In the mountainous region and even in certain buildings the echo of our voice returns to us repeating what we speak. In like manner our spoken words that carry our individual authority and power return to us as a blessing or as a curse. The inherent power of the spoken word can not only destroy our spiritual and material yield but also affect others who are close to us. What we speak is like an arrow that will find its target to achieve what we intend to do. But how can unintentional talk carry such authority and power?
Difference between the written and the spoken word of God- The fourth Gospel written by Apostle John, as compared to the first three that focused on what Lord Jesus taught and did, is more about ‘who He is’ and is written with the specific purpose that we might believe in the Son of God, who Himself is God. He defines the purpose of writing clearly, ‘these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name’ (John 20:30-31). Apostle John identifies the Savior Lord as ‘the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’. And then he emphasizes the Word’s oneness with God and being the source of all creation (John 1:1-3).
The Greek word ‘logos’ was seen by philosophers as the power that puts sense into the world, making the world orderly instead of being chaotic. They identified ‘logos’ as the ‘Ultimate Reason’ that controlled all things. Apostle John therefore explained God in terms that the Greeks and the Jews already knew. The Jewish rabbis referred to God in His more personal terms as His Word and interpreted Exodus 19:17 ‘Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God’ to ‘Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet the word of God’. In the mind of the ancient Jews the ‘word of God’ could be used to refer to God Himself.
Two words are used in the Scripture to refer to the Word of God – ‘logos’ and ‘rhema’. ‘Logos’ is the general recorded Word of God that communicates His ability to do something or His general will on a matter and the Jews referred to it as ‘Torah’ the First Five Books of the Bible as given by God through Moses. On the other hand ‘rhema’ literally means an ‘utterance’ or ‘spoken word’ that signifies the action of utterance and this Word is then quickened by the Holy Spirit for a specific purpose, occasion or person. ‘Logos’ must become ‘rhema’ to fulfill the promise contained therein.
Apostle John identifies the Word as Creator of everything and takes us back to the process of creation itself as defined in the Bible (John 1:3). The state of the earth was ‘tohu va bohu’ or without form and void though ‘Ruach Elohim’ or Spirit of God or ‘Great wind’ was present over the waters (Genesis 1:1-2). In that void state the Holy Trinity was present in their Omnipresence, God the Father, the Word with God and His Spirit but anything happened only after the Word was spoken as ‘Rhema’. In the Word was life ‘and the life was the light of men’ (John 1:4). The psalmist prayed and confirmed that fact, ‘Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ to guide me all my life for obedience (Psalm 119:105). We have the Holy Bible with us containing all the promises of God and what He desires to do for His people but mere presence of the written Word will not change anything in our lives.
The Jews consider ‘Shema prayer’ as the most important aspect of worship and relationship with God (Deuteronomy 6:4-6). ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.’ The essence of the command is that these words be always before you and you teach them diligently to your children and talk of this at your home. The word ‘Shema’ in Hebrew means to listen, understand, obey and proclaim. The energy and power contained in the Word of God can only be released through proclamation after proper understanding, which is like igniting a piece of wood to release the heat and light of fire within it.
The Word or ‘logos’ was eternally with God and creation process could only start once God spoke and released the power and authority of His Word, even though the Holy Spirit was already present over the waters. The LORD God ‘breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being’ or a speaking being (Genesis 2:7) in the ‘image and likeness of God’ to represent Him on earth to rule over it and in this the expected living is to act like God in the supernatural and the material realms. God blessed man to replenish the earth and man was supposed to do it God’s way, by speaking the word (Genesis 1:27-28). The exercise of dominion and authority given to Adam was to be exercised through the spoken word.
Word of God has power within and this power is then taken up and directed by the Spirit of God towards achieving the desired results. Apostle Paul says, ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16-17). God breathed means the Word has life in it as given by God Himself, to give effect to all that it is intended for.
How is power of God’s Word released? God declared that ‘So shall My word be that goes out from my mouth, it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it’ (Isaiah 55:11). God’s power through and in His Word is not in doubt but does it apply to speaking of Word by mankind also? An example of the power of the spoken word is seen in the renaming of Abram and Sarai by God. Abram was renamed by God as Abraham, ‘a father of many nations’ and Sarai, his wife, as Sarah or ‘mother of nations’. Abraham was 99 years old and Sarah 90 and they were to experience the change in their lives through the power of spoken word daily (Genesis 17:5 & 15). Abraham was a rich man at that time having approximately 2000 persons in his household staff and each one would pronounce the blessing on both while talking about and to them by repeating the changed names.
Jacob’s name of birth means ‘to follow, to supplant or circumvent, overreach’ but wrestling with God’s Angel he was given a new name ‘Israel’ that means, having struggled ‘with God and with men, and have prevailed’ (Genesis 32:27-28). Thereafter he no longer aspired to be someone else or to steal Esau’s blessing, (Genesis 33:11) but was content to return his blessing for God had dealt graciously with him.
The Word of God becomes ‘lamp to my feet and a light for my path’ (Psalm 119:105) showing me the right way but this happens only after I develop a close relationship with God through the ‘logos’, His written word. It is in that state of close fellowship with God that we find out His will for us through His Word and our prayers change to be in line with His Divine will and we proclaim His blessings. The power of what we speak is confirmed by Lord Jesus, that, ‘Whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea’, and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him’ (Mark 11:23). We speak to the mountain of our troubles to move it out of the way. Again Lord Jesus has assured us that ‘whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith’ (Matthew 21:22). And ‘faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God’ and not hearing anything but His Word (Romans 10:17). At the transfiguration of Lord Jesus, God the Father from heaven, commanded mankind to ‘Hear Him’ and this is for faith, obedience and declaration (Luke 9:35).
‘Shema’ or hearing is not to stop at hearing but to believe and declare and this is speaking the power of God’s Word to our own self as well as to the angels who are moved at God’s word to obey. The power of God’s word is released when we speak the same for the authority is in the word and ‘logos’ becomes ‘rhema’. Lord Jesus told the disciples, ‘Let us cross over to the other side’ for going over to the area of the Gadarenes. A great windstorm arose and the boat was filling with water but Lord Jesus ‘was in the stern, asleep on a pillow’. The disciples awoke Him crying out in desperation and ‘He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still’! And the wind ceased and there was a great calm’ (Mark 4:35-41). But then the Lord said to the disciples, ‘Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?’ The interpretation is that the disciples should have faith that He who had asked them to proceed to the other side would ensure safe journey. But in that power of that same command they also had the authority to still the storm through rebuke.
Lord Jesus is God and He added humanity to Deity and His glory of being God was revealed only once on the mount during transfiguration. Otherwise He lived as a man ‘in the image and likeness of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, doing all that God would do’. What He was teaching the disciples was to not fear and be affected by the circumstances but command the situation to change in the power of God. Apostle Peter had experienced and lived in faith, even walking on water, and he has taught, ‘Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit’ (1 Peter 3:10).
The psalmist declared, ‘Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven’ (Psalm 119:89). King David, the ‘man after God’s own heart’, said, ‘You have magnified Your word above all Your name’ for His word ‘logos’ is the foundation of our faith (Psalm 138:3). Thus during prayer when we cite word of God holding a promise about our situation, we are releasing the power of His word to work for resolving that. Angels are ‘ministering spirits to heirs of salvation’ for all believers but angels are heavenly beings and are governed by God’s word (Hebrews 1:14). Our speaking of God’s word releases to the angels the authority to work for resolving our situation. Since spoken words carry energy the angel or the demonic spirit can use that energy for our good or harm for what we speak gives authority to them to move for or against us. Apostle Peter’s caution to hold our tongue is important for it has two barriers before it, teeth and lips and it is better to keep both closed.
Good or bad effect of our speech – ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue’ is the teaching of King Solomon, the wisest person, blessed by God (Proverbs 18:21). After blessing Joshua with the assurance of His continuous presence with him, God commanded him that the ‘Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night; that you observe to do all that is written in it’ (Joshua 1:8). In this the contradiction appears to be in ‘meditating on it day and night’ and that it ‘shall not depart from your mouth’. The command thus implies that Joshua was to read aloud, meditate on the Word of God and lead his life according to God’s Law. Zacharias, the priest, received from Gabriel, a high ranking angel of God, the blessing of bearing a son in his old age but he doubted the word. But before he could speak anything else to stop the blessing, he was made ‘mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place’ (Luke 1:13-20).
