When I was evangelizing in Centro the other day, I ran into a very kind and sincere brother in the Lord. During our conversation, I mentioned that, although I regularly proclaimed the Gospel publicly in the open air, people didn’t want to believe. He didn’t approve of that statement, however, asserting that our words have power. As evidence of this, he quoted Proverbs 18:21: “death and life are in the power of the tongue”. In a very well-meaning and tenderhearted way, he warned me to be careful to not say negative things, as fallen angels could use those negative confessions against us, and thus we could be responsible for bringing bad circumstances upon ourselves…and could therefore miss God’s blessings for our lives. He suggested that I take that negative statement that came out of my mouth and replace it with a positive one—such as the emphatic declaration, “Many people will be saved!”
But does that line up with Scripture? Do our words really have power, and will they really create for us negative and positive circumstances?
What about the occasion when that young, zealous disciple of Jesus adamantly confessed, “Lord, I will NEVER deny you!” Peter unwaveringly declared that he would never fall away, and that he would go with Him to prison…and even to death (Mat.26:33-35; Mark 14:27-31; Luke 22:31-34). Did his positive confession reap great blessings upon his life?
What of the time when the Lord Jesus affirmed the truth that the Jewish people did not believe, that they did not have the love of God within them, and that they refused to come to Him that they may have life? (John 5:38-47). Should the King of glory have been rebuked for stating such negative words?
And what of Paul’s confession that he left Trophimus ill at Miletus (2 Tim.4:20)? Didn’t Paul know better that to actually declare a sickness upon his own friend and brother? Shouldn’t he have instead confessed that Trophimus would recover?
In comparison with Scripture, this relatively new doctrine of our words having life and death-creating power (invented by false teacher Kenneth Copeland in the mid-20th Century) doesn’t stand. Proverbs 18:21 is not referring to some mystical, demon-influencing or hindering ability we have in our tongues. It’s simply saying that your tongue can get you and others in world of trouble—so be careful with what you say. The tongue is a fire that can set an entire forest ablaze (see James 3); out of your mouth can flow deceit, gossip, cursing, vain and haughty words, indiscretion, and many other sins. Not bridling your tongue can get you, or others, killed. Bridling your tongue, and using it wisely, can save your life, and help you to gain great favor with men.
Notwithstanding, as I explained to the amiable brother I spoke with, there is a grain of truth in that “positive confession” doctrine. Granted, most of that teaching is false, but believers are exhorted in the Scriptures to exhort one another daily with the TRUTH (Heb.3:13)—admonishing each other with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs in all wisdom—and we are to let the Word of God dwell richly in our hearts (Eph.5:19; Col.3:16). Rather than believe the lies of Satan and the world, and the deception of sin, we are to hold fast to the truth, to the commands and promises of God found in His Word, and we are to wield those promises and commands in the face of any and all temptations and trials (Mat.4:1-11; Eph.6:17).
So in a sense, yes, we are to “declare” those truths and promises to the Lord in prayer (Acts 4:24-30), wrestling with Him until we’ve obtained the blessing (Gen.32:24-32 ). What He has promised to do He will do (1 Thes.5:24). Of that we can be sure. Hebrews 10:23 exhorts us to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” We need to believe that He will fulfill His Word, and also that He rewards those who seek Him (Heb.11:6).
And as it is legitimate to verbally SPEAK the truth to God, to the brethren, and even to the enemy, it is likewise legitimate to speak the truth to oneself. We are to TALK to ourselves, as David did in times of adversity. In Psalm 42:5-6 and 11, he rebukes and encourages himself:
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”
It is also valid to replace a negative, ungodly thought that comes into our minds and hold it captive to the obedience of Christ—that is, to reject it and replace it with a promise or truth of Scripture (2 Cor.10:5). Philippians 4:8 tells us, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
But as a final note, allow me to add that in doing all of the above, we must be careful to not presume upon God. We are not to claim for ourselves healing, or a miracle, or a blessing, when He has not explicitly said so in the Scriptures, or revealed so by some other divine or providential means. Presumption is unfortunately the sin of many of our “charismatic” brethren. May it not be so with us.