Updated date:

Words Have the Power to Build Up or Destroy


Lori Colbo loves to write about her Christian faith and the Bible to encourage and inspire others.


Culture of Deadly Poison

When we were children and people said mean things to us, our mom's, teachers, and Sunday school teachers always gave us the comeback to issue to the bully:

"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me."

Raise your hand if that worked for you? Uh huh, that's what I thought. It's poppycock. Words cause deep wounds and leave wretched scars on the mind and heart and it's often a long road to forgiveness and emotional freedom if it is sought.

The Bible says, "...but no human can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison (James 3:8).

Anger is a huge component of a hurtful, wicked tongue. Marriages, family relationships, friendships, professional relationships can be destroyed by angry words. It is usually a pattern of behavior that comes from a wounded heart. They say that hurt people hurt people. People who are difficult are usually wounded people and their habitual wielding harm with words will be passed on to the next generation. Verbal abuse is just as traumatic as physical abuse.

We see now our nation being ravaged by hate just because there is disagreement. Prominent individuals, people groups, and political factions spar with their poisonous words. People vilify one another because of their differences. It's absolutely horrid to read comments on Youtube and other comment forums. I don't read them anymore.

We have the constitutional right to free speech, even if it's ugly speech. But it has become so horrific that the very fabric of our nation is being torn to shreds. It grieves me that our president has no filters with his tongue. I support his ideas, but not his words. He and many other political figures and celebrities fuel the fire. Twitter is nothing but a hotbed of celebrities and politicians spewing venom. Fox News, CNN, and other major networks have hours and hours of programming whereby pundits and their enemy guests yell and scream and talk over one another and call names. The television show The View is nothing but a battleground of megalomaniac celebrities who rail at each other, their guests, and anyone out in the world (mostly politicians) who have an opposing view.

We have a culture full of people with a reality show, Jerry Springeresque, insatiable drama queen mentality. The high and the mighty. The whiners and the entitled. We are self-destructing. I believe if we quit listening to this stuff (as much as possible) we will be happier and more optimistic. Our heads will be clear to let the light of God in.

Let's be the light of kindness, reason, and self-control.



Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs."

— Pearl Strachan Hurd

James on the Power of the Tongue

The apostle James, the writer of the book of James in the Bible, was a straight shooter. He was direct, not mincing words. Before you check out at hearing the word "Bible," bear with me. Whether you believe in God and the Bible or not, the truths James speaks about the power of the tongue and its use for good or for evil are spot on. The fact is, James' intended audience was to the Church at large, but everyone can learn from it.

He starts by pointing out that a horse can be lead by the bit in its mouth and a ship is guided by its rudder. Then he goes onto the tongue:

"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 (James 3:3-4)."

Next, he masterfully uses fire as an analogy.

"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 (vs 5-6)."

I have lived on the west coast all my life. The summers are often fraught with wildfires. When I lived in California it was particularly bad. All it takes is a small spark on dry vegetation during a heat wave to become a raging forest fire destroying hundreds, even thousands of acres of forest and neighborhoods. My cousin had to evacuate twice last summer during a wildfire in southern Oregon. And then there was one of the most devastating fires in American history just months ago in Paradise, California. A whole city wiped out by fire.

Here are some statistics about the Paradise, California fire (aka Camp fire):

  • Deadliest wildfire in California history
  • Deadliest wildfire in America since the Cloquet fire in 1917 (Minnesota).
  • 85 confirmed deaths
  • 3 missing persons
  • Burned 153,336 acres
  • Destroyed 18,804 structures

I think those statistics are a perfect image of the destruction harsh words can cause. I have to admit, I never think of my tongue when I hear about wildfires but now that I've brought it up, I hope I won't forget.

James goes on to the topic of taming:

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 (vs 7-8).

The word poison rings true to me as well. Now here's the kicker aimed directly at the Church:

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.

Gulp. Three rapid-fire analogies to bring it home.

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 (vs 11-12).

I think we get the picture of the pervasive damage words can cause.

The tongue also is a fire... It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell (James 3:5-6).

The tongue also is a fire... It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell (James 3:5-6).

Words Have the Power to Refresh and Encourage

King Solomon wrote most of the book of Proverbs and he has provided a lot of insight and wisdom on the power and effect words have on people. He often contrasts good words and bad words. Let's look at a few.

A gentle answer turns away wrath but hard words stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1).

Gentle words bring life and health; a perverse tongue crushes the spirit (Proverbs 15:4).

