“She thinks she’s so much better than us, just because she got that promotion. I wish she’d quit or get fired so I’d never have to hear that annoying voice again.” They didn’t know she was there – she hadn’t meant to eavesdrop but she knew they were talking about her. And as much as she didn’t want to admit it, the words stung.
Words are powerful. They can build a person up or tear a person down. They can initiate relationships or rip them apart. They can offer life or they can bring death. The power of words is immense, yet so often we do not put any thought into the words that we say. We let them spew out with little regard to the consequences.
When we are careless with our words, it damages our Christian witness. Speaking with judgement and anger will not win people to Christ. In fact, James writes, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26). Letting anger take free reign of our words can destroy any shred of credibility we have when it comes to witnessing.
“You’re always so disheveled when you get to work. I don’t know why they keep you on. You make the rest of us look bad.” He clenched his jaw, trying to ignore the angry words of his coworkers. Maybe if they knew that he biked to work because he couldn’t afford car payments – if they knew that he spent every last dollar he had to make sure his two kids were fed and clothed – but he couldn’t afford to lose this job, so he clenched his fists and turned away, aching with the pain of it all.
The Bible talks about the power of words in many places. Proverbs 12:18 states, “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Hasty words spoken in anger can feel like knife wounds and can last longer with deeper scars. It is sometimes easy to recall words of criticism and anger, even years after they are spoken. Words designed to cut people down can do just that, with devastating and lasting effects. But a word fitly spoken can do the opposite. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Words intended to build up and encourage can be incredibly powerful.
“Hey Pam? I’m so glad you got that promotion. You deserve it. You’re definitely the most qualified. I really look up to you and I’m glad to work with you.” She looked up, shocked. No one had ever said anything like that to her. A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth as the pain of the words she had overheard earlier eased away.
In nearly every situation imaginable, encouraging words are helpful and healing if spoken in love and kindness. We are often quick to judge others without knowing their situations, yet if we look to Jesus as our example, we find that His example was often to show love and grace rather than judgment and condemnation. The power of grace is unimaginable, and those who know Christ should be quick to show love and mercy rather than anger and criticism.
“You know, I have so much respect for you. You always do great work and I’ve never known you to miss a deadline. I’ve got kids of my own and I know how hard it can be to work and raise kids at the same time. You do a great job of balancing both.” He listened to the words with a slight smile as his shoulders unconsciously straightened at the praise. It was good to know that someone saw his struggles and valued him for it. The man’s next words took him by surprise, but he listened. “You know, my church is having a barbecue next week. Why don’t you and your kids come? I could give you a ride.” He thought for a moment, then nodded. Maybe he could give this church thing a try.
What we say can have serious consequences, for good and for evil. As Proverbs 18:21a reminds us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” What we say matters, and it is important to watch our words. They can heal, or they can destroy. In Matthew 12:36, Jesus said, “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.” Words are not just sounds to be heedlessly thrown around. Let us be careful to speak wisely. You never know when a well-placed word could save a life.