“The pen is mightier than the sword.” Coined in 1839, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, this quote is obviously more about words than the instrument used to write them. At our core, we understand that words matter. They carry great power and can be used for good or evil.
Scripture has a lot to say about words. The Bible begins with an expression of their power as God speaks creation into existence. It ends with a warning not to add or subtract to the words God gives. Along the way, God promises, “So will my word be which goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11) Clearly, God believes words are powerful, and it is not just God’s words that matter, ours have an impact as well.
Proverbs 18:21 tells us that, “the power of life and death are in the tongue.” Our words create, or destroy; they bless, or they curse. We too, created in the image of God, create with our words. Unlike God, our words do not always create wholeness, and sometimes they actually harm. What we say is truly powerful, and it changes our lives, affects the atmosphere around us, and impacts others. Words are not neutral, they make a difference. This is a stunning reality in a time when we flippantly throw words around, without thought of what we are creating.
I wanted to write something last week, but with all of the words flooding the world, it seemed prudent to wait. As I reflected with my wife on all that was coming through my social media feeds, it became clear that many words were being spoken without much thought about their effect. It has become a way of life for us. We post every thought, every feeling, in real time. What would have been reflected upon and discussed with a few close friends before others knew, is now on the internet for the world to see, often faster than we can type.
It can feel good and cathartic to put our words out there for the world to see. Sometimes, someone has already put our words into a meme, and it even saves us the effort of typing. What seems good, however, is not always what it seems. I know that all too well. There are a number of posts and replies that I wish I could take back, but they are out there, and they have an impact, not all of it representative of God, or even the best of who I am. That quick image or 140 character tweet, whether sent by those in the highest offices, or the average individual, changes the world.
The ease with which we toss our thoughts out to others when there is so much power in them is stunning, and what is even more sobering is that God has some serious opinions about what we say. In Matthew 12:36, Jesus says, “I tell you, on the day of judgement people will give an account for every careless word they speak.” Yes, we will answer to God for every word we spoke, texted, tweeted, and posted – every word.
We can ease our conscious by saying, “Well, I was angry,” “I’m entitled to my opinion,” even, “I wasn’t thinking,” but we are still accountable for what we say. Our excuses do not change that reality that we are entrusted with a very powerful gift, and we are responsible for how we use it. Do we, like God, use our words to create beauty, to build up, to heal, or do we speak words that tear down and destroy what God created? When we attack a person, we attack one created in the image of God. When we pour out unforgiveness, hate, and anger on the world, we damage the world God created. It is worthy of reflection. The good news is that we also have the power in our words to help people see their true identity in Christ, discover their destiny, and live in peace with one another.
Maybe it is time to be careful with our words; to ponder them before God prior to releasing them on the world. Maybe it is time to recognize the tremendous opportunity we have to create a better world just by what we say, or don’t say. Maybe it is time to speak less and listen more, and to offer a much needed word at the right time. I know it is such a time for me. Maybe it is that time for you as well.