“And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” James 3:6-9 (ESV)
No modern psychologist would disagree with James on the point he’s making here that words have power. A negative word spoken harshly and declaratively can bring a lifetime of hurt. In his book Words Can Change Your Brain, Dr. Mark Waldman explains that our brains are biased towards negativity and that it takes five positive messages in order to counteract one negative message. This means that modest attempts to encourage someone after you’ve wounded them may bring little to no healing. Your attempt must be over and beyond your initial offence in order to have any real effect.
Imagine a 15 year old in front of a classroom filled with peers and a teacher says to them no one here likes you or you’re the dumbest student or your family is poor compared to everyone else’s. How many more words it would take to undo these words! (Personally speaking, I’m still working through things said about me in the fifth grade by my teacher Ms. Nicholson. God forgive her because I’m still having a hard time!)
Words aren’t just composed of vocabulary and sounds. Words contain life. This is as much a theological concept as it is a social-cognitive one. James uses the term glōssa which refers to language and speech. Speech has context, tone, inflection, and intention. There is a where to speech – a when, why, and how to speech. Speech has motive. Speech has spirit. Speech has power. Your speech combined with someone’s level of health, season of life, and social environment can make or break them. When speech is life giving, it is a blessing. But when speech is destructive, it is a curse.
Blessing and cursing are interpretations of reality by someone with authority. And their interpretation can then become someone else’s belief about themselves or God or the world around them.
Therefore blessing and cursing have capacity to create identity and destiny. If it’s a blessing, then it will create true identity and destiny. If it’s a curse, then it will create false identity and destiny.
Think about this. Someone told you that you were pretty or ugly. Someone told you that you are a boy or a girl. Someone told you to become a banker or a baker. Someone told you that you were smart, stupid, fat, or fit. Someone told you that you were gay. Someone told you that you would amount to something or to nothing. Someone told you that you are beloved or hated. And then somewhere along the way you believed those words and they became like fire setting “the entire course of life.” Someone’s words launched you. Your life is the result of what you’ve chosen to do with words.
But not just your life, but the lives of those you influence as well. The phrase “the entire course of life” is peculiar because it doesn’t just mean that the tongue sets the trajectory of an individual life. Its literal translation is that the tongue sets “the wheel of birth or lineage or descent.” The influence of your speech is embedded in generations of people, including those you will never meet. For better or worse your tongue creates generational cycles.
With your words you create the reality in which your children and your grandchildren will live in.
And so it’s with this weighty responsibility that I make you aware of four word curses you must cut out of your life because of their destructive generational effects:
WORD CURSE #1 \\ STOP UNGODLY PRONOUNCEMENTS
Stop speech that makes a judgement that God doesn’t make. These are often in the form of vows, authoritarian statements, hyper-religious language, political statements, rhetoric, etc…
TO SELF: “I swear I’ll never be like my dad” or “God hates me”
TO OTHERS: “You’re just like your lazy father” or “God hates fags” or “You’re such an idiot”
If these statements are received, BITTERNESS and SHAME set in, causing wrong beliefs about God and about one’s self. A person who believes these statements will spend most of their life trying to justify themselves.
Stop speech that makes a judgement that God doesn’t make.
WORD CURSE #2 \\ STOP UNRIGHTEOUS INFLUENCE
Stop speech that influences people for selfish reasons. These are often done in the form of manipulation, flattery, false witness, guilt-tripping, legalism, fear-tactics, bragging, etc…
TO SELF: “They will have to follow me if I say/do…” or “I’m way too good for them anyway”
TO OTHERS: “You’re a Yang – don’t you dare embarrass me” or “If you loved me then you would…”
If these statements are received, they stir up PRIDE or FEAR-BASED actions. Both cause people to depend on man more than God. They can become codependent and stuck trying to please others.
Stop speech that influences people for selfish reasons.
WORD CURSE #3 \\ STOP UNREASONABLE CRITICISM
Stop speech that negatively affects people without proper warrant or explanation. These are often done in the form of criticism, put downs, profanity, back-handed comments, sarcasm, comparison, etc…
TO SELF: “I’m so dumb I’ll never get a job” or “I always disappoint my boss”
TO OTHERS: “You’ll always be a failure” or “You’ll never have what it takes”
If these statements are received, they affirm INADEQUACY and a SCARCITY MINDSET. People who internalize these statements constantly criticize themselves and have an inordinate lack of confidence in themselves or anyone else.
Stop speech that negatively affects people without proper warrant or explanation.
WORD CURSE #4 \\ STOP UNSPOKEN TRUTH
Stop withholding life giving speech that you’re positioned and responsible to give. There are many people who are placed in your life that need to hear words of affection, affirmation, helpful critique, guidance, rebuke, warning, etc…
TO SELF: ….
TO OTHERS: ….
Silence is a statement. Silence communicates apathy. Cowardly silence instills IGNORANCE & DEPRIVATION. When a person is not watered with life giving words, they wilt. When someone does not receive life giving rebuke, they fill up with pride.
Stop withholding life giving speech that you’re positioned and responsible to give.
When left unchecked, word curses can greatly damage a family lineage. An entire nation even. James is telling us something we already know, but often we’re not careful of and that is: Use your words responsibly because they matter for a long time.
Stop using word curses and you’ll stop generational cycles of diminishing the image of God in people.
In my next blog we’ll look at four word blessings that not only counteract word curses, but also instill identity and destiny according to the Word. Speech that’s rooted in the Holy Spirit and the Gospel will shape people to become like the perfect Word and the perfect Image Bearer himself, Jesus Christ.