Words are powerful. Consider the account of the wise woman in 2 Samuel 20. Joab, commander of David’s army, brought all his military might to bear against the city of Abel (v. 15). The unnamed woman, armed only with her words (v. 16), prevailed over the military commander.
Proverbs 18:21 states that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Words can be used as weapons or as tools, for evil or for good. Here are twelve powerful things words can do, six negative and six positive:
Negative Effects of Words
1. Words can hurt.
“With his mouth the ungodly destroys his neighbor” (Prov. 11:9). The expression, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” simply is not true. We know all too well that words can hurt.
2. Words can stir up anger.
“A harsh word stirs up wrath (Prov 15:1b). The New Living Translation puts it this way: “harsh words make tempers flare.”
3. Words can create conflict.
Without wood, fire goes out; without a gossip, conflict dies down” (Prov. 26:20). The NIV says, “quarrels disappear when gossip stops.” Gossip is the fuel that keeps a conflict burning. Proverbs 16:28 says, “A contrary person spreads conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.” Words can damage relationships.
4. Words can crush the spirit.
“A devious tongue breaks the spirit” (Prov. 15:4b). Proverbs 26:28a says lying is an act of hatred that “crushes” its victims.
5. Words can distort truth.
The Lord spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They are deluding you. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the Lord’s mouth.” (Jer. 23:16-17). Paul warned the Ephesian elders of men who “will rise up even from your own number and distort the truth” (Acts 20:30). Peter warned of false teachers who “will exploit you in their greed with made-up stories” (2 Pet. 2:3).
6. Words can condemn.
“I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36-37). In verse 34, Jesus said: “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” This suggests the problem is not our tongues but our hearts. Behind all of sins of speech is a sinful heart. The tongue simply that reveals what’s inside is.
Positive Effects of Words
7. Words can turn away anger.
“A gentle answer turns away anger” (Prov. 15:1a).
8. Words can spread knowledge.
“The lips of the wise broadcast knowledge” (Prov 15:7).
9. Words can build others up.
Paul told us to speak in a way that will build others up, not tear them down: “No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need …” (Eph. 4:29).
10. Words can bestow grace.
“… so that it gives grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). Words can be vehicles of God’s grace. John MacArthur said, “Our graciousness reflects the grace of Christ, who uses our graciousness to draw others to His grace.”
11. Words can encourage and comfort.
“Encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18).
12. Words can heal.
“The tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov 12:18).
Prayer “Lord, set up a guard for my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips” (Ps. 141:3). “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, Lord, my rock and my Redeemer” (Ps. 19:14).
Mike Livingstone works at Lifeway Christian Resources as content editor for Explore the Bible materials. He also blogs occasionally at mikelivingstone.com.