Have you ever considered this amazing aspect of the first man created: that once God endowed him with life, Adam was not only alive, not only conscious and aware of his surroundings, but he had the capacity for understanding language? Not only did God begin talking to him the same day, Adam’s first assignment pertained to language: He was to assign a verbal label to the creatures existing around him (Genesis 2:19-20).
“In giving names to all, and ordering all from the impulse of his own inward feeling, and with reference to himself, he becomes an imitator of the Divinity, a second Creator … a creative poet” (J.G. Herder, The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry).
God’s creation of a female counterpart for the first man also connects to this assignment: “And Adam said … she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (verse 23).
As far as we know, this was happening in Hebrew. Remarkably, the Hebrew word for “Man” (ish) is first used here by Adam (the Bible records God as calling the man adam until this point). Adam referred to himself as ish, as though he named the kind of being he is—inspired by this moment. He names the kind of being this female is (not her name as an individual; “Eve” is a name that comes in the next chapter): She is ishah. He assigns a label to what she is based on how he has labeled himself—and these two words are closely related. In written form, the female version simply adds one letter to the end—the equivalent of our letter “H.”
This ends up being a key aspect of Hebrew—and an amazing one: how related concepts have related terms. The point is that the first man used language to represent and solidify a relationship between concepts. This had God’s support.
Every Word, Every Stroke
Our Creator reveals Himself in the New Testament as the “Word.” His essence is tied to language. We often say the Bible is Jesus Christ in print—i.e., in linguistic form.
The first book of the New Testament reinforces the importance of language, words and the tiny markings that comprise their written form.
In Matthew 4:4, Jesus Christ says: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Every word of the Bible is one to live by; it’s a matter of life and death, the same as eating or starving.
At this point in history, the only “Word of God” that existed in written form was what we call the Old Testament. It is a masterful work, full of great literary accomplishment, and every word is important. “No word’s redundant,” writes Haim Shore in Coincidences in the Bible and in Biblical Hebrew. “No phrase is put anywhere by random selection. Words or combinations of words all intend to convey a message, they are not there by chance alone.”
A study of biblical numerics alone (see “Proving the Bible: Numerics” at pcg.church/articles/5723) shows the great care and precision God put into His Word, which is true of Hebrew and even the Greek New Testament. Every single word was inspired, and it’s even mathematically significant to the structure of the Bible. Every single name you read in the genealogies and every seemingly minor detail is the Word of God by which we are to live.
Christ said, “… Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18). Not just every word is important, but every stroke of every letter. The “jot” refers to the smallest Hebrew letter—the yod. The Greek word inspired for “tittle” here means horn, probably indicating the apex of a letter. In Hebrew, a little “horn” missing could change the entire letter. (We have letters in English that are also similar to one another, minus a tiny stroke here or there: “Q” and “O,” “I” and lowercase “l”).
Those two passages in Matthew show the importance of God’s words, but what about ours? Christ said, “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36). God will expect men to give an account for even every lazy or useless word uttered. Elsewhere the Bible condemns profane, perverse and corrupt language.
Why should that matter? Really think about that. In one sense, language is symbolic. The word “lion” is not an actual lion; it’s a verbal symbol for the real thing. But those symbols carry tremendous weight! Our use of them is symbolic of what’s in our hearts!
“For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (verse 37).
Let’s explore how important our language is to our eternal success! This is not just about avoiding profane and degenerate uses of language, but becoming skillful with it. We must learn to appreciate and use it for the positive power it can possess.
Gerald Flurry used Winston Churchill as an example of this in a November-December 2017 Royal Vision article, “Seven Keys for Building Leadership.” The third key given was: “A leader must learn to love and use language.” It’s not just loving our language, but loving language itself—its immense power. King David loved Hebrew. Students of English can fall in love with the same language Churchill did.
This comes partly from reading the great achievements of our language: “Churchill loved Shakespeare and poetry. … He regularly spoke about how noble the English language was and how he loved the essential structure of an ordinary British sentence.” When Winston was 14 years old, one of his teachers said he had never seen a boy with “such a love and veneration for the English language.” That love for language grew all Winston’s life.
“He went on to write and speak as no other historian or leader ever did,” Mr. Flurry continued. “His speeches helped galvanize the British people in resisting Germany’s advance. When President John Kennedy granted Churchill honorary American citizenship in 1963, he famously said, ‘He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.’”
That’s the power of language! Yes, it is largely “symbolic” of certain concepts, but those symbols can be “mobilized … into battle.”
