There are many ways to build others up, but one of the most important ways is how we speak to them. You’ve all heard that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Well, that’s just hogwash. Words can hurt just as much as sticks and stones. Solomon argues that our speech carries has a profound impact on others. In Proverbs 18:21 he says, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” Paul also reminds us that it’s our words that serve to destroy or build up. In Ephesians 4:29, he says, “ Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up.” When a nine-year-old was asked if his two-year-old brother had started to talk yet, he replied, “Why should he talk? He gets everything he wants by hollering.” There are a lot of “children” in our grown-up society who seem nowadays to get “everything they want by hollering.”

Words are powerful, but they are also accompanied by other means of expression: Body language, facial expression, tone of voice, and other means of nonverbal communication are also present and combine to make our words effective or ineffective. Sometimes it only takes a look to cripple a spirit. Sometimes it only takes a look to make it soar. One person said that nearly two-thirds of the message is communicated by non-verbal indicators. Only a third of it comes from the words themselves.

There’s no doubt about it, words are powerful. The power of words may be seen in recalling the impact of speeches made by Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill. Through words inflamed with hatred and lies, Hitler whipped his nation into a frenzy to become a juggernaut of destruction. On the other hand, Churchill, armed with eloquent, measured words, lifted his nation from the ashes and debris of defeat to go on to victory. Ella Wilcox wrote, “A pat on the back is only a few vertebrae removed from a kick in the pants, but it is miles ahead in results.” Someone has said there are two kinds of people in our lives: balcony people—the great encouragers who cheer us on and lift our vision, and basement people—the folks who are never satisfied, who drag us down. Some people are like spurs and others are like spears. “Spurs” are the helpful ones who prod you on to “love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24). “Spears” are the hurtful folks whose words stab and wound. Some people make you want to “brace” yourself when you encounter them because their words are usually negative and critical. Others make you want to “embrace” them because they are warm, loving, and a joy to be around. Which kind are you?

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…” 1 Thessalonians 5:11