Our Tongues Have the Power of Life and Death

Years ago I put together a number of Scriptures on the power of our words. Their cumulative weight is stunning. In today’s world of social media, which allows us to publish comments to the world with the mere push of a button, more than ever we as God’s people need to read and meditate on Scripture, and examine our heart and habits. We need to be slower to anger and slower to speak, and quicker to hear and think biblically.

Today’s post is the first of a series of five using those verses I compiled. I’ll begin with Scripture, and end with some comments and resources from others. If you don’t have time to read everything, please just focus on God’s Word!

The power of the words we speak is far greater than we realize. Look at what Scripture has to say:

The Power of Our Words for Bad:

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. But no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison (James 3:6, 8).

With his mouth the godless man destroys his neighbor (Proverbs 11:9).

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels, they go down to a man's inmost parts (Proverbs 18:8).

For Good:

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

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

An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up (Proverbs 12:25).

The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value. The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of judgment (Proverbs 10:20-21).

For Good or Evil:

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing (Proverbs 12:18).

The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit (Proverbs 15:4).


The tongue has the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21).

Here are some related insights from others:

Ray Ortlund writes,

Horizontally, death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). The temptation is to think, ‘But I’m not doing anything. It’s only words.’ But words alone can bring a government down or establish peace, destroy a marriage or renew hope, crush a child’s sense of worth or lift him to confidence and joy, unify a church or splinter it into angry factions, send a soul to hell or to heaven. When we observe carefully the impact of our words, we see why God cares so intensely about them. (from blog post “Words”)

Paul David Tripp says in The Power of Words and the Wonder of God,

The book of Proverbs is, in ways, a treatise on talk. I would summarize it this way: words give life; words bring death—you choose. What does this mean? It means you have never spoken a neutral word in your life. Your words have direction to them. If your words are moving in the life direction, they will be words of encouragement, hope, love, peace, unity, instruction, wisdom, and correction. But if your words are moving in a death direction, they will be words of anger, malice, slander, jealousy, gossip, division, contempt, racism, violence, judgment, and condemnation. Your words have direction to them. When you hear the word talk you ought to hear something that is high and holy and significant and important. May God help us never to look at talk as something that doesn’t matter.

Paul shares some further reflections in this video:

It’s impossible to overstate the power and eternal impact of our spoken and written words, for good or evil! That’s why we so desperately need God’s grace and transforming work in our lives so that the words we speak will be pleasing to Him.

Photo by Kate Kalvach on Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries