Words Matter (A Lot!)

We all know intellectually that words matter, but we also forget – often. This was brought to my attention again this week when my words got me into trouble.

Sometimes we think that only certain kinds of words matter. The truth is that all kinds of words matter. It’s not just the negative words that matter – the positive ones matter even more.

Here are a few examples:

Angry words matter – they wound others.

Sad words matter – they are a cry for help.

Careless words matter – they indicate we a need to be more careful.

Unclear words matter – they can easily be taken in a way we didn’t mean them.

Negative words matter – they can crush someone’s spirit.

Positive words matter – they can build someone up.

Insensitive words matter – they show a thoughtless spirit.

Kind words matter – they will lift a person’s spirit.

Critical words matter – they will stop someone from trying.

Defiant words matter – they indicate a lack of respect.

Diplomatic words matter – they indicate a careful person.

Enthusiastic words matter – they move people to action.

The list goes on. I read a list of 180 different types of words that the author referred to as tone words. IE, words that indicate a certain tone in our voice that gives our words specific meanings and power.

The Bible warns us about the words that we use. Just in the book of Proverbs we read these statements about words.

Proverbs 12:18 – There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 13:3 – Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.

Proverbs 15:1 – A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 16:24 – Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

Proverbs 18:21 – Death and life are in the power of the tongue.

Proverbs 21:23 – Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.

And then this one from the book of James.

James 3:5-6 – See how great a forest a little fire kindles!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.

Every so often we need to be reminded – I need to be reminded – just how much Words Matter.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

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When Misunderstandings Escalate

It’s bound to happen sooner or later. You say something, thinking that you were perfectly clear, only to find out later that the person you were talking to took away something entirely different from your conversation. There was a classic misunderstanding between you and another person. Of course it can also happen the other way. Another person says something or acts in a way that you interpret entirely different from how they meant it.

Most misunderstandings are relatively minor in nature and can quickly be resolved or forgotten. The problem, however, is that inherent in misunderstandings is the potential for harm. If misunderstandings are not either ignored or resolved they can escalate into something far greater than their relative importance.

How many times has a misunderstanding come between you and someone else? I’m not referring to the garden variety misunderstanding that happens every day (although it may have started out that way). I’m talking about those misunderstandings that have the potential to separate friends; damage relationships; and wreak churches and homes. Unfortunately it’s happened to most of us in our lifetimes.

So what does the Bible say about handling misunderstandings? Although there are not a great number of passages that address this issue, there are several that can give us direction.

For example Matthew 5:22-24 teaches that if you know that someone has something against you, you are to make every effort to resolve it. Misunderstandings would fall into this category. This instruction relates to the person who said or committed the act, not to the person who misunderstood them.

But sometimes you may say something and not realize that it was misunderstood by the other party. That’s where 1 Corinthians 13 comes in with instructions on Christian love. Verse 5 says love keeps no record of wrongs done to it. In other words the person who misunderstood the communication has a responsibility not to file the perceived slight in the back of their minds so they can dwell on it whenever they think about you. Verse 7 goes on to say that love bears all things or as one translation says, love puts up with anything. When you have been misunderstood that person is not to automatically take offense, instead they are to put up or forbear with you. That’s a word that we don’t often use; it means to politely or patiently restrain an impulse to do something. That is they are to restrain the impulse to be offended. That would take care of most misunderstandings.

While there are other passages that bear on this issue, these are sufficient to demonstrate the need to deal with anything that can come between Christians, even if it is something as innocuous as a simple misunderstanding.

One last thought. It’s our words that get us in the most trouble – and that’s where most misunderstandings originate. James 3 warns us to bridle our tongues because their potential for harm is drastically disproportionate to their size. It’s just common sense: the less we say the less chance there is that we will be misunderstood.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Demonizing the Other Side

The intense media focus on politics this week with the presidential inauguration brought to mind something that is going on in our society. There is a dangerous trend in America today that is both unhealthy and ultimately self-defeating. I’m not sure when it first entered our culture as an accepted practice but it has become so commonplace that most Americans are completely unfazed by it. It is most obvious in the political realm but it doesn’t stop there. And that’s part of the danger – it can easily creep from the political to the personal.

I’m talking about the trend of demonizing anyone who disagrees with us. It’s no longer enough to disagree on issues, we have to depict the other side as out to destroy our culture – our religion – our freedoms – our constitution – our families – etc. etc.. And in the process we paint them in the most pejorative terms possible. Think about the last political advertisement you saw endorsed by the opposition. With literally thousands of photographs available to use, which one did they choose? Right. They chose the most unflattering picture they could find. That’s just one small example of demonizing the other side. We do it best with our words.

Political parties demonize the opposition. Special interest groups demonize those who champion a different position. We demonize the obnoxious neighbor; the athlete who was caught using performance enhancing drugs; the girl who chose an abortion over life; the Christian couple who gets a divorce; anyone who supports same-sex marriage. The only people we don’t demonize are those who sin the way we sin.

The saddest aspect of this is that Christians are no different from the culture in general. Listen to a group of Evangelical Christians talking about politics. It won’t be long before someone (often more than one) demonizes a liberal politician, if not by the words they use then by their tone (you can do it more than one way). In our minds those who support gay rights, abortion on demand, the welfare state, amnesty for illegals, the legalization of drugs, and/or euthanasia are evil – out to destroy everything we hold sacred. And we feel justified in portraying them in the most damning way possible.

In warning early Christians to watch out for people who had infiltrated the church for their own personal gain the Apostle Jude used the example of Michael the archangel disputing with Satan over the body of Moses (Jude vss 4f). Even as exalted a being as the archangel of God dared not bring against him (Satan) a reviling accusation (vs 9). The term reviling is the word from which we get the term blaspheme. Thayer in his Greek Lexicon defines it as speech injurious to another’s good name. Michael was not willing to demonize (no pun intended) the greatest demon of all! So where do we get the idea that we can demonize a mere mortal man?

Disagreement, even passionate disagreement, is one thing – and I would argue that it is healthy to our democracy. But demonizing the other side is not passionate disagreement – it is contrary to everything the Bible says and stands for. We would do well to listen to the words of the Apostle Paul: Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one (Colossians 4:6).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve