Words Matter … more than we think

By David A. Liapis

Most people are familiar with the childhood song about sticks and stones and the supposed impotence of words. Likewise, many people are aware of the movement, especially among the Millennial generation and other “Social Justice Warriors,” to refute that paradigm. Rather, popular thought is that words do matter … a lot. In fact, they matter so much that some are considered on par with physical violence … or worse.

We have not only witnessed a shift in belief about the weight of words, but also their definitions. For example, hate can now be to disagree with someone, and to disapprove of someone’s actions, beliefs or ideas is to be “phobic” of them. We have effectively lost the ability to have civil discourse and to “agree to disagree” but still respect someone.

However, these changes are not the focus of this article. Rather, I want to juxtapose the current reasons for why words matter so much (mainly hurt feelings and being “offensive”) and the reasons given by one very famous person whose opinion on this matter should give us all pause. His reasoning for why words matter differs greatly from that of pop culture.

Jesus Christ had many things to say in the final three of the 33 years He walked the earth, and a good portion of those were devoted to the importance of words. In fact, there are at least 100 verses on 20 different books of the Bible that address the significance and/or consequences of our words – or the “tongue” or “lips” – to which I could refer, but I will limit myself to a handful of verses with a quote from Jesus on this subject for the sake of brevity.

Matthew 12:33-37 really sums up the gravity with which we consider our words. Jesus says,  

Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.  You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaksThe 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.

Context is critical in any discussion about words, so please allow me to place this within it’s historical context. In this passage, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, (the “brood of vipers”) a group of very outwardly religious people who cared much more about pretense and externality than the condition and motivation of the heart. In the preceding verses, the Pharisees accused Jesus of performing His miracles in the power of Satan. Jesus went on to explain that such words were blasphemy of the Holy Spirit of God – the unforgivable sin. He then followed up those damning words with what was quoted above. While originally directed at these examples of false religion, Jesus’ words ring true for everyone who has and will ever live.

Essentially, our words not only reveal our hearts, but echo throughout eternity. This is not a proof text to support a works or words salvation. What Jesus is getting at is that our words (and actions) reveal what’s in our hearts and that that fact matters … a lot. And, it should matter a lot to us, too. That there is an account to be given for every careless word spoken (of which I am more guilty than I’d like to admit!) should cause us to clasp our hands over our mouths and never speak unless absolutely necessary. We should be terrified into giving our words the utmost thought and deliberation before we speak them. However, the reality is that we are flippant and careless, speaking out of the abundance of our selfish, foolish hearts. Rarely are our words deep, meaningful, fitting and edifying to those around us. Rather, they are often complaining, negative, combative and angry. If what Jesus says is true (which it is), then we should be even more concerned because our words are indicative of the condition of our hearts.

So, the question of the day, or rather of our lives, is this: What do our words reveal about our hearts? Thankfully, Jesus not only came to speak hard words and call us to a standard we cannot live up to, He came to live up to that standard for us and take the punishment for our sins and remedy our inability to make our hearts right. Jesus said and did all the right things for all the right reasons perfectly, and He offers us the opportunity to have that perfect righteousness imputed to us through the salvation He offers to us.

Word matter more than anyone knows. I don’t believe that words are equal to violence like the whiney, “snowflake” Millennials might, but there is certainly a physical danger associated with our words – an eternal one that we would all do well to consider.

 

 

 

 

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