In answering our second question from the Prosperity quiz, let us start with a story.
One evening I sat down with a villager who had been a lifelong member of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. He nodded throughout my presentation of the gospel and church doctrine. As I got up to leave, he told me I would be successful as a pastor because “words have power, and we must speak them.”
Harmless perhaps, but after ministering for years among African prosperity churches, I knew exactly what he meant. I questioned him about that statement and just as I expected, the popular teaching of Positive Confession had even seeped into the worldview of an old member of a historically conservative church. “Say the words,” he told me, moving his hand from his lips to the sky. “It will happen.”
Verily, the tongue does have the power to do evil and good. Proverbs 18:20-21 is talking about the incredible power of speech. Solomon uses three body members to describe communication: mouth, lips, and tongue. Each member is made small but with lots of muscle. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (v. 21). The tongue can do great evil, such as leading others into immorality. The evil woman is “loud” (Pr. 7:11). If the man cannot see her, then he certainly will hear her. Contrast this with the godly woman who learns “quietly” (1 Tm. 2:11) and has a spirit that is “quiet” (1 Pt. 3:4). The tongue grieves the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). To avoid this, Paul lists five things to rid ourselves of, at least two of them dealing with the tongue (clamor and slander). The tongue can bring violence. “A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating” (Pr. 18:6). On the positive side, the tongue has the power to heal a broken soul (Pr. 12:18), to educate (Pr. 15:7), and to bring joy (Pr. 16:24). The NT version of this is James 3:8-10. “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil…from the same mouth come blessing and cursing.”
The clerics of cornucopia love to take small phrases from the OT and twist them to line their pockets. For them, this verse teaches Positive Confession, meaning our words have the power to create reality. For example, listen to Joyce Meyer in Eight Ways to Keep the Devil Under Your Feet.
Words are containers for power. They carry creative or destructive power, positive or negative power. And so we need to be speaking right things over our lives and about our futures if we expect to have good things happen (30).
Nigerian pastor D. K. Olukoya is more graphic in Prayer Rain.
I vomit every satanic deposit in my life, in the mighty name of Jesus. (You may prime the expulsion of these things by coughing slightly. Refuse to swallow any saliva coming out from the mouth.) . . . You can prime the expulsion of the following things by heaving deeply and applying little force [sic] upon the lower part of the abdomen. I deliver and pass out any satanic deposit in my intestine, in the name of Jesus. Speak to your womb to retain and maintain the pregnancy till birth. I command my money being caged by the enemy to be completely released, in the name of Jesus (18).
All across Africa, church people are being promised jobs, twins, sports cars, and spouses if they will but speak the words. Why? “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” If you want your sickness to end, say it, speak it, and it will happen.
Proverbs 18:21 actually teaches the opposite of the Prosperity message. Solomon is not telling us to talk more but to talk less. The second half says “and those who love it will eat its fruits.” That is, words have consequences, powerful words have powerful consequences, and voluminous words have voluminous consequences. “Those who love it”, that is, those who love to talk, will reap what they sowed.
This verse is pointing its gun at the forehead of TBN. It says, beware of telling that sick child her positive words have the power to heal. These words actually have the power to cause her death, and you will eat deadly fruit as the consequence. Beware of telling Mrs. Credulous her last coin to the pastor will buy her a new house, for the meal of God’s wrath is spread before you.
Only the Word has the power to create with words (Jn. 1:3). He is the creator. We are the creatures. But our words can do great good and evil. All of us must give account of them one day (Mt. 12:37).