I sometimes indulge in a musical trip down memory lane. An old 1960s hit by the Bee Gees really struck a chord – so to speak – when I listened to their rendering of ‘Words.’ “...It’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.”
What would songs be without words? The composers Schubert and Mendelssohn wrote a number of ‘Songs without words’, but I don’t remember any of them particularly. Where would our worship services be without words? When we sing new songs, we pay great attention to the words even when the music is mediocre. Famous speeches, moving sermons, great literature, inspiring poetry, even map books, detective stories and fairy tales all have one thing in common – words. Jesus, the great Saviour of all mankind has the title of ‘Logos’ or The Word. Christians refer to the Bible as the Word of God.
Words began with the creation of humans. God spoke directly to Adam and Eve, and no doubt they conversed with each other. Satan used some very enticing words to take Eve’s heart away, and she in turn presented a slightly modified version of those words to Adam. The result was catastrophic to say the least.
After the flood the entire human population all spoke the same language. Verbal communication was vitally important in planning the tower that would “reach to the heavens.” But this undertaking was in direct opposition to God’s command to multiply and fill the earth, so He decided to put a stop to the ‘progress’. And how did He do it? By confusing their languages, making them unable to understand each other’s words.
But with the New Covenant, came new beginnings. There were many different language groups gathering in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost shortly after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. But all those listening to Peter’s address on that day were utterly amazed to hear him preaching the gospel in their own language! Whether the miracle was in the hearing or the speaking, the barrier of language was removed. Three thousand people understood sufficiently to seek repentance and forgiveness on that day, giving the church a ‘kick-start.’
Words can hurt or heal, distress or impress. As Jesus began His ministry, people were impressed by the gracious words that proceeded from His mouth. Later on, when some disciples turned away, Jesus asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Peter, seldom at a loss for words, answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life...” (John 6:68).
The Book of James has quite a bit to say about the tongue. He compares it to a forest fire started by a small spark. How well we know this in South Africa! A few venomous words on social media can set off a war of words threatening hate, violence and polarization.
So how should we Christians manage our words? While we are flesh and blood, we will not make a perfect job of it. James says, “If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is the perfect man...” (James 3:2). There has only ever been one perfect man, and it’s not any of us. Jesus knew exactly when to speak and when to remain silent. The Pharisees and teachers of the law tried repeatedly to “catch Him in His words,” but could not.
We can however, pray for the ability to speak the truth in love. Love can sometimes mean tough love, the need to speak out and not mince our words, but it can also mean to consider the effect of our words on others and to speak accordingly.
I can so clearly remember as a child when my dad would say, “I want to have a word with you.” This could only mean a reprimand, but when he would exclaim, “my word,!” it usually meant something good.
In Matthew 24:35 Jesus assures us that “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” My personal favourite words in the Bible are found at the end of the Book of Revelation. This is when God makes everything new, new heaven and new earth, and when there is no more death, mourning, crying or pain.
Jesus tells John to write this down for His words are trustworthy and true (Revelation 21: 4,5). Jesus’ words, as well as His indwelling Spirit, are all we have and all we need to take our hearts away. Away from the god of this world and into His glorious kingdom.