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The Power of Words in Relationships

power of words

Almost every time I talk to someone hesitant to go after their dreams, and I ask them why they tell the story of someone telling them they couldn’t do something. That’s how the power of words come into play.  

Whenever we struggle with low self-esteem, uncertainty, struggling to trust, or feel loved or worthwhile, one of the common factors is the words someone spoke to us. The power of words is undeniable.

Whenever someone finally reaches a goal or hits a milestone, they will tell the story of a coach, parent, or teacher who believed in them, pushed them, and spoke words of life to them.

Because words are powerful.

Words mark us.

The power of words are what create identities for us that are life-giving and negative.

We give so much power to the words of others.

The problem, though, most of our interactions tend to the negative side of words than the positive.

Proverbs 18:21 says The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

We know this is true because we have all had words spoken to us that have brought life and lifted us, but we’ve also been the recipient of words that have brought us death and have torn us down.

We know the power of words, but often we underestimate the power of them in our lives.

We’ll often do that through explaining it away: they didn’t mean it that way. We’ll say to someone, that’s not what I meant when I said that. We’ll shrug and tell a counselor; it wasn’t a big deal when they said that. We’ll say, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will _____.” That’s not true. They hurt deeply. 

If you deflect and say “what they said to me isn’t a big deal,” you need to pay attention to the things you explain away or deflect. 

So what words bring life? What words bring death?

Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:29, 31, that we are to let no unwholesome talk come out of our mouth. The word for unwholesome talk carries the same idea of rotting food. If you’ve ever smelled spoiled milk or food, you know what that feels like.

Then he tells us that we shouldn’t use words of bitterness, rage, anger, slander, brawling, and malice.

This is a big list.

All of these are things that happen in us and then come out in our words.

This is why Jesus said that our words are from the overflow of our hearts. 

Bitterness stems from the hurt of a past event; you were scarred, resentment has built up. When we speak with bitterness, it is often a response to a past event. It is when we haven’t dealt with something in our past, but it creeps into our present. In relationships, this is when we make someone pay for the sins of someone from our past. 

When was the last time you spoke from a place of rage and anger? When was the last time that you thought, “I wish I hadn’t said that?” Have you ever had to go to someone and say, “I should not have said that, and I’m sorry.” Ever sent an email or text and immediately thought, I wish I could get that back!

Slander means to say things about someone that isn’t true, to damage someone’s reputation. 

Malice means to hurt someone intentionally with our words.

Malice is almost exclusively something that happens in the closest relationships. Because we know which buttons to push. We know how to get a dig in at our spouse, boss, co-worker, sibling, friend, or child. Sadly, we save our harshest words for our closest relationships.

Paul then tells us in verse 32: use words that are kind and compassionate. 

These are words that are sympathetic, empathetic, affectionate, and show concern. They are words that give pleasure and relief in life. This should categorize our words. If you’re honest, these are the words you long to hear from someone. I know I do. 

Couples, you have so much power in your words to your spouse. You can send them on a course to change the world and conquer what is in front of them or deflate them before they get started. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve doubted myself, and Katie has grabbed my hand and said, “you can do this. I’m proud of you.” She signs all her notes to me by saying, “with all my admiration and respect.” I’ll tell you what; I feel like I could pick up a car when I hear that.

Parents, the words, the tone that you use today will shape your kids for a long, long time. Don’t believe me? How much have the words of a parent impacted you for good or bad?

You can lift your friends, your boss, co-workers with a simple word.

This article originally appeared here.

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Josh Reich is the lead pastor of Revolution Church in Tucson, AZ, the author of Breathing Room: Stressing Less & Living More & is passionate about helping people not settle in life and miss all that God has for them.