When we are kids, we are told that sticks and stones may break bones, but words can never hurt us.
As we get older, we realize just how wrong this is.
Words are powerful things, for both good and ill. The Bible, with more honesty than those who tried to inoculate us against words when we were youths, teaches, “With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.” (Proverbs 25:15; ESV)
We might well ask, why are words so powerful? They have no substance or strength of their own, being but a collection of sounds, or perhaps an arrangement of lifeless shapes. Yet, they are among the most powerful of tools in the human arsenal, and are imbued with an ability that greatly transcends their physical limitations.
Words, defined, are a vehicle by which ideas are conveyed. They are the tool which intelligent creatures use to communicate complex thoughts, allowing the sharing of memories, desires, and even commands. Beyond this, words are of a divine origin, being the very tool of God.
God is Himself Spirit (cf. John 4:24). Spirit is a hard concept for men to comprehend, being limited by our own physical senses, but the one thing that spirit has that we can relate to is “thought.” God thinks. Yet without a body, how does God work and act? One answer the Bible gives is “words.”
In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth, and the tool He used was the spoken word. God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light (Genesis 1:3). The thought of God, expressed in words, produced results. God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass,” and the earth brought forth grass. (Genesis 1:14). God said, “Let the waters abound with living creatures,” and it was so. (Genesis 1:20)
Later, when God interacted with man, He used words again, this time to teach and provide guidance. God said, “be fruitful and multiply.” (Genesis 1:28) God warned, “Don’t eat of that one tree.” Man did not listen to that last one, and trouble followed. (cf. Genesis 2-3)
Words then are the tool of God, the means by which He interacts with His creation, and the words of God are quite powerful.
The Bible says concerning the words of God that they are pure. We add to them, or take away from them, at our own risk. (cf. Proverbs 30:5-6). God, being infinite in intelligence and wisdom, says exactly what He means, and knows how to say what He means. Words, even human words, were His invention and He is the master of the art of linguistics. The Bible also teaches that God’s words are eternal and unalterable.
“All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:24-25a; cf. Isaiah 40:6-8) God does not change, and His divine words change not either.
All well, and good, someone might say, but what does this have to do with me?
Jesus, we might note, by divine inspiration is called, “the Word.” “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This same “Word” took on flesh and dwelt amongst us. (John 1:1, 14). God had a message for man and Jesus was the vehicle by which that message was delivered.
Jesus once asked the apostles if they wanted to leave Him. Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go — you have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) They knew and had come to understand that God had a message for man, and that knowing and understanding the message would bring life. Jesus had taught them this, saying, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63; NKJV)
Years later, there was a man named Cornelius, who God wanted to save. God sent an angel to Cornelius who instructed: “Send to Joppa, for Peter, who will tell you words by which all you and your household will be saved.” (Acts 11:13b-14) Peter had learned the words of Christ, and was able to share them.
Today we have those words written for us: the vehicle through which God teaches us how to have life and have it eternal. Through hearing, understanding and applying these words, we, like Cornelius and his household, can be saved.
Words are indeed powerful things, for both good and ill. They are the very tool by which God communicates to man. We are fools if we ignore the word of God.
The church of Christ would love to share the word of God with you. Won’t you please come study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.