Kind words are like honey -- sweet to the soul and healthy for the body (Proverbs 16:24)

A person's words can be life-giving water; words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook (Proverbs 18:4).

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver (Proverbs 25:11).

I love the beautiful word pictures of life, health, sweetness, refreshing, bubbling brook, gold and silver. I feel vitality surging into my spirit and refreshed just reading them. It is amazing how powerful encouraging words can be. I can think of many times when I was hurting, struggling, or wandering and a gentle soul came and said just the right thing. Maybe it was just a kind word from a stranger.

I noted also the word "gentle." A gentle answer can indeed defuse a contentious conversation. If you allow the angry person to rattle you, you will be tempted to get into it with them, or you may cower at their abuse. A gentle response can be very effective. Not always, but often.

The apostle Paul told the church at Colosse, "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." He said "salt" not pepper. Salt flavors and purifies. By grace, he means gracious and kind.

He also admonished the Ephesians, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Read it again. He nailed it. This is how we should live our lives. I want to be that person. I can be many times, but as a fallen human being, I sometimes fail. There is a saying with the acronym T.H.I.N.K. It is an encouragement to think before you speak by posing a list of questions. It is something to live by. See it below.


Imagine what our real neighbors would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person. There have been so many stories about the lack of courtesy, the impatience of today's world, road rage and even restaurant rage. Sometimes, all it takes is one kind word to nourish another person. Think of the ripple effect that can be created when we nourish someone. One kind empathetic word has a wonderful way of turning into many.”

— Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

Seek Transformation By Renewing the Mind

Paul went on to tell people to "get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, slander and every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ, God forgave you (Ephesians 4:31-32).

Bitterness, anger, and malice reflect the attitude of the heart and that is what comes out. We need to seek a transformation by the renewing of our minds; t

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:1-2).

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” – Colossians 3:2

It's amazing what an encouraging word can do for a child.

It's amazing what an encouraging word can do for a child.

Kind words are salve to a cankered soul; spread generously.”

— Richelle E. Goodrich, Making Wishes

Kindness Must Be Modeled for Our Children

Our children, grandchildren, students, and young neighbors are watching us. They have keen ears and hearts. If the most influential adults are angry, exceedingly proud or foul-mouthed, chances are the child will be the same way when he is an adult. Children will bear the wounds of harsh words. I wish I could go back and tame my tongue better with my children. But I have another chance with my grandchildren. They know their Nana loves them, encourages them, and guides them.

Children are also listening to our culture through television, radio stations, video games, and movies. I am shocked at what some parents let their children watch on TV. Such horrific language, violence, and sex. It isn't even a blip on the radar of such parents. The garbage infiltrates those young innocent minds and taints their view of right and wrong. The world is not so safe.

It is truly amazing to see what encouragement does for a child. If a parent, grandparent or teacher consistently gives loving attention and encouragement to children it will affirm to them their intrinsic value, make them feel safe, spur them on, help them to mine adversity in the future. Best of all, they will become kind and loving people.

We need to surround ourselves with positive kind people and also be positive kind people. God calls us to not just be hearers of the word, but doers. I want to be a doer when it comes to my speech and actions. I want to maintain a kind heart. I want to be a builder upper. Let's do it.

© 2019 Lori Colbo


Lori Colbo (author) from United States on February 10, 2019:

Thank you for sharing that Dianna. We must make our behavior and our words true to Christ. People are watching us and kindness and wisdom should be number one when dealing with people every day. We must ask for the mind of Christ to do that every day.

Dianna Mendez on February 10, 2019:

This comes to mind more often than you think when you are communicating with the public. Our words make an impact even if just within a brief encounter. I quote Proverbs 25:11 often to myself when faced with a difficult conversation.

Lori Colbo (author) from United States on January 18, 2019:

I'm so sorry your wife had to experience that Bill. We can count on Jesus to be our healer.

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on January 15, 2019:

You said it well, Lori. My wife grew up in an abusive atmosphere, and she still remembers the words more than any physical punishment. And yet the same tongue has the power to heal which you brought out very well. so with that said,I thank you.

