Words mean things. At least they’re supposed to. Take for example Jesus’ teaching in Matthew chapter 5. This is the chapter which contains “the Beatitudes,” the well-known, pithy sayings of Christ which begin his famous Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the …. .”
The beatitudes themselves are “short and sweet,” but they are profound and thought provoking. For centuries, people have gravitated to them as an example of Jesus’ ability to teach and as a guide for a living faith.
But much of the remainder of the chapter gets lost because of the popularity of the first 12 verses. We forget that Jesus continues to teach about anger, lust, divorce, retaliation, etc. He even sneaks a messianic “Easter egg” into the lesson (v.17) about his own purpose for coming.
It’s a rich chapter, that’s for sure, and it’s a reminder of how powerful words are and that words mean things. For example, when discussing whether or not people should take oaths, Jesus says “37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” Meaning, let your character be so unassailable that no one will question your word when you give it. Live your life in such a way that people know you can be trusted. In that way, when you say “yes” or “no,” you mean it and people know you mean it. Oaths won’t be necessary if your word can be trusted.
A number of years ago I came across this list of words and phrases called “Texas Talk.” My apologies for not being able to recall the source which compiled it, but if you grew up in Texas or have lived here for any length of time, you’re familiar with a few of these:
- The engine’s runnin’ but ain’t nobody driving. (Not overly-intelligent)
- As welcome as a skunk at a lawn party. (Self-explanatory)
- Tighter than bark on a tree. (Not very generous)
- Big hat, no cattle. (All talk and no action)
- We’ve howdy’d but we ain’t shook yet. (We’ve made a brief acquaintance, but not been formally introduced)
- He thinks the sun come up just to hear him crow. (He has a pretty high opinion of himself)
- She’s got tongue enough for 10 rows of teeth. (That woman can talk)
- It’s so dry the trees are bribin’ the dogs. (We really could use a little rain around here)
- Just because a chicken has wings doesn’t mean it can fly. (Appearances can be deceptive)
- This ain’t my first rodeo. (I’ve been around awhile)
- He looks like the dog’s been keepin’ him under the porch. (Not the most handsome of men)
- They ate supper before they said grace. (Living in sin)
- Time to paint your butt and run with the antelope. (Stop arguing and do as you’re told)
- As full of wind as a corn-eating horse. (Rather prone to boasting)
- You can put your boots in the oven, but that doesn’t make them biscuits. (You can say whatever you want about something, but that doesn’t change what it is).
Words mean things. And, in the case above, these words come in a wrapper–humor on the surface covering observed truth within. It feels good to laugh, doesn’t it? That’s the power of words at work!
One lesson from all of this is simple: what words are you using in your conversations, texts, and posts? Words that encourage and edify? Or, words that are critical and caustic? Words that mislead or bear false witness and break God’s commandment or words which lift up someone before others?
As followers of Jesus, our words are to reflect the saving faith we claim to possess. In that very same chapter of Matthew Jesus calls us to be “salt and light” to the world. Our words and good works give glory to God and point others to Christ—as long as our “Yes” means yes and our “No” means no. From the time we begin to utter our first words, we are reminded of their power to build or tear down. In fact, the apostle James goes so far as to dedicate a whole chapter (3) in his epistle about the taming of the tongue because of the sheer power it seems to wield.
Now, as much as there is a lesson in there for you and me about the words we use, we do not want to forget the words God uses to speak to us, to remind us of his faithfulness, his power, his grace for our days. His is an “untamed” tongue of forgiveness, if you will. It’s these words which are the most important we’ll ever hear.
Because regardless of where you are in life, it is not so much about the words we use, but the Word that is directed at us from Jesus. Words like “Never will I leave you, or forsake you.” Or, words like “take heart, I have overcome the world.” Words that remind us that despite the brokenness of the world around us and within us, we of all people have most to hope for. That we of all people have been given the Word.
Words from the Word made Flesh, Christ. Words which are more than instructions for daily living, but instead are words for eternal life. Words that we need to hear every day to continue to press into a world which uses words to abuse and defame and cut down and destroy. One only need to venture boldly forth into the internet and social media to see the negative power of words on a society, let alone our own lives.
As you give consideration to the words you speak, text, post, read or hear, consider first the Lord’s words to us–words of grace, of power, of encouragement and words which are ours to possess forever. We’re called to be people of the Word, the good word, that is!
In His Strong Word,
For additional, encouraging words from God, check out the following scriptures: Psalm 27:14; Titus 3:3-7; John 14:1-6; Isaiah 54:10; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4