Words are Important

You may or may not know, but the infamous virus has managed to invade the Thoma residence.

Currently, Madeline seems to be on the upswing. She was pretty sick, but now is bright-eyed and symptom-less. Harrison is still struggling a bit, but as of last night, I think he’s turning the corner. His asthma was a concern. Although, he’s only had to use his nebulizer once. Jennifer felt terrible pretty much all day yesterday. She hadn’t yet experienced a fever, but woke up early this morning with one. I’m keeping a close eye on her. As for Evelyn and me, I think Evelyn has already had it, and with that, is doing fine. I’m not experiencing any symptoms. I tested negative on Christmas Eve, and once I get a batch of quick tests tomorrow, as the days go along, I’ll keep checking to make sure.

Once we knew it was in our midst, we started a regimen of care: Ivermectin, Zithromax, and vitamins D, C, and Zinc. In addition to these, I’ve maintained my evening dose of vitamin W, typically about two ounces of something at least twelve years old, and usually from the highland pharmacies of Scotland. Still, your prayers are coveted by the Thoma family. We pray to be through this, soon. Of course, our most fervent prayer is that the Lord’s will would be done among us.

Now on to something else worth considering this morning.

You’ve heard me say it before: Words are important.

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. You’re thinking, “Of course you’d say that, Thoma. You’re one of the wordiest people I know.”

Well, whatever. The premise stands. Words are important.

I’m one to believe that while words are essential for basic communication, the best words in the best order can and will do so much more. They become a means for carrying ideas so that not only the mind is listening, but so that the heart is listening, too. With this, words can do so much more than bridge two humans. They have a deeper power. Ask the poets. Or ask the Twain’s, Dickens’, Austen’s, and Hawthorne’s of this world. The right words well placed can move to sadness, stir anger, sow joy. They can rally to a cause. They can tease even the stoniest temperament of a would-be enemy into amity.

Just as words matter between humans, they matter to the Lord, too. Any honest student of the Bible will affirm the unfathomable depths of divine genius displayed by the simplest of words chosen and placed so precisely on a page; plainspoken truths found to be so piercingly deep, and all set into an arrangement that has nothing less than our salvation in mind. This is proof of a God who cares.

Words are important. They should be wielded with care. If we cannot, we must not. In an age of social media, this is even more so important.

That being said, I don’t need to tell you that the Church Militant—the body of believers in Christ on this side of heaven—is facing unprecedented challenges. Or perhaps I do need to tell you. It seems the more I bring the Word of God to bear on these challenges, even among my own church members, the more resistance I get. Nevertheless, believe what you will. With the forthcoming New Year, while it promises new possibilities, it also guarantees no escape from the same recycled evil that continues to haunt us.

Essential to facing off with these challenges, the Lord of the Church calls so simply for faithfulness.

The Lord calls for this faithfulness in countless locales throughout His Word (Matthew 24:13, Jude 17-25, Revelation 2:10, Hebrews 10:23, 2 Thessalonians 3:5, Psalm 37:28, and so many more). One place in particular, by way of the inspired words of the Apostle Paul, God reminds us that we can actually be faithful, not because we are somehow impervious to whatever we’re facing, but because “God gave us a spirit not of fear” (or equally translated, “cowardice”). Instead, we’ve been given a one “of power” (2 Timothy 1:7). Paul’s words assume courage by that power, and then he names two more things in particular as its fruits.

Paul writes that the spirit of power is demonstrated in “love and self-control”—or better translated, “sober-mindedness.” Interestingly, neither the types of challenges nor their ferocity are defined in relation to these characteristics. Paul doesn’t see the need for that here. God, the One inspiring his words, has already shared that information in plenty of other portions of His Word, being sure never to veil the fact that the challenges will sometimes be terribly troubling and horrifyingly painful. But no matter what we’re facing, it’s unquestionable that we have been given courage for leaning fearlessly into every ungodly obstacle, armed with love and self-control. And why wouldn’t this be true of God’s people? The Lord not only prepared us for such things by His gracious forewarning, but by His Gospel, He has placed into us a knowledge that we have nothing to fear even if the challenges overtake us. Through faith in Jesus, we are His. He is ours. And great is the reward in heaven for His faithful people (Matthew 5:11-12).

