Words are not simply sounds caused by our mouths shaping air passing through our larynx. Words have real power. God spoke the world into being by the power of His words (Hebrews 11:3). Humans are made in God's image, and our words also have power. To be clear, human words do not have the power to manifest reality. But our words do more than convey information; they have an impact on people. The power of our words can burden one’s spirit, even stir up hatred and violence. Words can exacerbate wounds and inflict them directly. Alternately, words can build up and be life-giving (Proverbs 18:21; Ephesians 4:29; Romans 10:14–15). Of all the creatures on this planet, only humans have the ability to communicate through the spoken word. The power to use words is a unique and powerful gift from God.
Our words have the power to destroy and the power to build up (Proverbs 12:6). The writer of Proverbs tells us, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21). Are we using words to build up people or destroy them? Are they being filled with hate or love, bitterness or blessing, complaining or compliments, lust or love, victory or defeat? Words are tools that can make life better, but any tool can be misused.
Words are so important that we are going to give an account of what we say when we stand before the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36–37).
The apostle Paul wrote, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). The Greek word translated “unwholesome” means “rotten” or “foul” and originally referred to rotten fruit and vegetables. Vulgar humor, dirty jokes, and foul language have no place in the life of a Christian. Instead, our speech is to be characterized by “only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (cf. Colossians 3:16; 4:6). Helpful, edifying, meeting needs, and beneficial—these are our descriptive goals for the words we use.
There is a remarkable parallel between Ephesians 4:25, lying; Ephesians 4:28, stealing; and Ephesians 4:29, unwholesome talk. In each case Paul is urging us to be a blessing to those with whom we have daily contact. Rather than lie, we are to speak truth; rather than steal, we are to do honest labor; rather than corrupt with our speech, we are to build up. Each sin needs to be replaced with something wholesome. As followers of Christ, we should emulate the example of Jesus, whose words were so filled with grace that the multitudes were amazed (Luke 4:22).
Jesus reminds us that the words we speak are actually the overflow of our hearts (Matthew 12:34–35). When one becomes a Christian, there is an expectancy that a change of speech follows because living for Christ makes a difference in one’s choice of words. The sinner’s mouth is “full of cursing and bitterness” (Romans 3:14); but when we turn our lives over to Christ, we gladly confess that “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9–10). The condemned sinner’s mouth is silenced before the throne of God (Romans 3:19), but the believer’s mouth is opened to praise and glorify God (Romans 15:6).
Christians are those whose hearts have been changed by the power of God, a change reflected in our words. Remember, before we were saved, we were spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1–3). Paul describes those who are dead in sin: “Their throats are open graves” (Romans 3:13). Our words are full of blessing when the heart is full of blessing. So, if we fill our hearts with the love of Christ, only truth and purity can come out of our mouths.
Peter tells us, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Let the power of our words be used of God to manifest the power of our faith. Be prepared to give the reason for why we love the Lord—at any time, to anyone. Our words should demonstrate the power of God’s grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. May God enable us to use our words as an instrument of His love and saving grace.