The Power of Your Words
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The Power & Responsibility of Your Words

by John David Hicks

"Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 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 12:33-37)

Victor Frankl writes in Man’s Search for Meaning that the foundation for our search is in the power of words, creative thoughts, ideas, and concepts that change lives. Words have the power for good or evil, and a prevailing view of reality takes root in the mind through words.

Observing the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, Frankl illustrated this and added a profound revelation: "I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some (Governmental) ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers."

In other words, it was in the lecture halls of the intellectuals and teachers that the sin of the holocaust and killing the Jews received legitimacy. This nihilism, the belief that all existence is senseless and that there is no objective basis for truth, was the basis for murder and the gas chambers.

Words lay the foundation on which we build our worth, character, values, and attitudes. A good word will build up, strengthen, and encourage us. But a careless word can tear down homes, break hearts, and wreck reputations as they wound, hurt, and destroy. Words gather strength with age.

So Jesus gave us two principles about our words. First, he said that "out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks."

In Matthew 12, the self-righteous Pharisees had just attacked Jesus, calling Him an ally of the devil. Their self-righteousness gave them the right to mistrust, dishonor, and destroy anyone who disagreed with them. Their words are murderous, sly, cunning, and malicious. In their character they are complacent with truth. In their values they have become hypocritical, insincere, pompous, holier-than-thou. In their attitudes they have become intolerant of the opinions and behavior of Jesus.

Your tongue only reveals what is in your heart. When you are on an emotional high, it says, "I am so happy." When you are down it says, "I am so sad." Behind the tongue is the heart, from which the good and evil pronouncements come. To change your words, your heart must change. That is why David prayed, "Lord, teach me to speak the truth in my heart" (Psalm 40:10).

Words speak louder than your actions-the opposite of what we normally hear. The words you speak are the fruit of your life. Eighty percent of the things you do are done mechanically, without thinking. To an observer, your actions don’t tell it all.

On the other side, you say nothing offhand. A man can produce through his lips only what he has in his heart. His words reveal his character. You may say, "Don’t take me seriously; I didn’t mean it that way." But that is what you really meant.

Your words will say anything, even lies or deception, to make you look good. Your words feed your desires to make you feel good to the point of twisting the truth and exaggerating. Your words will pout and refuse to play if you can’t be in control. Your words will take personal advantage and use others for your own ends. Your words have hidden agendas-saying one thing but meaning something altogether different. Your words will reflect your indifference when you don’t want to be disturbed.

Many Christians have never learned the power of verbally affirming one another. "An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up" (Proverbs 12:25). In the New Testament, Ephesians 4:29 repeats the same thought: "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."

One of the deepest needs of life is the need to be appreciated. When you give words of kindness, appreciation, and recognition of worth, you communicate love.

The word encouragement means "to inspire courage." All of us have more potential than we are using. What often holds us back is lack of encouragement. The purpose of affirmation is to build up someone’s well-being in love. Not to flatter the other person or to get him to do what you want, but to encourage him to develop an interest in what he is already interested in. People who receive affirming words are more likely to be motivated to try and to love in return. As Christians, we love God because He first loved us.

Because love is kind, you must communicate love using kind words. The tone of your voice, facial expressions, and gestures are all expressions of condemnation or love. They can be subtle or obvious, quiet or angry, sweet or bitter.

Love doesn’t keep score of wrongs or failures either. When you bring up the failures of yesterday, you contaminate today. The potential of a "new wonderful day" is polluted because of words of bitterness, resentment, and revenge. A person is not a failure because he failed. The past must become history that we use for our growth and maturity.

As a Christian, you are to say what you mean, and mean what you say. "Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be" (James 3:10). Psychiatrists tell us we all carry an "emotional bucket" we want to be filled with love. It is at the heart of our existence.

I believe that keeping your emotional bucket full is the key to life. This is how my youth pastor explained it to the teens: Everybody has a bucket with some water in it. Every time you say something nice and kind to people, you put water in their bucket. But every time you say something negative, you take water from their bucket. After a while, they will have little in their bucket. They will suffer with low self-esteem, low self-worth, and feel like a failure. They might withdraw or attack you.

