The Power of our Words


Everything that exists came about by the power of WORDS...It’s a phenomenal truth: everything that exists came about by words. Creation begins with the creative word, the idea, the vision, the dream – a preferred future.

In the most amazing chapter in the Bible pertaining to our world—chapter one of the book of Genesis—we read that God spoke, and all things came into being: “God said…and it was so…God called matter into existence…and it was good…and God blessed it …” (Genesis 1:3, 7, 10, 28).
 
God created humanity is created in His Image– as seen in Genesis 2:7 - “God formed man out of dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living creature,” and man became “ruań• memallelah” (in Hebrew), which means “a speaking spirit.”  Humanity was given the dominion over the matter God had created... it was given by the “Spoken Word of God.”
 
Genesis 1:26 “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
 
The ‘Spoken word’ reveals ‘invisible thoughts.’ The invisible things of the heart and mind are made visible in this world through our spoken words. In the human community Words, Ideas and Language – and with it the ability to remember a distant past and conceptualize a distant future – lies at the heart of our uniqueness as the image of God. Hence, just as God makes the natural world with ideas & words (“And God said…and there was”) so we make our human-social world (family, community, church, etc) with ideas & words. Words Spoken = (equals) = Worlds Created.
 
The Lord Jesus Christ cautions us about guarding our hearts and words in Matthew 12:35-37: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

The Bible is intensely aware of the power of speech and of the harm that can be done through speech. In Judaism, the rabbis note that of the 43 sins enumerated in the “Al Cheit confession” recited on Yom Kippur, 11 are sins committed through speech. The Talmud tells that the tongue is an instrument so dangerous that it must be kept hidden from view, behind two protective walls (the mouth and teeth) to prevent its misuse. The harm done by speech is even worse than the harm done by stealing or by cheating someone financially: money lost can be repaid, but the harm done by speech can never be repaired.
 
The Apostle James, the Pastor of the Church in Jerusalem during the First Century warns us in James 3:3-12 about the power of our words...“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” James 3:3-13
 
A Chasidic tale from the Jewish tradition  vividly illustrates the danger of improper speech: A man went about the community telling malicious lies about the rabbi. Later, he realized the wrong he had done, and began to feel remorse. He went to the rabbi and begged his forgiveness, saying he would do anything he could to make amends. The rabbi told the man, "Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds." The man thought this was a strange request, but it was a simple enough task, and he did it gladly. When he returned to tell the rabbi, the rabbi said, "Now, go and gather the feathers. Because you can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can recollect the feathers." Speech has been compared to an arrow: once the words are released, like an arrow, they cannot be recalled, the harm they do cannot be stopped, and the harm they do cannot always be predicted, for words like arrows often go astray.

The Book of Proverbs warns us about the power of our words...

1. Anyone who answers without listening is foolish and confused. (Prov. 18:13)
2. Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble. (Prov. 21:23)
3. A brother who has been insulted is harder to win back than a walled city, and arguments separate people like the barred gates of a palace. (Prov. 18:19)
4. People will be rewarded for what they say; they will be rewarded for how they speak. (Prov. 18:20)
5. There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Prov. 12:18)
6. What you say can mean life or death. Those who speak with care will be rewarded. (Prov. 18:21)
7. A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Prov. 15:1)
8. Without wood, a fire will go out, and without gossip, quarreling will stop. (Prov. 26:20)
9. The words of a good person are like pure silver, but an evil person’s thoughts are worth very little. (Prov. 10:20)
10. The poor beg for mercy, but the rich give rude answers. (Prov. 18:23)
 
Here are some advice from the Talmud to help us avoid wronging a Person in the marketplace with our words...Leviticus 25:17 says, "You shall not wrong one another." This has traditionally been interpreted in the Talmud as wronging a person with speech. It includes any statement that will embarrass, insult, or deceives a person, or cause a person emotional pain or distress. Here are some commonly-used examples of behavior that is forbidden by this Jewish Mitzvah:
  1. One may not call a person by a derogatory nickname, or by any other embarrassing name, even if he is used to it.
 
  1. One may not ask an uneducated person for an opinion on a scholarly matter (that would draw attention to his/her lack of knowledge or education).
 
  1. One may not ask a merchant how much s/he would sell something for if one has no intention of buying it.
 
  1. One may not refer someone to another person for assistance when one knows that the other person cannot help (in other words, it's a violation of God’s word to give someone the run-around!).
 
  1. One may not deceive a person, even if no harm is done by the deception. (For example, Jews are not permitted to sell non-kosher meat to a non-Jew telling him that it is kosher, even though no harm is done to the non-Jew by this deception.)
 
  1. One may not sell a person damaged goods without identifying the damage, even if the price one gives is fair for the goods in their damaged condition.
 
  1. One may not offer a person a gift or invite a person to dinner if one knows that the person will not accept.
 
  1. One may not compliment a person if one does not mean it.
References:
i) Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: http://www.rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation-5768-devarim-words/
i) http://www.jewfaq.org/m/speech.htm

 

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