Words bombard us every day from the outside world as well as within us. They are what help us make connections with God, ourselves, and others, but they can also be the source of disconnection just as easily. They can be tricky for extroverts as well as introverts and any type of the popular enneagram. They can come easily to us or we can struggle to find words, but no matter where we fit in all this – they matter.
Sometimes we wish they mattered less than they do, but we cannot escape that they are major players in each of our lives and they matter to God as well as is evident in scripture:
“And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.”Matthew 12:36 (NLT)
If that verse has never given you pause, I would be surprised because it does me each time I read it or read through the book of Matthew and bump into it. If you want an even clearer picture, try reading it in The Message:
“You have minds like a snake pit! How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard. Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.”Matthew 12:34-37 (MSG)
These were the words of Jesus spoken to the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day, but are words for us all to heed.
Often when we look for just the right word when we are writing something or for a specific occasion when we are seeking to be precise. Sometimes seeking the right word has self-seeking purposes so we can persuade someone according to our wishes or designs. Most of us know how to be persuasive if we choose or need to be so. And I love Mark Twain’s thoughts on choosing the right word.
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word, said Mark Twain, is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. A single word, if it is the right word, can illuminate and strike fire all at once.”Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses
How true! Those with words that spark lightning are the orators, authors, and great preachers of old that stirred the hearts, minds, and spirits of so many and echo today. But there are also words that are almost right used by charlatans, dictators, and false prophets that can seduce us to follow dark paths that destroy us.
You see, the right words are significant, but only if they are the truth.
Spurgeon’s words remind us that lies too often come quickly from our mouths and ears and often we listen and give a home to them before we ever determine if they are the truth. How evident that is in the scene in the Garden of Eden where Eve is seduced to eat the apple by the serpent’s almost right words full of deception. Such words are so palatable that we imbibe them and relish them much the way we do ice cream over spinach without considering the consequences.
Lies work on us. They always have. And they are used by children as well as parents, students as well as teachers, laity as well as preachers, citizens as well as governments, and lovers of all types seeking to gain our favor.
In the process of all this and more, lies spoken as almost right words lead us into bondage. Truth, however, brings freedom.
“We live on the gossip of the moment and the rumors of the hour. It is not as if we never hear the truth at all, but we don’t realize its overwhelming significance. It is an extra aside. We have no sense of continuity. We respond to whims, sometimes good, sometimes bad. Then Scripture if placed before us. Words are assembled and arranged, and powerful patterns of truth become visible.”Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses
How truly Peterson writes and holds a mirror up to help us to see more clearly. How wise the path that uses Scripture as the compass to set the course, measure the merit of the words we use or hear. But we are inconsistent at best in doing so.
We can start out with the best of intentions, but then the almost right word distracts us. It sounds like it’s right, sounds reasonable, and away we go following it along without checking on its veracity and those who mean to seduce us know that very well and count on it, but Scripture isn’t about seducing us.
“Scripture’s task is to tell people, at the risk of their displeasure, the mystery of God and the secrets of their own hearts – to speak out and make a clean breast.”Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses
Ah, there it is! The goal of truth is not our ease or comfort. Often it is used to incise our hearts to remove what is not like Christ so we can grow and develop as He intended all along and allow the gifts, abilities, skills, and design of his making to flourish.
“Like apples of gold in settings of silver, is a word spoken at the proper time.”Proverbs 25;11 (NASB)
So the right word is evidenced by it being the truth.
“Honestly written and courageously presented words reveal reality and expose our selfish attempts to violate beauty, manipulate goodness and dominate people, all the while defying God.
Honest writing shows us how badly we are living and how good life is. Enlightenment is not without pain. But the pain, accepted and endured, is not a maiming but a purging.”Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses