Words Kill! Words Give Life!

Strange things can happen when we don’t even plan them or want them to happen. For instance, a few mornings ago my husband said something to me that was totally unnecessary and not horrible but definitely didn’t need to be said. Instead of being Christ-like and ignoring the statement, I responded in kind. Neither of us really wanted to fuss or meant to start an argument. Fortunately, we left it there and nothing more was said about either statement, both of which should never have been made.

That reminded me of how easily our mouths get us into trouble with far more lasting and worse results than came from this tiff in my home. Later that day I recalled Proverbs 18:21, a verse I well know and several years ago wrote a study based on it. I try to live by this verse but obviously failed to that day.

Proverbs 18:21 tells us, The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. The Message Bible [1] gives the Reader’s Digest version of the verse: Words kill. Words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.

Yes, that’s the choice we make every time we open our mouths, whether or not we think about it. Of course, I’ve found that when I don’t think about it is when I usually make the wrong choice. One help I have found in situations where we respond automatically is what I usually do every morning. That particular morning, however, my phone alarm rang but I couldn’t seem to get it to turn off. In the dark room, I kept touching the phone where I thought I should but nothing happened. Then suddenly the flash light came on, so I kept trying to get the alarm off and held the phone down beside the bed, trying not to wake my husband. I’d never before used the flashlight and so wasn’t sure how to turn it off. I got up quickly and got out of the bedroom before hubby awoke, I thought but was wrong.

However, I didn’t take the time to do what I usually do. When I came into the den, I immediately started reading my Bible without putting on the spiritual armor. When I awake before the alarm, I like to lie in bed and put it on. Afterwards I pray three scriptures:

  • Psalms 51:10: Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
  • Psalms 19:14: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, oh Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
  • Pslam 141:3: Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.

Now I could have put on the armor after I read the Bible, of course, but by then my husband was sitting beside me ready for breakfast and I simply didn’t think about it. I don’t claim that the armor and those verses will always keep us from saying wrong things, but over a period of years, I’ve found they definitely help.

Let’s look more closely at those verses: Psalm 51:10 asks God to create in us a pure (or some versions say clean) heart. What does that have to do with the mouth, you say? Jesus said in Matthew 15:18, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’” Does that explain why we need pure hearts? If our thoughts are nasty or unkind, so will our hasty words be. Like I said, putting on the spiritual armor and praying these verses daily doesn’t always keep us from mistakes but it definitely helps because we focus our minds and thoughts on God. That focus helps us stay connected to our Father and therefore be more inclined to follow Him. The verse also asks God for a steadfast spirit, which means “stability in commitment or belief [2]”. In other words, a steadfast spirit is loyal, resolute, and filled with clean thoughts and right desires, as other versions say.

The MSG Bible simplifies the verse: God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life. You almost feel like there’s an exclamation point at the end of that verse, don’t you? Sometimes we also feel the same way: “God I’ve made such a mess of things so far that I need You to simply start all over from the beginning with me.” Yet, even when we feel that way, our loving Father sees whatever good He has already put in us and especially what He intends to make from us, and doesn’t even come close to giving up on us. We are His kids FOREVER!

Psalms 19:14 recognizes that what is in our heart comes out of our mouths, which is why David requested that God enable him to live a life without unintentional sin and especially any contemplated sin of his words. We as believers in Jesus Christ have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us to help us live up to this verse, if we sincerely pray it daily. And sometimes, we need to pray hourly or even minute by minute! You do know what I mean, don’t you?

Also notice that in this verse and the next, “Lord” is written with small caps, which refers to the Covenant God. He made covenants with Noah first and then with Abraham; we now live under the New Covenant, made through Jesus Christ. A covenant, in the biblical sense, implies much more than a contract or simple agreement. A contract always has an end date, while a covenant is a permanent arrangement. Another difference is that a contract generally involves only one part of a person, such as a skill, while a covenant covers a person’s total being [3].

What difference would it have made to David, who wrote all three of these Psalms, that he was addressing the Covenant God? What difference does it make to us? To me, it means that God reacts to me not only with His justice and righteousness but also with His mercy and love. Therefore, I can rely on His help when I need it. Also, I am committed wholeheartedly to Him, so I will do my best to honor and please my Covenant God. Not only that, but God is totally devoted to me as well – for eternity! That’s really special, isn’t it?

Psalm 141:3 continues that theme of what comes out of our mouths by asking our Father God to actually help us realize before we speak wrong words. “Put up a roadblock and a flashing sign before me, oh Lord, so I don’t misspeak,” we might say. Or in others words, “Bring to my mind that I’m about to hurt someone, perhaps deeply, by the words that I want to say; then strengthen me so I can swallow those words and either say nothing or say some soothing words to diffuse the situation.”

Starting our mornings off with our spiritual armor found in Ephesians 6:10-18 and then praying these three verses definitely helps us get a better start with everyone we meet. Yes, our words really do make such difference to people, whether we bring them down or lift them up so they are encouraged and comforted. I know how it affects me when I receive poisonous or helpful words and am sure you feel similarity. Let’s all try harder to remember: Words kill!  Words give life!


[1] (MSG) THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved.

[2] Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[3] Nelson’s.