Years ago I had a friend who lost his ability to speak because of a stroke. It was heartbreaking to visit and see the frustration on his face when he was unable to join the conversation, unable to ask for a drink of water, or let anyone know what he thought. For years Vince had preached and praised, encouraged, and corrected. Then, no words at all. Speech is a great gift that makes it possible for us to say what we feel, to reveal who we are. How are you using that gift?
Reading in Matthew, I came to Jesus’ words about authentic words, heart-deep words. “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37, NIV)
Are your words plain, honest, and without shades of meaning? Hyperbole is not the problem. When a person says, “I’ve told you a thousand times!” we know that their words are not intended to be taken literally. The problem is word inflation, which is just plain old dishonesty. It is everywhere around us.
Job titles often have little to do with the actual work, designed to make an employee feel better about her position. Advertisers routinely mislead consumers, though carefully within guidelines that avoid legal repercussion. Every time I hear those unintelligible disclaimers that are tacked onto the end of a radio spot, I smile wryly at the idea that they have met the letter of the law while entirely missing the point of consumer protection. Years ago, I took my grandson to McD’s for a Happy Meal™, that included a toy. He opened the package, assembled the toy, then discarded it. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “It doesn’t work like on TV!” he replied. Deceived! How sad.
Believer, do you use words honestly? Do you not quite lie, but attempt to create impressions that are not related to the real world in which you live? It’s a spiritual issue, Jesus says. The text quoted above involves vows and promises, but has a wider application. What comes out of our mouth, because we are representatives of the King of Glory, is to be trustworthy. Our lives and words are to be so aligned that we have the complete trust of others, rendering the for saying things like “I swear to God!” totally unnecessary.
When you speak do others pause and wonder if there is any need to search for hidden facts? Do they feel any need to deflate your words to find the truth lost in bluster or bluff? James, who learned from his Master, Jesus, urges us to use plain speech. “Since you know that God cares, let your language show it. Don’t add words like “I swear to God” to your own words. Don’t show your impatience by concocting oaths to hurry up God. Just say yes or no. Just say what is true. That way, your language can’t be used against you.” (James 5:12, The Message)
Authentic words come from the heart of the person who is at peace with God and herself, who is secure in His grace. Knowing His amazing grace and His love that surpasses any human love frees us to live in reality- the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly. Christians have no need for drama, nor do they desire to impress. They won’t cover up or puff up. Jesus says they will go beyond the ‘legal’ use of words because they know God cannot be deceived by torrents of empty words. Let’s go beyond applying Jesus’ words to just what we say. Make the principle of authenticity part of all of your life so that you will honor the Lord by refusing all forms of exaggeration, dishonesty, and fluff; refusing to cultivate an image. Be the person who God, in His grace, has called you to be; nothing more, nothing less.
The word from the Word is set in the context of Paul’s ministry. He was surrounded with preachers who polished their presentation to make themselves more than they were. Paul refused to do that. May his words encourage all of us to the choice for authenticity. “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every person’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:1-2, NIV)
Abba, I live in a world where words are cheap.
Protect my heart and mind from the devaluation of the gift You have given.
Secure me in Your love so that I can be authentic.
When I am tempted to adopt the ways of the world,
to try to impress or mislead, to shade meanings,
convict me and lead me to words that bring life and light.
Using the Psalm I pray, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14, NIV)