Many scriptures describe the power of words. They can be “like the piercings of the sword” or “health” (Proverbs 12:18). They can be “a breach in the spirit” or a “tree of life” (Proverbs 15:4). They can diffuse an explosive situation (verse 1), or they can be sharp razors, or like teeth of spears or bitter words like arrows (Psalms 52:2; 57:4; 59:7; 64:3).
Proverbs 18:21 says: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” Like Churchill, we can mobilize our tongues and send them into battle for better or worse. The last half of the proverb reads in most translations: Those who love it (the power of the tongue) will eat its fruit.” For good or bad, the tongue bears fruits that reveal something deeper.
This is exactly the context of Matthew 12, where Christ was showing that our words are symbolic of what’s in our hearts and our character: “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (verses 33-34).
Our words represent “the abundance” of our hearts. God holds Himself to the same standard. We can know God by the words He utters; we can discern His heart.
Christ connects this concept to the symbolism of trees: You are the tree; your heart determines the kind of tree you are; and the words you speak are the fruits hanging off the branches. Imagine the words you utter most frequently, the phrases you like to say, things you exclaim in spurts of passion or pain. That’s what is hanging on that tree for all to see.
This imagery is used elsewhere in the Bible. Proverbs 12:14 also discusses the mouth’s “fruit.” Again, those are fruits of what is in our hearts.
Acts 13:22 calls David a man after God’s own heart. Connect that to Christ’s words in Matthew 12. What is in God’s heart comes out in His Word. And if you’re going after God’s heart—if you want that to be in your heart—it’s going to show in the words you utter. It did for David.
David the Language Leader
David eventually grew up to become a great king. Throughout his life, he employed great skill in writing—both words and music. He penned the majority of the Psalms that have been preserved.
J.G. Herder writes that David’s “songs are the expression of the most inward and individual language of his heart” (op. cit.). Herder notes that David refined the poetry of the Hebrews, created the song book of the nation and inspired many prophets to imitate his writing style. His musical and literary creations were the his greatest sacrifice to God—greater than burnt offerings of animals (Psalm 69:30-31). Sacrificing an animal would be nothing for a wealthy king, so he “chose to honor God with the finest effusions of his poetical powers” (ibid.).
In this imagery, consider your words as an offering laid upon an altar. What kind of offerings to God are the words we speak? What is the quality of offering in our fellowship at Sabbath services?
Solomon’s Artful Words of Wisdom
David’s son Solomon was also a literary master. In Proverbs 12:19, he writes: “The lip of truth shall be established for ever.”
Solomon’s proverbs also describe the artful aspects of good language. Proverbs 25:11-13 read: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear. As the cold of snow in the time of harvest, so is a faithful messenger to them that send him: for he refresheth the soul of his masters.”
There is a particular kind of Hebrew punctuation at the end of verse 13 that indicates the end of a section. These three verses are connected, and all three are about using language effectively. Each one builds: the first verse mentions gold and silver, the next mentions gold and fine gold, and the third verse is about being able to be trusted to deliver a message and the refreshment that provides.
Consider a “word fitly spoken.” The Hebrew for “word” and “spoken” are basically the same Hebrew word: davar—one in noun form and one in verb form. A better English equivalent might be aword worded fitly (using the Hebrew word order). Davar doesn’t just mean to speak, but to utter words whether the method is spoken or written. And the word has the connotation of setting in a row or arranging in order. The word “fitly” has to do with the circumstances or timing of the word.
Verse 12 says that the obedient ear has not only heard and applied the instruction, there is imagery of the ear being adorned with a fine jewel. It’s art.
Artful words create an experience. That’s what art does in general. Elaine T. James explores this in An Invitation to Biblical Poetry—discussing how the Bible is largely instructional, but biblical poems are intended to do more than instruct: “… the poems are creating experiences that invite our deep consideration and participation. They are doing the kinds of work that art can do.”
Art evokes an emotional response, which would be less likely if the words had less imagery and were simply telling us something directly.
“The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips,” Proverbs 16:23 reads. Here again we read how the heart informs what we say. We must be adding the right “learning” to our lips.
The next verse reads: “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.”
Destruction Versus Construction
Proverbs 4:23-24 directly condemn corrupt language: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.”
Here again is admonition about our hearts and their connection with the words we utter. And that includes whether we’re saying it, singing it, writing it or typing it.