Lori Colbo (author) from United States on January 12, 2019:

Hi Pop, unhealthy is an understatement. I have fourteen grands and I worry for them also. It's not a very kind world out there. I think for me, I am just going to choose wise restraint, meaning I'm going to try to live a life where I do not lash out angrily. There are ways to stand firm but not allow oneself to be sucked into the dog fight but it is not always easy. I think we spend far too much time arguing in futility. Contentious people are not open people. And you can't argue people into good sense and behavior. You just can't. I'm praying I can learn to pick my battles and how to approach things. Life in America means walking on eggshells or stepping on landmines. I choose to pray for God's guidance. I don't have the answers on my own. If I'm living in the light, hopefully, the light will shine through me and kindness will prevail.

breakfastpop on January 12, 2019:

I think something very strange and unhealthy is occurring now. Hate speech is everywhere, and the left is straining the limits of tolerance and decency. We ned to fight back and send the message that we will not let them divide us. I worry about my grandchildren.

Lori Colbo (author) from United States on January 11, 2019:

I do try Ann.

Ann Carr from SW England on January 11, 2019:

Congratulations on 14 grandchildren! I bet you're a brilliant grandmother.


Lori Colbo (author) from United States on January 10, 2019:

Hello Pamela. You are so right. Thanks for your comments. God bless you.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 10, 2019:

I think this is a wonderful article Lori. The tongue is powerful, so kind words go a long way. You sure can get more cooperation from a child using encouragement rather than angry words. I have always liked Romans 12:2 as renewing of the mind can change your whole outlook. God bless.

Lori Colbo (author) from United States on January 10, 2019:

Dora, I'm glad you found some value in this piece. The world shed their propensity to speak unkindly. God bless.

Lori Colbo (author) from United States on January 10, 2019:

Hi Paula, thinking before speaking is an acquired discipline. I am working on it and have to apply it especially when someone makes me angry. Then I give it the 24-hour rule before I speak. Sometimes it's 48 or 72 :) I will check out your question momentarily. Peace to you as well.

Lori Colbo (author) from United States on January 10, 2019:

Bill, good for you for sitting on your words. You are right, building up is what we should be about. Thanks for the visit.

Lori Colbo (author) from United States on January 10, 2019:

Eric, I can't see such a loving man like you being a courtroom lawyer. Stay away from the self-professing experts because all they do is beat people up with their words. God bless.

Lori Colbo (author) from United States on January 10, 2019:

Dear Ann, what poignant comments you left. I have 14 grandchildren, several adults and it breaks my heart that they are exposed to some of the things mentioned here. I cannot control their parents' poor choices that affect them so deeply, nor can I protect them from what they see, hear, and experience out in the world. Not even the best parents can protect their children completely. What I can do is be there for them and be an example. I pray for them continually.

Thanks for stopping by and I'm glad this hub was meaningful to you.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 10, 2019:

Lori, I like your presentation, the verses you quoted, the Roger's quote and especially the appeal you made in your last sentence. You have shown that it is worth the effort to filter our words and intentionally make them kind. Wish we would all "do it."

Suzie from Carson City on January 10, 2019:

Lori.....Such an excellent article! I especially love the photo, "Before you speak...." In the case of slips of the tongue, or simply not being fully aware of one's words & behavior, "thinking" is a good start!!

You have put this together very diplomatically. Peace, Paula

(Pls check your HP email? I have asked you for help with a technical issue...Thanks!)

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 10, 2019:

Lori, great message. I tend to not speak if negative thoughts pop into my mind. There is no point in doing so, since I'm all about building people up. :)

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on January 10, 2019:

So cool that I opened this up before my meditation reading today. I love getting way too far cerebral on the time of Christ. You have your Essenes and the Pharisees and Sadducees. I got trained in the Sadducee profession - school of thought. In this area severing a person from their peace is an art form. Building up simply to cut down is another trick of the trade. Perhaps I studied 30 doctorate credit hours just to harm another with words.

I think it trained me to now build up.

Twitter, Instagram and live TV? Maybe I should check them out. It is funny radio reports tweets. I reckon they have to be translated by "experts".

A wonderful piece as is expected of you!

(Oh ya, that training was to be a courtroom lawyer :-(

Ann Carr from SW England on January 10, 2019:

This is wonderful! I agree with every word and you have used some fine examples. In fact, the subject itself has worried me much just lately. My latest grandson is only a few months old and my oldest granddaughter was 18 yesterday. I worry about their future in what is becoming a difficult world. All 6 of my grandchildren have kind parents and a good upbringing but outside the home things can be terrible, more so with the kind of things you mention, such as Twitter.

When role models sink into depths of criticism and hatred they are stirring up great evil.

As you say, a kind word, a smile at the right time, can change a life or more than one.

This is extremely well-written, to the point and something which should be transmitted round the world. It also has significance for me as I'm trying to heal the wounds of someone close, so thank you, Lori, from the bottom of my heart.


Related Articles