But consider where this morning’s conversation started. What does faithfulness look like when it comes to our words? What does it mean in relation to using those seemingly artless devices meant for carrying what’s in the heart and mind of one person and putting it into the heart and mind of another?

I’d say we are to remember that however we use language, we must remember it is powerful. Aware of this, its usage must bud and blossom from love and self-control.

That being said, let’s clarify something. Does love and self-control mean that we must tiptoe through hostile moments requiring a clear confession of truth?

Indeed, there are those times when the Lord took swift and seemingly vicious strokes, pointing His divine finger at others and speaking in ways that brought stinging clarity. But as we behold our God in the flesh doing this, we notice He usually did it to those who should already know better, namely church leaders who are well-equipped for understanding and exhibiting faithfulness to His Word but aren’t—the Chief Priests, the Teachers of the Law, and sometimes even His apostles. He demonstrated a thinning patience for such people who, knowing the truth, made deliberate choices to side with evil. In these instances, the Lord was rarely gentle, having no commendation for those out front who willingly reject Him, and by doing so, pall the Gospel, thereby injuring an observing world He desires to save. He is saddened by this behavior, seeing the confused onlookers as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).

As all of this meets with the words we use from day to day, we remain mindful that where Jesus is always the capable surgeon, we are forever the bumbling assistants with very dull skills. The Lord knows our ineptness, and even so, still He leaves no loopholes for us to avoid sharing the truth with the neighbor, no matter the situation or the level of sting the truth might bring (Ephesians 4:25). We keep in mind that He rarely gives license for cutting at the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30), and He almost never gives the charge to attack. Instead, He gives us a spirit of fearlessness for explaining and persuading (Acts 19:8; 2 Corinthians 5:11). He urges us to season our speech with grace (Colossians 4:6), and to speak even the hardest of truths in love (Ephesians 4:15). To make sure we haven’t missed this crucial mandate relative to our words, He fills the pages of His Scriptures with this preempting extension of the Gospel mandate, with Jesus always being the first to demonstrate it (Mark 12:34), and thereby showing us a perfect Word in the perfect order from the perfect heart of God. This kind of word-slinging has the power for converting and convincing the heart of enemies of God to become His friends (Romans 1:16).

So, why am I writing this? Because the New Year is upon us, and as usual, I intend to make at least one resolution that leads to a deeper faithfulness to my Lord.

This year’s resolution is relatively simple. It first involves having no intention of relenting in my efforts to communicate God’s Word of truth as it meets with the world around us. Only by Christ’s truth can anyone in this world be set free to become an inheritor of the world to come (John 8:32). This has me eager to explore 2022, and along the way, observe its corridors with a readiness to either encourage or warn my fellow travelers, so that together, alive or dead, we would emerge in 2023 with a tale of faith to tell, one that demonstrated Godly endurance steered by steady courage.

Secondly, I intend to do all of this by giving even more care to the words I use, both in spoken and written forms. Understandably, I’m not so foolish as to think I can change laser-focused, opinion-driven minds by what I write or say—especially not in an American kingdom blistering with radical individualism. In that regard, I am a Christian intent on leaving the converting and convincing to the Holy Spirit while I take every available care for crafting my words with love and self-control. I want what I’ve said to be received in a way that persuades rather than incites. Again, will this even be possible in 2022? I don’t know. But what I do know is that God blesses faithfulness, and with that, I’m going to stay the course. I hope it serves us both well.

In conclusion, if you are making a New Year’s resolution for 2022, may I suggest something on the flip side of this discussion? Perhaps you could make a deliberate effort to read and/or hear the words of others through the divine filter of love and self-control. Be intentional with your efforts to discover the avenues for peace between your assumed opponents.