Words! Words are wonderful things. I’m interested in words for a number of reasons not the least of which is that in a way, I make my living in words. Every week I put together a sermon made up of on average 4, 200 words, 24 thousand keystrokes, 160 paragraphs, and 447 lines. Now you know why my sermons are as long as they are 😊.
But words just naturally fascinate me. The English language is wonderfully expressive and nuanced. One can say the same thing in various ways, each with a slight nuance of meaning but all connected to the root meaning. Not every language is like that. There is a homiletical principle called restatement. It is the practice of emphasizing a point by restating it in three different ways in succession, one following the other. When I was in Brazil in Ray Ronk’s church, he was my interpreter. As I would preach my message or teach my lesson, I would try to use restatement. I would make the first statement and he would translate. I would make the second statement and he would stop and stare at me and say, “I just said that.” I said I was using “restatement”. He said, there is only one way to say that in Portuguese. That language just did not have the same nuances as English, according to Ray.
But I also am very interested in etymology which is the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history. In preaching, we make use of the original languages and sometimes it is helpful to know how a word or phrase came to mean what it means. I once read a book about etymology entitled Who Put the Butter in Butterfly. Roger Schleurter says, “According to ‘The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology,’ you can date ‘butterfly’ back at least to the year 700, when Britons still were speaking Old English. The Oxford English Dictionary offers citations from the year 1000, when ‘buttorfleoge’ appeared in the works of Aelfric, an Anglo-Saxon abbot and sage. Since then, it has been used by all the great writers, including Chaucer and Shakespeare. ‘So, we’ll live, and pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh at gilded butterflies, King Lear says late in the final act. The English called them butterflies because the ones in most abundance were yellow like butter.” Simple, but interesting, I think.
One significant reason I like words, is because in the “hands” of the right person, they are powerful. This is true of both good and evil. Perhaps no greater illustration of the power of words for good or evil occurred in the first half of the 20th century. On one had you had Adolf Hitler using words to evil ends. Then, on the other hand you had the words of Winston Churchill to inspire England and the rest of the allies to the end of resisting the evil of Naziism and the tyrannical rule of Hitler. Some say it was Churchill’s words that buoyed the nation up during their darkest days which led to ultimate victory.
But the greatest employment of words is, I think, as a window to the soul. While the careful and deceptive person can use insincere and “fake” words to misguide people into thinking they are something they are not, sooner or later, words reveal who we are, what our fundamental thinking is, and what our values are.
In Matthew 15:10-20 Jesus made this point graphically clear when he said, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart…” The Pharisees had criticized some of Jesus’ disciples because they did not wash their hand before they ate. This offended them. But Jesus turned the table on them to say it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what come out of the mouth. In other words, words were the reflection of their hearts. This is so true. Words eventually reveal the content of the heart both positively and negatively. In Matthew 12:33-37 Jesus taught, “”Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
If your heart is bitter, if you are an angry person, if you are a gossip, your words will reveal that. If you are materialistic, your words will expose that. If you have a critical spirit, words will unmask that. On the other hand, if you love the Lord, if you are kindhearted, if you are humble, if you are gracious, your words will reveal that. In truth, we all are a mix of the two. Nobody has unflawed speech all the time. But the great preponderance of our words, reveal our true hearts according to Jesus.
So, consider your words. What they reveal is what is in our hearts. They are the window to your soul.