So the youth group made a rule. If someone heard you say something negative about a person, the teens would say, "You took some water from his bucket. Now you have to put two cups back in." You had to say two positive things about the person.

There were times when a teen who was hurting would say, "I have a leaky bucket." And several in the group would try to build him up and put something good back into his bucket. By filling his emotional bucket with kind, loving, caring words, they helped the person and the situation. They created understanding and reconciliation.

When a child feels loved, he develops normally. When he doesn’t feel loved, his bucket empties and he misbehaves to get attention, a form of love. This emotional need for love follows us into adulthood. When your emotional bucket gets empty, you withdraw and have harsh words and a critical spirit. If everyone’s bucket were filled with love, relationships would be transformed and conflicts resolved.

Reach out to someone who is alone and say, "I am glad to see you today." Your words show that you care, that you love. When you say, "I understand. I care. I am with you. I believe in you. How can I help?" you are putting water in his emotional bucket by giving him credit and praise-love.

We must also guard our ears from an evil report that is false or distorts the facts. This causes the hearers to come to wrong conclusions and destroys relationships. "A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends" (Proverbs 16:28). A person who gossips magnifies rumors and partial information. A person who slanders seeks to destroy another’s credibility or reputation with damaging facts or evil suspicions. In the same way that touching a diseased body will defile one’s hand, listening to an evil report will defile one’s mind. Hebrews 12:15 warns us, "See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many."

The second principle Jesus gave us says that "men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless (idle) word they have spoken."

A careless word is thoughtless, lacking in consideration for others, inconsiderate, a tactless remark. The word idle describes a man who is not producing anything when he could. You will give account of your careless, idle words at the Judgment.

In an unguarded moment, when you say things without thinking, even in anger, you are really saying what you really think. There is no end to the damage that a loose tongue can create. "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless" (James 1:26).

The apostle Paul warns us to beware of "Christian cannibalism." Paul writes, "The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other" (Galatians 5:14-15).

The sin of the tongue destroys trust, a person’s reputation, and truth. It will drive out love, even God’s love, from the heart. An insensitive word can sting for years and embitter a life. The destructive power of untrue or distorted words defeats Christians and splits churches.

Joking (or teasing) can also cause hurts and problems. "Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I was only joking!’" (Proverbs 26:18-19). Saying hurtful things and then trying to excuse your remarks by saying "I was only joking" is like shooting fiery, deadly arrows into the heart. "You are fat…I was only joking." "You can’t sing…I was only joking." "You are stupid…I was only joking."

Your words mean more than you think. You can build up others with your words, or you can hurt, discourage, and damn with your words of joking. Many family problems are caused by name-calling in the name of fun. Many friendships have been broken because of misunderstanding a joke. A clean joke can be fun and harmless, but be sure it is not at the expense of another.

Jesus is our example. He called the Pharisees snakes in the grass and hypocrites. Why? Because they were so selfish they did not see that they were hurting people with their words and hindering the kingdom of God. When Jesus spoke, His words were salt and light, truth and integrity-truly the word of life. Even the temple guards said, "No one ever spoke the way this man does" (John 7:46).

Paul says, "But thanks be to God, who…through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?" (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).

If you are a Christian, your words will say so! You must tell people that you are here in the name of Jesus Christ to love them and to help them. You must say it in words and then in deeds. Even Jesus did not consider that His life was good enough to be a witness by itself. He had to tell others about God. People who say, "Others can see the way I live, I don’t need to say anything," have believed a lie of the devil. "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!" (Psalm 107:2).

Jesus said that out of the heart the mouth will speak. Only God can give you a new and clean heart. Tongue trouble is a symptom of heart trouble. We are continually revealing what we are by what we say. Only the Holy Spirit can help you control your tongue. Let God do the work in you.

People will see your heart-your selfishness or your love-by your words. And you will see your careless, idle words, as well as your encouraging words, at the Judgment. I hope when life is over for you, you will be known as an encourager, one who fills people’s emotional buckets.

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