Sometimes it seems we are drowning in a sea of words. There are the “talking heads” on television, the pompous pronouncements of talk radio hosts, the pleading appeals of televangelists, the endless chatter of people on cell phones in restaurants, in stores at sporting events, the endless inane posts on the social media. Parents, it is said, spend the first two years of a child’s life teaching them to walk and talk and the next twenty telling them to sit down and shut up. When in a crowd of people sometimes the noise of countless conversations becomes so overwhelming that the words and the sense they are seeking to convey become lost because of the sheer number of words being spoken all at the same time.
Words are the little combinations of symbols or sounds that we load with meaning and use to transport our thoughts to other people. Words are indispensable to communication. We have invented multitudes of marvelous ways to convey those words which in turn carry our thoughts and feelings to our listeners. Sometimes messages are conveyed through the use of images but then those images must be translated into words as we mentally interpret the meaning of them. Words are a writer’s stock in trade – sometimes they flow for him and sometimes it may seem that the words he needs simply won’t come. Everyone uses them whether he/she be an author, an editor, a blogger, a poet, a preacher, a lover, a farmer or simply a friend.
This quote from Jesus illustrates just how important words are and why we must use words well.
“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? 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.” (Mat 12:34-37).
In this passage Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees for having made certain accusations against him. His words may seem harsh to us, but Jesus had a reason for speaking in this way. Rather than listening to what he was having to say they accused him of casting out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons. He tells them that by using these harsh words toward him they were revealing what they really were in heart and cautions them that they would face their words in judgment. They were showing by what they said that their heart was filled with hypocrisy and unbelief. They were putting on a show of religion while at the same time with their words they were trying to destroy Jesus’ credibility with the people. They were fighting against him with their words and their words would come back to haunt them at the judgment.
Indeed, words can be hurtful and damaging. Lies, told to injure and deceive, to obtain personal gain or advantage or sometimes simply repeated as hearsay gossip are destructive. They destroy trust and thereby destroy friendship, marriages, families, communities and nations. Words can be hateful, hurtful or hindering. They can create anger and animosity. Thoughtless words of harsh, unjust criticism can tear down self confidence in a child and create emotional problem that will be crippling to them all their lives. Constant carping criticism can be equally destructive to our spouses or employees or to anyone who is continually subject to that kind of thing.
Our prayer should be that of David when he asked …
“Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psa. 141:3).
But words can also be beautiful things.
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Prov 25:11).
The imaginative use of words in stories crafted by a skilled writer or a talented storyteller can carry us on flights of fantasy to far away places on unimaginable adventurers. The words of a poet can inspire us to reach for dreams we may have long forgotten. Words can be vehicles bearing joy, creating laughter and inspiring us to noble thoughts had deeds. They can soothe hurts, ease worries, sadness and anxieties.
Words are also are the medium by which God conveys to us an understanding of himself. The words of the Bible as a whole convey to some understanding, but more especially the Word, the “logos,” the symbol, the one special One who is the explanation through his life and deeds of all that God is. Jesus says in effect, “If you want to know who God is and what he is like, look at me.” We “read” God through the life and character of Jesus. There is no other way to really know God – to have an understanding of him – except by Jesus. Fortunately we have four different, distinctive accounts of his life which give us a multidimensional look at him so we can see not only what God is like but come to an understanding of what we are supposed to be since he was the very image of His glory and we are to be conformed to his image.
As Christians, we have a responsibility to use our words wisely and well. Paul advised, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”(Col. 4:6).
There are many reasons for this. We are, in a sense, Christ’s ambassadors and have the responsibility of representing him well in order that we might show the world something of what he and his kingdom are really like. Through our words we can convey glimpses of the love with which he loves us. We also have the responsibility of being a blessing to those around us. Through kind, gracious, forgiving words we can do this.
We don’t have to be eloquent or make lengthy speeches for our words to carry great meaning. In our relationship with our spouses a few choice words like “I love you.” “I’m sorry.” “Please forgive me.” spoken at the right time convey a world of meaning. In our relationship with God some important words like “I believe.” “I repent.” “I love.” “I will obey…” make all the difference.