An ordinary Saturday for me as a young boy included a double feature at the local "New Isis" Theater. Mowing lawns and other odd jobs provided the funds, and the movie screen became fascinating to this young boy. The late ‘40's movies and newsreels still included stories about the recent war. Though he was dead, the hypnotic power of Adolf Hitler was still compelling to me. I could not comprehend the words, but the message was clear.
Even today, documentaries of his life reveal how he exercised power and control over an entire continent for more than a decade. That power and that hatred was expressed by words. Words – even those spoken decades ago, have power to anger, enlighten, motivate, frighten, control and injure. Words can be powerful!
WORDS CAN SOOTHE, CALM US
History records many speeches of world leaders. Abraham Lincoln, in the most devastating conflict to face our nation, was able to limit the damage that civil war brought to us.
Churchill and Roosevelt, leading two powerful nations, skillfully used words to minimize the despair and the panic that threatened our efforts to defeat our common enemies.
WORDS CAN IDENTIFY US
It was Solomon who wrote, "A fool's voice is known by a multitude of words," Ecclesiastes 5:2-3.
It does not take long to discover the character of a person when we hear their speech. An axiom I've heard stated is, "Better to be silent and thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt." Whoever said it was probably repeating what is found in Proverbs 17:27-28:
"He that has knowledge spares his words. Even a fool, when he holds his peace, is counted wise."
WORDS CAN CONFUSE, DIVIDE US
When our mounted cavalry depended upon the bugler for instruction and direction, it was important that his signal be clear and easily understood. Otherwise, the troops would not know whether to surrender, charge or retreat. Paul uses this metaphor in his words in 1 Corinthians 14:8:
"If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?"
The words of some men may be intended to divide or confuse. False teachers do so by failing to "handle aright the word of truth," 2 Timothy 2:15. However, we are instructed to "let no man deceive you with vain words," Ephesians 5:6.
WORDS CAN BE HARMFUL
The churches of Galatia were in danger of harming themselves. Paul's warning was:
"If you bite and devour one another, take heed that you be not consumed one of another," Galatians 5:15.
They were not literally biting one another, but by their words they were in danger of destroying every good thing they had accomplished. When God spoke of that which He hates, Proverbs 6:16-19 included:
"a lying tongue…a false witness that speaks lies, and he that sows discord among brethren."
Rudyard Kipling realized the power of words, saying, "Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind."
WORDS CAN HURT OR HELP
We often experience conversation in which the words are not evil, not wicked, but are capable of hurting. It is true that sometimes words must hurt, and what we have called "tough love" is often necessary. Rebuke is seldom what a person wants, but is just as often what that person needs. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write words for the purpose of bringing Christians back from apostasy. Did they hurt? Yes, but hurt they must. Sin and evil must be spoken against.
But we must be very careful to use words in their best way. Leviticus 19:16 forbade gossip: "You shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people."
Even words of rebuke and correction must be spoken with pure motives and purpose. Ephesians 4:15 demands that truth be spoken "in love." Words can either hurt or help, and we must be wise in our use of words because of their power.
WORDS CAN BRING SALVATION
Early in the 1st century, the gospel went out to "all the world." The means by which that salvation was proclaimed was by "words." Peter accomplished this in the house of Cornelius when he spoke "…words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved," Acts 11:14.
Words of salvation should be on the tongue of all who have been saved by the wonderful gospel of Christ. That is God's only means by which all men everywhere must be saved, Romans 1:16-17.
WORDS CAN INSPIRE US
First century man was moved by the words of great orators. We have already mentioned those who by their words encouraged a nation to persevere, to gain strength in their battle against tyranny.
Some speakers are more capable than others, but when words are spoken by those who love us, we can gain courage and confidence.
Jesus said in Matthew 12:37:
"… by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned."
Our speech is capable of either great good or horrendous evil. Let's be careful with our words.