Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Power of Words

Gossip Within a Biblical Theology of Words and Story

Our understanding of the problem of gossip can be significantly increased by placing what we’ve learned so far (in our study toward a biblical definition of gossip) within a broader theological framework of words and story. The Bible has much to say about words. It is not only a book of words, but also, a book of words about words.94 The Bible is also a story made up of many stories. In today's and tomorrow's posts, we consider two important aspects of this framework.

Life and Death

The Power of Words. The Bible teaches that words are not only meaningful but powerful. Both testaments testify to the power of words. “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Prov 18:21). “Life and death” is a merism to indicate both extremes and everything in between. This power extends in both positive (life) and negative (death) directions. The apostle James expands on this concept. He begins by vividly expounding on the wild power of (even very small) words:

We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison (Jas 3:2-8).
Then, James concentrates on the power of the tongue being both life-giving and positive, as well as, death-dealing and negative.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water (Jas 3:9-12).
Playing with Fire

This explains why sinful gossip merits such strong warnings in both testaments. The malicious (or simply careless) words spoken about people behind their backs are not just evil in meaning, they are powerful and can have a potent evil effect on the listeners, the speakers, and, eventually, the subjects of the sinful speech. Those who gossip are playing with fire.


[94] For a broader practical theology of words see Paul David Tripp, War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 200) and John Piper and Justin Taylor, eds., The Power of Words and the Wonder of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009).

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