The Importance of Words

Posted: November 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

What would you give your life for? Your children? Your spouse? Your country? What about a word? Would you go to your death over words? Are words that important?  There are no easy answers to those questions given the multiplicity of situations that one could be placed in.

This morning I’m thinking about 1 Timothy 6:4. Paul has written a letter to his young protégé Timothy and given him a number of exhortations. In 6:4 he specifically references a person who is teaching “false doctrines and does not agree with sound instruction…and quarrels over words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind…” (6:4-5). Did you notice that one characteristic of these false teachers is that they “quarrel over words” and thus create tension in their relationships?

So, there is at least some instances where quarreling over words would be unhelpful and unwise. Although we do not know what specific words these false teachers were quarreling over, what ideas they were trying to promote with the use of words, etc., we do know that the words they were fighting over would certainly not be worth dying for. Paul places this type of word-war in clearly a negative context.

However, Paul is not telling Timothy that words are unimportant. Paul is not saying that there are no words to quarrel over. The man who wrote to the Galatian churches and rebuked them for turning to a different gospel would certainly go to war over the word gospel and what it meant. When Paul pens his second letter to Timothy, he will call him to “follow the pattern of sound words” that Paul has spoken (2 Tim 1:13). Paul would take time to put words on paper for at least thirteen letters that are now preserved in the NT canon (he likely wrote many more). Words were important to Paul.

The fact that words are important is clearly seen in our experiences. A word spoken out of turn can ruin a friendship. A harsh word can break a child’s heart. A word of encouragement can brighten a person’s day just as a word of critique harshly spoken can cast gloom over that same person’s day. Words are powerful and important gifts. D.A Carson says this about words, “[w]hat amazing things words are! They can convey information and express or elicit emotion. They are vehicles that enable us to think. With words of command we can cause things to be accomplished; with words of adoration we praise God; and in another context the same words blaspheme him” (Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 27).  Words are important.

Most of us would readily acknowledge that words are important. But would we die for words? Well, given the caveat that each situation is unique, I would submit that in certain instances the Christian should be ready to die over words. For instance, if we were commanded to reject that Jesus is both Lord and Savior, and to articulate that idea with words, we may go to our death before we reject the one who died to save us. Or, if we were called to proclaim that we are justified by faith and works, we may go to our death before we promote a false gospel.

That last instance has a person dying for the word “and.”  The first part of the phrase is the Pauline understanding of justification (Rom 5:1). This is part of the good news that we have received. Jesus lived, died, and rose again so that through faith in him we are justified before a holy God. Anyone who preaches a different gospel than the one once for all delivered to the saints is to be accursed (Gal 1:8-9). The Christian who is standing firm will quarrel over this word and the damning idea that it conveys.

It is true that not all words should be fought over. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any words for which we should go to war. It may be that there are words with particular meanings that we should fight to the death to preserve. Maybe there could be a case where we would even die for the word “and.” Why? Because words are important and a word wrongly spoken, or a word added, or a word subtracted, could mean heaven or hell.

So, let us not fight over every word, but let us  recognize that certain words and their meanings may call us to fight. Words are important.


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