The Power of Words
June 4, 2020 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
Words are powerful.
The old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” simply is not true.
In our polarized culture, words become weapons. We may even be unaware of how certain words and phrases can be full of connotations, sometimes totally unintended by the speaker. And when words are used in monologues, instead of dialogues, it is far easier to be offensive (or be offended) prematurely or carelessly.
This past Sunday, I began our worship service with the desire to acknowledge the turmoil we are all experiencing from the events of the past weeks and months, and sought to turn our attention to the hope we have in Christ. No matter how we interpret the events or how we believe we should respond, we are united in our faith and worship of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I used several words and phrases, in an attempt to succinctly summarize the tensions, without knowing all of the connotations attached to those words; connotations I would not affirm. I am sorry I was not more careful in my choice of words. The last thing I want to do is cause undue distraction and division while seeking to serve as a minister of the gospel.
In Revelation 12:17 we learn that Satan seeks to “make war on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” One of the chief ways Satan wars against the Church is to create and exacerbate division. He wants the household of Christ, brothers and sisters, to misunderstand one another and to be quick to judge, slow to listen, and slow to forgive. This is antithetical to Jesus’ desires for the church. He prays that his followers would “be one even as [he and the Father] are one” (Jn. 17:22). And Paul calls us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3). We are called to strive for unity.
Striving for unity and love when tensions around the pandemic and injustices tend to divide is difficult. Thankfully, the gospel trains us “to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12). How does the gospel train us, especially as we seek to speak about sensitive subjects?
- The gospel humbles us. We are saved “not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:5). Without Christ, we would have no hope. Therefore, we have no ground to boast in ourselves, or to think more highly of ourselves in comparison to others. This includes our knowledge. We are not omniscient. We all have blind spots in what we know and in how we understand events and circumstances. We should be eager to learn, ready to be corrected, and hungry for growth.
- The gospel leads us to repent. As followers of Christ, we know that the root problem in the world is the sinfulness of man. Our root problem is sin. Growth in the gospel is the path of repentance. Before we start highlighting specks in the eyes of others, we are called to remove the planks from our own eyes (Matt. 7:1-5). As the gospel trains us to be humble and repentant, we have more opportunity to serve and help others.
- The gospel trains us to fight against self-righteous attitudes. When I learn and come to a clear conviction on a matter, it is tempting to judge others who do not share the same conviction. This is no different than the self-confident Pharisee in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:9-14. He prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (v. 11). In contrast, a tax collector prays, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (v. 13). This man, not the Pharisee, is justified in God’s sight. In humbling us, the gospel trains us not to compare ourselves with others or to judge others. God’s free mercy kills the competition.
- The gospel trains us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (Jms. 1:19). When we are humbled by God’s grace and mercy, we are more ready to listen. Of course, dialogues are better than monologues for listening. Christians are equipped by the gospel to engage in conversations with others, regardless of perspectives or viewpoints, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience.” As much as we are called to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), we are still to be quick to hear and slow to speak.