Ten Words to Live By
Click here to listen to this sermon.
The Power of Words
God created the world with words. Of all the creatures he made, only humanity is given the ability to use words. All animals can communicate, but only humans can use words. Words can contain meaning as hold that meaning forever. Words have power. They exist outside of us in some sense.
A single word or sentence can set off conflict --- or end it. When a word is spoken, it cannot be unspoken. When heard, it cannot be unheard.
The Ninth Word to Live By (Exodus 20:16) recognizes the power of words and the way that words can create trust and community. It is critical that we speak the truth to one another and about one another. Telling lies about others, or giving false testimony about others, uses words for evil rather than good. It tears apart relationships and breaks down community.
The one graduation speech I can remember was based on Prov. 25:11 "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." Words used rightly are precious things. And word used rightly is truth, because God is truth. And it is good, for God is good. And it is constructive, for God is life and God is love.
- Let us pay attention to what we say ...
- Is it true? Even the media misses this. We are so used to accepting as true what is spoken in the media. Did the president lie? It doesnt matter which president, the question hints at the importance of truth. We are unfortunately jaded because weve been lied to by government and media. It has eroded trust. So, it is important that we speak truth, but even so there are other responsibilities ...
- Is it good? Afternoon scandal shows and gossip magazines at the check out aisle feed our fascination with shocking truth. The stories may be true, but is the telling of it any good? Just because something is truth doesnt mean we have to speak it or tell it. Sometimes bad truths have a way of being circulated. If no good comes from hearing it, why would we tell another? Ben Sirach 19:13-17 ...
Question a friend; perhaps he did not do it;
or if he did, so that he may not do it again.
Question a neighbor; perhaps he did not say it;
or if he said it, so that he may not repeat it.
Question a friend, for often it is slander;
so do not believe everything you hear.
A person may make a slip without intending it.
Who has not sinned with his tongue?
Question your neighbor before you threaten him;
and let the law of the Most High take its course.
Let us pay attention to how we say it ...
- We should only speak the truth and only if it is good to speak that truth. Even still, we have a responsibility for HOW we speak.
- In our age of Talk Radio we tend to think that dialogue only counts if it is arguing. The proliferation of argumentative, combative talk shows is what George Will has called the coarsening of public conversation. This is where we need to be more mature as the people of Christ ...
- If we have to speak a difficult truth with someone we should approach the matter humbly. Respect the other by asking for the opportunity to speak and be heard. Dont be tricky or coy (So, have you stopped beating your wife?). Jesus teaches us that the goal of approaching others is to build community. Winning someone back means that you have fellowship with him or her again. Where 2 or 3 are in agreement, Jesus is with them.
- Let us pay attention to HOW we say the truth for speaking words unfitly cause more pain rather than change.
Let us pay attention to what we hear ...
- The thief can steal all the items he wants, but he depends on the fence to sell the ill-gotten gains. Without the fence, there would be no market for stolen goods. Likewise, without an willing audience, theres no market for lies and gossip.
- Just as the fence cannot justify his participation by saying, I didnt steal it. So also, we cannot justify the distribution of half-truths, lies, and gossip by saying, This didnt come from me.
- The doctor told a man that he had a condition that would result in rapid hearing loss and he would have to have hearing aids. The doctor was rather stunned when the man smiled at this news. Doctor: Most patients are disappointed by this news, why are you smiling? Man: Well, my wife is the town gossip and she always tells me stuff I dont want to hear, now your are installing an 'off ' switch in my ears.
- Most of the literature on office and school gossip is aimed at the listener. The message is clear: Dont listen to it and it will not continue.
- Gods people have had this literature for ages the ninth word to live by.
It is a great responsibility to use words. There is a great responsibility in telling the truth, how we tell it, and what we will and will not listen to. If it seems hard, then know this: It is hard.
But if words are going to mean anything at all, then we should thank God for the responsibility. And if words and truth mean anything to us then we will pay attention to what we say and how we say it and we will pay attention to what we choose to listen to ...
When someone asked us if we believed Jesus Christ is the Son of God and we said yes and if we were baptized into the name of Christ on the basis of that confession then we very much must honor the sacredness and preciousness of truth and the responsibility of using words to bring life and build up.
[Sources consulted: The illustration of the thief and the fence is taken from Kalas, The Ten Commandments from the Back Side.]
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 2 December 2007
Link to next sermon
Link to other sermons of Chris Benjamin