James 3 discusses this subject at length, using a variety of images to illustrate the power of the tongue. Verses 2-4 relate it to bits in horses’ mouths or rudders that turn ships. The notion is one of little things governing massive objects. That’s our tongue!
The bit-in-the-horse’s-mouth metaphor came from a Psalm of David (Psalm 39:1). In James 3:5-6, James uses the imagery of fire—how a little fire can cause massive destruction. This metaphor for the tongue also originated in the Old Testament (Proverbs 16:27). Please read more about this passage of the Bible and the power of the tongue in our free booklet The Epistle of James.
Think of this discussion of language as two sides of a coin: One side is avoiding corrupt language, and the other side is elevating our language. Both sides show a power in language. On one side, we are avoiding language that is destructive, including the exact words we use and the subject matter of our language.
On the other side, elevating our language also involves our subject matter. It’s not just elevating our language for vanity’s sake, but to serve a purpose—to construct.
“Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Colossians 4:6). In English, we may use the phrase “colorful language” to imply bad language. But what about having flavorful language? We can certainly add more flavor!
Ephesians 4:29 addresses both side of this language coin: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” Language should serve the hearer. It brings them grace. Grace is more than just the religious idea of God extending favor or pardon. The Greek word comes from a root meaning to rejoice, be glad, or to thrive. Our speech should bring sweetness, delight and pleasure.
It also says good communication is “to the use of edifying.” Do you know what that means? Well, do you know what an edifice is? It’s a building or structure. Look up the definition of the Greek word for “edifying,” and you’ll see it means building, either the act of building or an actual building like the temple (Matthew 24:1; Mark 13:1-2).
Contrast that with what James said about the tongue so easily burning things down. Here is a positive admonition to use our tongue to build things up.
Ephesians 4:15-16 add: “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
Godly love is at the heart of constructive communication. As verse 15 says, we speak the truth, yes, but in love. Proverbs 17:27 says men of understanding spare their words. There is discretion associated with using language. For example, poetry says a lot in as few words as possible. Historians have contrasted the effectiveness of Abraham Lincoln’s two-minute, 272-word Gettysburg Address with the preceding two-hour speech by Edward Everett.
Yes, language can be either a constructive or destructive power. Even the absence of language can serve either purpose as well.
Another of the great Old Testament poets was Isaiah, who quoted God as saying: “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
This incredibly poetic passage shows how God uses language in a productive way. Explore the imagery of verse 10 alongside what the reality being conveyed in verse 11 to understand that more fully. God’s Word isn’t just not-corrupt, He intends it to soak in, to bring forth seeds, sprouts and food—to prosper, advance, profit and progress wherever He sends it.
The words we speak are like the fruits of what’s in our hearts. If we’re consuming God’s Word, godly language will grow on that tree. Similarly, if we are consuming high quality literature, high-quality language will grow on that tree.
Isaiah 50:4 gives a little more insight about Isaiah’s use of language: “The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.”
Interestingly, Isaiah 6:5 shows that when God called him, Isaiah had an unclean mouth. But here in Isaiah 50, he stands as an example of life-giving, edifying language.
Here, we see it takes the “ear” or the “learned” to grow in this. What kind of language are you hearing and reading? What is soaking the soil of your heart and growing on that tree? It accumulates morning after morning, Isaiah says.
How Youth Can Appear Older!
Here we have discussed many matters of language. It matters to God, and since creating the first man, He has gifted us with this tremendous responsibility.
Even as a youth, you wield it for powerful effect, either to destroy or build. Each of you reading this has the ability to communicate in spoken and written form. Each of you holds this power!
Consider what the Apostle Paul told a young Timothy. Our best estimate is that this young evangelist was in his 30s. But apparently the members of the congregation were older on average, because of what Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:12: “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”
This shows the positive force the younger members in a congregation can be—even an example to the older. And the first thing listed is their use of language. That is a way to counteract someone’s impression of your youth. Through your language, you can be an example to those older that can help build God’s Family! Talk about edifying language!
“Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (verse 13). Being an example in word means diligence in your reading and study. This also means developing your ability to create with words.
People may notice that your skin is smooth, your voice is under construction, your frame is unfinished, and think, That’s just a kid. But may it be that when you open your mouth, you command a totally different impression. Make them say: Hear how they express themselves! Listen to the concepts they grapple with—the books and authors they’re discussing! Read the papers and poetry they’re writing!
In that, people see astounding fruits from a tree—the poetic fruits of your heart.