Wielding Words with Wisdom

“O Gracious and Loving God, the ancients believed that writing is a sacred gift from you. Send me the gift of words  so that I can say what must be said in a way that will cause as little pain as possible. Inspire me with your wisdom and guide my hand as I write.” ― EDWARD HAYS

“God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may sustain the weary with a word.” -ISAIAH 50:4

Christians are often called a ‘People of the Book,’ and that is true to an extant. This is more accurate of Islam that considers the Koran the definitive revelation of Allah. Christians, however, are more accurately called ‘People of the Christ’, since Jesus is the perfect embodiment and fulfillment of our Sacred Scriptures. For the Christian, “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14) and we dare not turn an incarnational faith back into merely words on a page or pontifications from a pulpit.

Christians don’t bow down before the Bible, but cherish the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament insofar as they bear faithful witness to the Christ. The Bible bears witness to the Truth but doesn’t not claim to contain all truth on all things. All truth is God’s truth, and so we can embrace and appreciate truth where ever it may be found — whether in science and the natural world, psychology and the social sciences, history and philosophy, and radiating forth from other faith traditions.

We are people of the Book to the extent that we “test all things” in light of Scripture “and hold fast to the which is good” (1 Thes 5:21).  But we better then test all our interpretations and theological convictions in light of Christ’s character and teaching — holding fast only to theologies and Christian ethics that are worthy of his name.

In the end, however, we as a human species are set apart from the rest of the animal kingdom for being ‘People of words.’ Cities and civilizations rise and fall on the wings of words. Those privileged to write the history books shape how it is remembered and what is conveniently forgotten. Politicians lobby in senate and Supreme Court justices craft legislation that shape an entire generation. Pastors and teachers can either “sustain the weary with a word” (Isa 50:4) or “set the course of their life on fire” (James 3:6).

Remember James’s wisdom and warning to word-workers and wordsmiths:

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly…. Consider how small a spark sets a great forest ablaze. The tongue also is a fire… All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue” (James 3).

I feel called and burdened to make a living with the raw materials of words — instructive words in a classroom, authoritative words from a pulpit, encouraging words in a letter, friendly words across a lunch table, hopeful words by a hospital bed.

Yet, we live in moment when words are becoming shorter and sharper, more spontaneous and thoughtless, and harder to take back once they are published. Let us be like Jesus, “full of grace and truth” and never one without the other. If our “very lives are a letter from Christ that everyone can read” (2 Cor. 3:2), let’s make it a message Jesus is proud to put his signature on.

“Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4).

Repost from December 2019.

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