The Power of Words

Have you ever listened to a news report and immediately felt a wave of fear wash over you? Or felt like you were just put on a major guilt trip? Or maybe you’ve read a friend’s post on social media and found yourself suddenly angry. This is because our words have power. Everywhere we turn, we are inundated with words. We hear and read opinions on social media, the news, from our family and colleagues day in and day out. There is no escaping the power of words in this age of information and mass communication. We experience firsthand the impact words have on our hearts and minds.

In persuasive argument, there are three types of appeals a person can make to his audience: and appeal to reason (logos), and appeal to morality or ethics (ethos) and an appeal to emotion (pathos). The most powerful and structurally sound argument is the one based in reason, or wisdom. It doesn’t rely on manipulation of the facts to get the audience to see what is true; because its foundation is fact and logic, it stands firmly on its own. Unfortunately, it’s far more common to hear arguments based on an appeal to morality (the guilt trip) or emotion (the scare tactic). Writers and speakers use strong, sometimes mean language to manipulate their audience rather than convince them of something they believe. And as an audience, we tend to fall for it, because our emotions are easily affected by words and because many of us don’t have a strong hold of the Truth to direct our moral and ethical reasoning.

We even see this in our families as we raise our children. When we give them instructions or begin to address their poor choices, how many of us calmly address their sin from the wise and gentle foundation of the love of God? No, it’s far more common for parents to blurt out foolishness in anger, stirring up the wrath of their children, breaking their spirits with harsh tones and angry words. We use guilt and shame to manipulate their behavior to look more like what we want rather than addressing the heart of the matter. When we speak from our own sinfulness, what can we expect, except more sin?

“A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath. The tongue of the wise makes knowledge attractive,
but the mouth of fools blurts out foolishness. The tongue that heals is a tree of life, but a devious tongue breaks the spirit.”

Proverbs 15:1-2,4 CSB

 Words are powerful. Let’s be mindful of that when we speak, so that our words are thoughtful, seasoned with grace, based in the wisdom and knowledge of the Lord. And let’s also cling to the wisdom of the Word of God, so that when we hear others speak, we will not be manipulated by emotion or guilt trips, but rather will recognize the clear, reliable, reasonable truth when we hear it. 

This was also published in Lifeway’s Journey magazine in the Fall of 2020

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