There is tremendous power in our words. With a gentle whisper we can calm a whimpering child. In a flash of fury, we can shred the dignity of our enemies… if we would say they had any to begin with. Words have a way of attaching themselves to people: smart, athletic, attractive, whore. The childhood mantra: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” ring quite hollow in reality. We know how powerful words can really be.
Words may not leave outward scars like a stone might. But, we all have experienced the bitter sting of careless or cruel words. Think back to how others have made a positive or negative impact with their words in your life. How we use language shapes the world we live in. If this is true then God really may be concerned with how we use our language. Words have a lasting impact. We should choose our words carefully, with eternity in mind.
World War II had not been long in action. Leading the attack against Nazi Germany was England. Germany turned its forces against the leader of the Allies by bombing its cities. In the midst of such a terrible crisis, Winston Churchill made a tremendous speech that rallied the country to not give up, to muster its resolve. Not just this, Churchill’s speech inspired England to continue to take the fight against Germany despite the devastating consequences. We recall his famous words: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” England rallied to that call. There is a tremendous power in words.
The power of the spoken word finds its origin in God. After all, God spoke Creation into being with but a Word. In shaping God’s people into a particular community, God spoke to them the Ten Words, which we call the Ten Commandments. And, finally, God sent Jesus, the Word made flesh to communicate God’s love to a dying world. Although we cannot create something from nothing with our words, our words no doubt have a tremendous impact on our world.
Of course, using the power of language in positive ways is always easier when things are going well and people are on your side. It is not difficult to love those who love you and to speak words graciously to them. But we know that life is not always pleasant and filled with pleasant people.
Wasn’t it Jesus who said to his disciples, “They have hated me, they will hate you”? Proverbs is no more naïve than Jesus. It recognizes that conflict, affliction, disagreement, and persecution are likely possibilities in this life. Not only is it possible, it’s probable.
One need only think momentarily upon the various ways this is true within our world. Political parties draw battle lines along party platforms, condemning one another for being “un-patriotic.” Nation contends against nation, threatening violent means to achieve their own goals. Families are ripped apart in divorce. We argue about “correct beliefs and doctrine.” Contention and discord seem to be a normal part of life… even within the Church walls.
The typical mode of conversation in these moments of contention involves one party demonizing the other. Slander is the typical means by which opposition can be discredited and silenced. If that doesn’t succeed, violence may even be used to quiet the other side. Violence is not always physical retribution… throwing a stone or a stick. It quite often is woven into the very fabric of our conversation.
Our natural reaction is to retaliate… fight fire with fire. We either want to defend ourselves or something we consider to be of utmost importance or truth. But we find that slinging mud at one another leaves everyone covered in muck. A harsh word in such moments of conflict and confrontation is like whacking a beehive with a stick to take care of the problem. One soon finds out that the problem has only just begun. “A harsh word stirs up anger.”
As one modern day prophet chimed: “If we practice an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, soon the whole world will be blind and toothless.” The Way of Wisdom, in contrast, offers us a different course. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount we hear him say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit… blessed are the meek… blessed are the peacemakers… blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness… Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Jesus calls us not to retaliate, not to use words as weapons. Rather, God desires our words to bring about unity, not discord. A gentle word can turn away wrath.
In theory, it sounds easy enough. But, in practice it always seems a bit harder. Speaking a gentle word when I want to lash out in rage; speaking a gentle word when all I feel is the attack of my foe; speaking a gentle word when I am trying to live in a loving way and yet it is not returned. Speaking a gentle word is not always the easy path. But when such a word is spoken, it’s like a healing ointment for a wound, a salve that gives sight to the blind. Gentleness spoken in the midst of harsh words can be a salve for us all, healing broken relationships.
Proverbs is not merely concerned with the tone or volume of our voice. It does not only desire for us to speak gently. No. Rather, it calls for wise discourse. Foolishness, it claims, leads to folly… and folly certainly leads to destruction. This wise discourse goes beyond the need for knowledge. Knowing the Scriptures is important, but it’s only part of the equation! We are called to be discerning people.
Every year thousands of people obtain degrees in higher education. They study hard, memorize, complete projects, write, and read. It really has become a rite of passage for many. However, none of us would claim that obtaining a diploma ensures that one is wise. Wisdom is not the lack of knowledge. But, it is the understanding on how best to use such information.
Many of us have the basic information required to operate a car or truck. It is common knowledge that requires little technical savvy. However, the way in which we use that information can yield wildly different results. Driving recklessly would quickly be labeled as foolishness and folly. Driving within the boundaries of the law would be considered wise use of the knowledge. The difference between the two drivers is not the information they have… it is how they use it!
The Church is tremendously concerned with preserving Truth. After all, we have been called and commissioned to preach the Gospel to all nations. We have the “right information. “ We have all the data that is necessary for salvation that we are called to communicate to the world. However, information alone is not enough. We are also called to speak the Truth with wisdom. Remember, Proverbs tells us that the “fear of the Lord” is the beginning of wisdom.
