The Spartans were famous in their day as fearless warriors. They were also famous for the directness of their speech and given to few words.
If you thought for one moment that their apparent inability with words disadvantaged them in international affairs, think again. They seemed to know how to choose the right words and those words were incredibly powerful. For example, on one occasion, King Philip of Macedon sent a message asking them if they wanted him to come as an enemy or as a friend. The threat was all too obvious. The Spartans sent a one word answer back: “Neither”. Philip and his army never showed up. Held at bay by one word.
You don’t have to read very far in the Bible before you encounter the power of words. Genesis one records God speaking the created order into existence by His word. And it’s not just God’s words that are powerful. Words spoken by human beings can also pack a punch that goes beyond the awareness of those who speak them. Proverbs 12.18 states “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing”. Words can wound, words can heal.
So how can we use words in a constructive way?
Firstly, we need to recognise the power of the tongue. James 3.2 says “Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” James has a lot to say about the tongue and its power. In this verse, he says that the way we speak is the key to self-control. That is quite a statement. If we will think about the way we speak and bring our speech and conversation into line with God’s word, it will have a positive impact on us as individuals. Incidentally, psychological research reports similar findings when it comes to the relationship between our speech and our general well-being.
Secondly, recognise the massive impact for good that you can have on others. In Ephesians 4.29 Paul says “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.” If you want to build people up, think about what you say. Is it wholesome? Is it helpful for building up others? Does it take into consideration their needs? Does it benefit them? The word translated “benefit” in the NIV is actually “grace” in the original. Are your words full of grace? Just think for one moment of how you could build people up if you made a conscious effort to release grace into their lives through what you said to them.
Finally, remember that your words can shape circumstances. Jesus said in Mark 11.23 “ Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.” Much has been said and written about these words and sometimes they have been made to say things Jesus never intended. It should be remembered that they form part of Jesus’ teaching on prayer. However, you don’t need an in depth Bible study to see that Jesus wants us to speak in faith. Sometimes you have to speak to your mountain and tell it to get out of the way.
Even a brief study like the above shows very simply how powerful our words can be.We can use our words either to wound or heal. To tear down, or build up. To bring life, or bring death. To encourage or discourage. And by now you can probably add a few other opposites yourself. Why not decide that this week you are going to speak life, encouragement and grace into the people around you. If you do, you might just be surprised at the result.