself speaks with such clarity and urgency it should give each of us pause to consider how we are using words. Words matter so much to God that every word we have used has been recorded for review by God when He sends the Lord Jesus to judge each person (Matthew 12:36). The Bible warns us that in the Last Days words will be used as weapons of destruction. In the toxic world we live in, how important it is that we examine our use of words.
Why does the Bible say our words are important? There is power of spiritual life and death in them. Proverbs 18:21 puts it this way, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” The Bible says there is a power in word that brings life to others (builds them up) and a power that brings death to the spirit of others (tears them down). As Jesus calls us to love others with a commitment to bring life to them, to do and say only what is good and true, it brings a high accountability for our words.
The Bible teaches our words have a life of their own once spoken or written and read by others. You can’t pull words back once delivered. How many of us have the words of a frustrated parent still speaking to us? On a few projects with my father when I wasn’t able to do it as he wanted, a few times the careless words would come, “What’s the matter with you, stupid, can’t you do anything right?” It was just frustration in a moment, not really meant, yet those words still live in me. When I make a mistake on something I am trying to do (and believe me, I make a lot of them), the words still speak, “What’s the matter with you, stupid, can’t you do anything right?” Words have a life that continues after they are spoken or written that can’t be pulled back — particularly negative words which may live in others the rest of their lives. Obviously, when people in high office use words that denigrate whole groups of people because of their nationality, ethnicity, skin color, cities they live in, economic status, there is a power in their words that brings death to the spirit as it takes away dignity, worth, value that all human beings have as ones created in the likeness of God.
The Bible teaches that the words we use matter because words express the true character of a person. The Lord Jesus says that the words we use reflect who we are on the inside. Here is what the Lord Jesus said in His critically important teaching on words in Matthew 12:33-37:
“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. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 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.”
The Lord Jesus says as a simple truth that words are one of the best revealers of the true character of a person. You can’t blame others for the words you use. You can’t use reciprocity as a standard to justify your words. The other person or persons didn’t create your response, your words are the revealing of your character, not the character of others. One who uses words to hurt, to denigrate, to attack, to tear down, to destroy are reflecting the dark character of his or her own heart. Words matter, for they reveal who we truly are.
It is interesting that the words used by the person in the highest office of the land are said to be expected, because if that person perceives he is being attacked, he will attack back many times as hard. It’s as if this is OK, or that somehow the responsibility lies with the other person for saying something critical in the first place. This person in a tweet in 2012 put it this way, “When someone attacks me, I always attack back … except 100x more. This has nothing to do with tirade but rather a way of life.” Of course this strategy of leaders is not new in life. The first person to express that attitude was Lamech, a descendant of Cain, who was the first murderer. What makes Lamech noteworthy in the Bible is that he is the first man to have multiple wives. In Genesis 4:23-24 it describes what Lamech said to his two wives, “Adah and Zilah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.” Thus Lamech sees himself so self important, so full of dangerous pride, that he will strike back seventy-seven times as hard as he was hit. Even he didn’t go as far as a hundred times. The Lord Jesus says that responses like that are important, for they express the true heart of a person.
Words matter, the Lord Jesus says, because when they become weapons used to attack others they become a violation of the sixth commandment of God, “Thou shall not murder.” As the Lord Jesus gives His key teaching in Matthew 5-7, it is important to note that the first issue He addressed is how we use words. The Lord Jesus said He did not come to destroy the moral and spiritual law of God, He came to fulfill them. He then preceded to take key commandments and bring true understanding to what God’s intent is with the particular law. The first commandment He used was about how we use words. Think about that — using words as weapons against others is the first issue the Lord Jesus addressed! How important our words are to God. The Lord Jesus said this in Matthew 5:21-22:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says,’You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Words matter, Jesus says, because when they are used as weapons to hurt, denigrate, demean others they are acts of murder subject to the judgment of God. Thus words are important not just because they may incite others to acts of physical violence, they are important because they are acts of violence in themselves. They are acts of violence that come from a spirit of murder as much as the one who actually takes a gun to murder. No good that a person does or stands for would be greater than the evil done.
The Bible teaches that words are important because when we use them to hurt, demean, denigrate others we grieve the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. Everyone is accountable for their words but those who are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ have a direct accountability for their words. The Apostle Paul by the Spirit of God put it this way in Ephesians 4:29-32 says this about words:
“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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Words are important, they are only to be used to build others up. Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ need to lead in this by example. We need to hold one another accountable for our words, whether spoken or posted on social media. We also must humbly but clearly speak to those in power and influence and to all who will listen to be careful what you say. We must remember our words are much more important than the particular political agenda we pursue. We are eternally accountable for our words and whether they were used to bring life or death, to build up or to tear down. We must be clear to the world that those who are denigrating and demeaning others based on where they are from, their ethnicity, their city of residence, their economic status, or their nationality, aren’t speaking “truth”. They are instruments of hate. We may be the lambs of the Lord Jesus, but we will not be silent.