The Power of Words

“Let there be light.”

I want you to think about those words for a moment. Let. There. Be. Light. In Hebrew, yehi ’or (יְהִי אוֹר). In Greek, genēthētō phōs. In Latin, fiat lux. Genesis 1:3 reads, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Vayo'mer 'Elohim, yehi 'or vayehi 'or. Here we have the first recorded spoken words of God (whether they were in fact verbally spoken or not) and, more importantly, the beginning of history as we know it. At this moment, time began, nothing became something, and the power of God was clearly demonstrated for the first recorded time. In but four words (two words, if we are going with the original Hebrew), God creates time itself as well as space, matter, and light, four constructs so fundamental to our being that, without them, the human race and the world as we know it would be incapable of existing. Let there be light. BOOM. And there was light.

Why do I point this out, you ask? I think the meaning is clear if we begin to digest the sentence in and of itself. The first words of all creation are God’s instruction for there to be light; God is clearly stating His hope for all of creation through the first commands He puts forward. Just as His words brought light into the world, He makes it evidently clear that words have this awestriking power within them, the power to create something entirely new from something that was once formless and void. John 1:1 , speaking of Jesus, reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Just a few verses later, we read, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (1:4). Do you see the progression there? Jesus’ life was light – it was the light – the very sustenance on which human life depends. God’s first command was that light should be, and when the very Word of God came upon earth, He was the light.

Do you see what I’m saying here? Words are powerful, and they are meant to produce light.

Perhaps I have not yet demonstrated my point clearly enough, so let’s step out of the Bible for the time being. Mohammed Qahtani speaks of the powers of words by saying this: “A simple choice of word can make the difference between someone accepting or denying your message … Words have power. Words are power. Words could be your power.”

Those are some bold claims, aren’t they? You could write off Qahtani’s claims as hyperbole at first thought, but a quick Google search will reveal to you that he is in fact the winner of the Toastmaster 2015 World Championships of Public Speaking, so it’s safe to say he has a pretty good understanding on how powerful words can be. And, in fact, history does nothing but support his assertions. Returning to the passage in Genesis, I think we can understand why the Jewish people took such great value in words, because they viewed words in and of themselves as the very expression of God. The Greeks were a very logic-driven civilization, and their view of logos (“word”) rested on the fact that life is reasonable and that words are the very means through which one can attain logic and reasoning, which were the fountainhead of all things. In general, words are the way through which we communicate with one another and contribute to both the diversifying and unifying factors that lie between separate cultures. Without words, I would have no way of writing this blog and therefore communicating my beliefs across the screen and into your brain. Words are powerful. Very powerful.

How powerful are they, you ask? Well, if Genesis 1:3 wasn’t a powerful enough passage to prove to you the power of words, then perhaps we should take a look at Jesus, who was called not simply a word but the Word. The living personification of God’s written and spoken Word comes down to earth in the form of a man who was and is to this day God Himself. Jesus Christ – Yeshua bar Abba. Life made manifest for us. The Word of God taking the form of a physical being who never works against God’s Word. As Ben Stuart put it, “The eternal becomes historical. The unknowable introduces Himself. The life giver enters our lives.” Jesus – God become man, and through that man’s life we see a story of love, peace, and salvation on one side, as well as treachery, rejection, and violence from all those who oppose Him. The Word showed us true love through action, and then the Word had to die so that we might live. Do you see this implications?

Perhaps not. Perhaps I have lingered too much on the theological aspect of things (I must admit that I get carried away sometimes) and must now make the transition to the application part, for that, I think, is much more straightforward. First, let’s look in the book of James, chapter three:

If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (3:3-12, emphasis mine)

I’m pretty sure that the text speaks for itself and needs little commentary on my part – James is a boss when it comes to getting his points across (probably because he grew up alongside the Son of God) – but let me point out my personal biggest takeaway from the passage: we abuse our words far too often! Sometimes people come up to me and, noticing that I don’t cuss, ask whether or not it is sinful for Christians to cuss, but the problem is, they are asking the wrong question! What they should be asking is, “Am I glorifying God with the words I am saying?” We so quickly try to push God’s limits by seeing how much we can get away with before it is “sin,” but the truth is that “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom 14:23). We should seek to glorify God above all else, and if that becomes are chief-most goal, then the words that flow from our mouths with be a lot less questionable, driven by love and honesty rather than reckless speaking and blind ambition. Should we seek to praise the Lord on Sundays and Wednesdays only to go and curse our fellow man on the days in between? By no means! If we are called to be the light of the world (Matt 5:14), and if it is the word that produces light (as we saw in Genesis 1:3 and John 1:4), then shouldn’t we control our words so that the light can most properly be spread?

1 John 1:5-6 reads, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Do you see that the words we speak influence more than simply ourselves? Just as God created time, matter, space, and light with the power of just a few words, we who were created in the image of God have been given the power to create and destroy, also through the power of word. With one small, intentional compliment, we can make a person decide that life is worth living. With one thoughtless, snide remark, we can bombard a person’s mindset with insecurities and fears that will stick with them until the grave. But “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18), so if we are wanting to love our neighbors (Mk 12:31), shouldn’t we strive to uplift them with our words? Obviously this does not mean that we should lie to them in order to avoid hurting their feelings (for we have learned that love places the truth over your feelings), but that we should, at all costs, strive to glorify God first and foremost with all we say and do.

NOW LET’S BE HONEST…what’s down in the well comes up in the bucket. You will reflect what’s in you, and if God is in you – and if you are serious about growing in that relationship with Him – then my encouragement to you today should not sound limiting in any way whatsoever, but uplifting and, as I have called it, an encouragement. Both believer and non-believer alike have been created in the image of God, and quite fittingly that means He has entrusted us with words that can give birth to both beauty and terror alike. I want to remind you that just as it was with words that the devil tempted man in the Garden (Gen 3), it was with the Word of God that Jesus rejected the devil in the desert (Matt 4). It was with words that Jesus calmed the sea (Mk 4:39) and it was with words that he sent a legion of Roman soldiers falling backwards (John 18:6). It was with a single word that Jesus made His resurrection known after three long days in the tomb (John 20:16), and it is on Christ’s final word to us that our eternal hope resides (Rev 22:20). The Bible time and time again shows us the power of words in our everyday lives, and it is now our choice – as Christians who recognize the role of words in spreading light to the rest of the world – to decide what will be written from our hands or come forth from our mouths. Who do we seek to glorify – ourselves, or God? Or the world in which we live?

So let me say this: Exercise control, my friends. Recognize the power of your words on not just yourself, but others as well, and realize that in every syllable you mutter, you are given the power to both create and destroy. A lasting piece of advice that was given to me by a pastor is this: “In your right response, God is glorified.” Remember this and pursue His glory to no end, striving to humble yourself week by week, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, that you might best serve our Lord by being a shining example of His will being shed upon this broken world. As Christians living amongst a world of deepening darkness, we are left without options as we strive to stay true to the command we were given from the very beginning:

Let there be light.