Lord Jesus’ warning ‘not to use vain repetitions as the heathen do’ in prayer is about uttering something that may hinder the answer to prayer (Matthew 6:7). James, the brother of our Lord Jesus, understood the power of tongue that is ‘a fire, a world of inequity’. He then warns, ‘no man can tame the tongue, it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With is we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God’ (James 3:6-9). James and the other brothers of the Lord ‘did not believe in Him’ and asked Him to go to Jerusalem to perform His miraculous works to ‘show Yourself to the world’ (John 7:3-5). Lord Jesus after resurrection appeared to James transforming his life and he became the first head of the church in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 15:7).
The great sin of ‘lashon hara’ or evil speech has its opposite ‘lashon hatov’ or good speech. While silence protects us from the first yet it achieves nothing positive. Like we can speak good to and for other to bless them, we can in like manner speak a curse on our own self, our family or on others. Aaron and Miriam spoke against Moses equating them with him and God warned both of them and confirmed the greatness of Moses. God spared Aaron for he was the ‘Kohen Gadol’ the High Priest, but Miriam became leprous and remained so for a week (Numbers 12:10). The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of England, mentioned about the work of a speech therapist working with children aged around five years, who stammered. Families of children with a problem adjust, but to overcome this it is necessary to effect a change in the whole family. Each member of the family was told to notice everyone doing something right and acknowledge that specifically, positively and thankfully. This would create an atmosphere of mutual regard and continuous positive reinforcement resulting in self-respect and self-confidence in each member of the family while also curing the affected child.
‘Lashon hatov’ or good speech helps people shed negative aspects of their character and reach their full potential. On the other hand praise of God helps us reach our full potential for God’s power works in us to achieve that. Genesis 1 has the repeated phrase, ‘And God saw that it was good’ to teach us to see good in events and people and thus strengthen that with words. Moses said about the Israelites, ‘They will not believe in me’ and God taught him the fundamental lesson of leadership, ‘It does not matter whether they believe in you. What matters is that you believe in them’ (Exodus 4:1).
Good praise is about effort and not absolute, ‘you tried hard and gave your best and there is improvement’ indicating further scope for that. While bad praise is, ‘You are a gifted child, brilliant and better than others’, leaving no scope for improvement or encouragement for positive change. The right words change lives, lifting us to great heights while bad speech diminishes us. Lord Jesus’ command to love God and clubbed with this to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ is about this only (Matthew 22:37-39). We bless others and are blessed in return for extending our love towards others.
The Jewish belief is that the ritual for cleansing of a leper is about a slanderer who has become a ‘metzorah’ or leper. He was to bring two birds, a piece of cedar wood, a string of red wool and hyssop grass (zufa) for his cleansing ceremony on getting healed. One bird was to be slaughtered over a cup of water, and the other live bird, together with the cedar wood, red wool and hyssop would be dipped in water and sprinkled on the leper (Leviticus 14:1-7). The Rabbinical interpretation of the ritual is that the birds remind the slanderer that he spoke continuously like a bird chirping on a branch; the piece of wood reminds him that like cedar, the tallest tree, his core belief in his speech is filled with arrogance, the primary cause of gossip. Hyssop, being the lowest of all trees, is to tell him to come down from his self pride and arrogance resembling the grass to get healed.
A person who is not in control of his tongue commits the sin of adversely affecting three lives, his own, the listener and the one talked about. It is not only about speaking but also about listening to evil talk and one must avoid both. The best method to overcome this is to daily spend at least 30 minutes reading the Word of God for it is only His Word that can help us control our tongue. Even before we sit down to pray, it would be better to write down the requests that we want to make in prayer to avoid ‘vain babblings’. We must seek His help in prayer and avoid the company of those who have nothing good to speak or do.
The Pharisees, Sadducees and the Jewish leaders repeatedly tried to trap Lord Jesus through various questions and by leveling baseless allegations against Him. But all during His ministry of three and a half years, not even once did He utter a single word which could be a curse for them. Rather on the cross, the first words that our Lord spoke were to seek forgiveness for the same people who had conspired to do this. As true followers of the Savior Lord we also must speak words of encouragement and blessings to and for others so that God the Father may bless us also abundantly!