The Power of Our Words

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (John 1:46-49)

Words filled with skepticism, criticism, and sarcasm flow easily, do they not? Careless, critical, caustic words bring death to the hearer, destroying hopes and dreams and relationships in the wake of their destructive path. Words that bring life, which edify, encourage, and exhort should mark every believer’s mouth. Proverbs tells us:

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. (Proverbs 16:24)

James says that we are incapable of training that little two-inch sword which rests behind our incisors and that our words are simply a manifestation of what lies within our hearts:

But no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
(James 3:8)

This means that we do not begin with our mouths when dealing with this problem. We must go to the source; we must begin with the heart. Jesus tells us in Scripture:

“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

“Some people seem to have such a passion for righteousness that they have no room left for compassion for those who have failed.”
-Charles Allen

Our words matter to our Lord! I wonder if, after being confronted with the truth, Nathanael wished he had not uttered those words of skepticism. You can almost feel his sarcastic, biting, fault finding, and know-it-all attitude just by reading his doubting words. Yet Jesus, who is aware of the unseen life, knows Nathanael’s heart; and delivers a commendation to him that is just so Jesus! Fleshing out Romans 12:21 before our eyes, He gently leads Nathanael to the truth, providing for us a wonderful example of how we are to respond to negative verbiage in our own lives:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

“Kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence, and learning.”
-Frederick Faber

Jesus commends Nathanael not to simply flatter him with empty words, but perhaps to focus on his strengths, highlighting and encouraging the good rather than hitting him over the head with a two by four regarding his flaws. Jesus knew Nathanael to be a modest man who sincerely professed the faith of Israel and put into practice what he professed. Jesus’ words surprise Nathanael and perhaps take him a bit off guard. A loving response often does that to people. We are so accustomed to receiving complaints and criticism that when we come face to face with true love it can be a bit disarming. What a wooing and glorious example Jesus sets for us regarding the critical caustics in our own lives. The response Jesus received from Nathanael confirmed how firmly now he believed the truth in his heart as he freely confessed Christ’s prophetic office as Rabbi and His divine nature and mission by calling Him the Son of God and the King of Israel.

Take It to Heart

Each one of us must guard our words by guarding our hearts. Those words can speak life or death to our hearers.

But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37)