Question: "What does it mean to speak life?"
Answer: Many Christians have never considered the incredible impact their words can have on other people. God created us to be expressive beings, and the Bible tells us that our words hold the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). Encouragement often comes through spoken words. So does discouragement. “Reckless words pierce like a sword” (Proverbs 12:18), but “how good is a timely word!” (Proverbs 15:23). To speak life is to be a person of encouragement, edification, and blessing to others through what you say.
Proverbs 10:11 says that “the mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.” How can we, as followers of Christ, learn to harness our words so that we speak life to those we love and to the lost and dying people of this world?
Proverbs 18:20–21 states, “From the fruit of their mouth a person’s stomach is filled; with the harvest of their lips they are satisfied. The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” This passage figuratively refers to words as “the fruit of the mouth,” which in other passages are “the fruit of the lips” (Proverbs 12:14; 13:2). The harvest of our words can either bring the benefits of life or the detriments of destruction and death. In verse 21, “those who love it [the tongue]” refers to people who talk excessively. “Too much talk leads to sin” (Proverbs 10:19, NLT), and these people will suffer the consequences of what they say.
Those who purpose to speak life understand that the words we speak have consequences. When a witness testifies in court, his or her words may decide whether a defendant lives or dies. Our words can affect the emotional and spiritual health of someone we care about. We ought to think carefully before we speak because our words can destroy our marriage, family, friendships, churches, and ministries. Are we building up the lives of our children, spouse, and other loved ones with our words, or are we tearing them down? Are we inspiring people with hope or crushing their spirits? Proverbs 15:4 says, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.”
Jesus reminds us that our words originate from inside our hearts: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:34–37, ESV). Careless words are tossed out unthinkingly, but heaven hears them. If we don’t mean it, we should not say it.
The words we say are important because they expose the condition of our hearts. Sometimes our words can be our own worst enemy. A critical heart will speak disparaging words; a bitter heart, stinging words; a self-righteous heart, judgmental words; a thankless heart, words of complaint. On the other hand, a loving heart will speak uplifting words; a contented heart, words of faith; a humble heart, words of acceptance; a joy-filled heart, grateful words. Love, contentment, humility, and joy—these qualities within ourselves will help us speak life to others.
Believers are wise to consider the costly outcome of their spoken words. Hurtful words of criticism, defeat, hatred, failure, negativity, and hopelessness will eventually produce death. The apostle Paul cautions us to speak only words that will benefit others: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).
To speak life means to give words of hope, encouragement, edification, support, and love. When you “let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6), you are speaking life. Dr. Greg Smalley gives fives ways to speak life into someone: speak words of praise, words of gratitude, words of validation, words of honor, and words of encouragement (quoted by Abby Lewis, “5 Ways to Speak Life Into Someone,” www.belovegivelove.com/5-ways-to-speak-life-into-someone, accessed 4/15/20).
When someone says, through words or actions, “I feel worthless,” “I don’t know why God made me,” “No one cares,” or “I hate my life,” we have a golden opportunity to speak life into that person. We can follow the example of our Savior and proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed (Luke 4:18). We can speak life and hope to this world.