Do words really matter?

I posted the other day about how authors (specifically Christian ones) need accuracy when they write. Today I want to take that a step further and talk about how important words are to what you are writing or saying.

Meaning

It is (almost) common knowledge that words lose their meaning over the course of time (in fact, I recently read a great post on that very subject). So because words have the potential of having many different meanings and implications attached to them, we must be careful to make sure our hearers and readers actually understand what it is we are saying when we say it. And generally, if you are unable to articulate what you are saying, it is perhaps best to not say it, or make it clear that you cannot articulate your thoughts at the moment.

If you mean it, Say it

There have been times in conversation with others when I have called into question what people have said. The most common response to that has been some variation of: “You know what I mean!” I can think of one instance where I asked my friend to define the Gospel. His reply was, “believing in Jesus”. The nature of the conversation, however, begged the question, “What did he mean by that?” So I asked him. Frustrated, he said, “I shouldn’t have to answer that, you know what I mean when I say it.” But did I? Surely, I know this guy is a believer, but were I an unbeliever, I would have no idea what he was talking about.

You see, we tend to leave things out of conversation because they have simply become secondary, a kind of assumption that everyone should know what we are talking about. But that is a dangerous thing to assume. Our language as believers is hard to understand (even while talking to fellow Christians), so we need to say what we mean in an understandable way.

If you say it, Mean it

This is hard. It is extremely easy to just say something without an ounce of thought behind it. As Carl Medearis put it so well in the post mentioned above:

Talking is easy. Actually communicating takes a lot of work.

This is why James spends time telling us to control our tongue (1.18,26; 3.2-12). But we have this big problem where we are sinful and our thoughts (apart from God’s Spirit) are corrupted. The effect that this has on our words is great indeed. We speak when we shouldn’t, deny what we have said, and most terribly ignore that our careless words might have a hurtful affect on those around us. But we often don’t care. This is most unfortunate. So, as Christians, if we speak we must search ourselves and really be sure that we mean what we are about to say. Otherwise we run the risk of misrepresenting Christ.

Reacting to others

There comes a delicate balance, then, when we speak to others. On one hand we must mean what we say and say what we mean, but on the other hand we must follow what James says:

Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

That isn’t us. We are harsh, bitter, angry without reason, and always find ways to be offended and offend others in return.

That is why the Spirit must change us to speak the way we should. We can’t expect to react well to others without the Spirit, but some things to consider to help that along would be:

  1. Remember that most of the time you are not the one being spoken against- people aren’t always out to get you.
  2. Remember that you are just as sinful as whoever it is that is talking to you.
  3. Remember that the center of the conversation (especially when debating certain issues within Christianity) is not you or the other person and probably not even the issue itself. The center of the conversation must always be brought back to Jesus and his death and glorious resurrection. Our words are empty, our conversations just words, and our books and blogs are just jumbles of thoughts if they are not centered on the Gospel. So make your words matter by focusing on the cross.
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