We are definitely called to speak Truth to a hurting world, but it’s always in harmony with God’s character and nature… which is Love! Thus, we speak in moments of contention with gentleness and the “tongue of the wise makes knowledge good.”
Growing up I always hated taking certain medicines. The taste of those particular medicines would make me cringe. I almost preferred being sick to taking that sickening medicine. I wasn’t sure that the cure was any better than the ailment. But somehow the promise of something sweet added to the medicine would not only make it bearable… it could even be enjoyable. Mary Poppins was right: “A spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down.” Wisdom in our words makes receiving truth like taking a “spoon full of sugar.” Truth is not always easy to receive, even though it will benefit us. But, the Truth spoken in gentleness and with wisdom can go a long way in allowing us and others to receive it gladly.
It is essential that the Church re-discovers the art of charitable, Christian discourse. This is true for discussions that happen within the Body and in dialogue with the world. John Wesley reminds us: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, but in all things charity.”
Of course, we sense the danger of charitable discourse is that Truth is compromised. And, should we still despair that the Truth may be overcome by this world. Should we fear that the Church will fail and falter in its sacred duty. Perhaps we feel that we have not spoken the truth firmly enough and others have trampled it under foot. Perhaps our opponents seem to have the louder voice and may sway the popular opinion in ways that we understand to be destructive. We must keep this promise in mind: “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”
There is no wickedness that escapes God’s notice. God sees the plans of both the wicked and the good. Let us be reminded, encouraged, and emboldened by the hope we find in God. Truth’s endurance is not dependent upon us. Truth does not find its bedrock in us. There is a faithful God, whose justice will make right the evil and wickedness that assail us. We will be preserved in the Way of Wisdom. God is faithful to sustain us and God’s plan and purpose, even in spite of weak, fragile vessels such as we are.
The apostle Paul tells us, “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” And so we say, “Thanks be to God!”
Proverbs tells us that “a gentle tongue is a tree of life.” But, as we mentioned before, God is the firm foundation of Truth, not our words. If life is found in our words, it is because God has used them to bring life. If life is found in our words, it is because they reflect the Word made flesh… God’s gentle and wise speech to us!
Jesus, the very Word and Wisdom of God, came to reveal the Truth to the world. He came to save the world and not condemn it! Yet, that Truth was not always embraced. In fact, we know that many people rejected God’s Wisdom. They scorned Christ and turned him over to be crucified by the authorities. Yet, “darkness did not overcome” the Word made flesh!
Christ arose on the third day. The Word and Wisdom of God prevailed and triumphed over evil and death. God’s Truth cannot be conquered, killed, or silenced. God’s gentle and wise speech, though we scorned and mocked it, brought us life when we received it! When we have received salvation through the Word and Wisdom of God, our hearts cannot help but overflow with the words of praise, gratitude, and testimony for what God has done and is doing… God is making all things new!
Our lives transformed by God’s Truth also transforms our words… they are like a tree of life to those we have conversation with. Our words become the milk and honey of God’s speech to those around us. Let us not be those who “break the spirit” but may the words of our mouth glorify God and bring life to a dying world!
One November evening I found myself in the darkest place I could imagine. I had never felt anything so heavy and burdensome. The heaviness of a broken spirit weighed on me like nothing I had ever experienced before. It felt like I was suffocating. All I wanted to do… all I could think to do was lie down on my bed and die. It wouldn’t take any effort. I would merely lie down, close my eyes, and breathe my last. Hope was an empty word and life had no meaning. Death was the only option left, I assumed.
Collecting years of dust by my bedside, conveniently hidden beneath piles of things was my Bible. I couldn’t even recall the last time I had cracked it open. The pages were still crisp, smooth. Something compelled me to grab it and let it fall open on my pillow. The Book parted like the Red Sea to Romans, the seventh chapter. There I read God’s gentle and wise Word to me: “O, what a wretched man I am! Who can rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Christ Jesus our Lord!” I broke. For the first time in a long time I realized how far I had fallen and how much God still cared.
That’s only half of the story. God led me to the Nazarene Church through the Nazarene Student Center only two weeks later. God’s Word was ministered to me through God’s people who loved me and spoke the Truth gently and wisely to
me. It was a tree of life for me! There is still a world filled with “wretched” people living foolishly. We have all been there! But thanks be to God that God does not leave us there! God’s Word working through us can make a real difference in the lives of those around us!
Let us place our trust in God’s faithfulness to preserve Truth, to never let it fail. Let us rest in blessed assurance that God is the foundation, which cannot be shaken, of our faith. May we draw upon knowledge with prayer for God’s Wisdom to instruct us how to live and speak in all wisdom and gentleness. This is the call for us to lay down our very lives, take up our cross, and follow Christ! May we use our words in ways that glorify the Word and Wisdom of God, who is Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior!
Let us commit to go “Deeper, Deeper” in the “love of Jesus… and higher in the school of wisdom, More of grace to know. Take me deeper still, Till my life is wholly lost in Jesus and His perfect will.” Let us sing, trusting in God together and go speaking the Truth in gentleness and in wisdom.