Power of Word
One of the greatest differences between God culture and human culture is the place and value of word. In most cultures, word is a tool of communication. It is how we get the message across. It is utility. Word is servile to the speaker and is as adaptable as the speaker wants it to be. We create words and use them. In the same manner, we can retract them or explain them away. In a culture ruled by relativism, words are truly mechanisms to bend, twist, shape and reshape in any way the user would like. We are sadly there.
But, God culture views word very differently. The whole concept of word is elevated when Jesus is referred to as The Word (logos). That use of word may be confusing to some. It certainly was to me when I was a young Christian. But, simply put, just as the whole creation was powerfully set in motion by “word,” so the embodiment of every message of truth is found not to come from Christ’s mouth, but from Christ himself. God spoke and everything came to be. Jesus is that level of certainty- the embodiment of all Truth. He does not only convey the message of good news. He is the good news. He does not simply speak words. But, he is Word. The word and work are so closely tied in Jesus that one does not have to wait to see whether there is veracity in the word or power and effect in the word. Jesus speaks and it happens. Christ’s word and work are indistinguishably connected. With Jesus as in the creation, “word” and “work” are indistinguishably linked. So, it was no mistake or small thing that the world was set in motion by word. It was with the same certainty that it was impossible for Jesus to say something that would not become a reality.
Connecting the “work” so closely with the “word” is something foreign to our understanding of “work” and “word.” But, it is core to understanding God. Because of this chasm of cultural understanding of “word,” we have much confusion when we read the Bible. I have heard it over and over again, “Why did the person do that? Why didn’t they just say, ‘I didn’t mean it or know what I was saying?’” Perhaps one of the most devastating examples is that of Jephthah in Judges 11. He made a foolish vow and in order to keep it, he sacrificed his daughter. Cases of word binding or committing work are numerous in Scripture. Another example of the irreversible nature of the oath or blessing upon action is in Genesis 27 where Jacob tricks his father into giving him the “blessing” of his brother, Esau. When the blessing is issued, Isaac somehow cannot retract it, even though he wants to and Esau pleads for it. The word and work are again linked in a way that seems confusing to us. In these cases, we find it difficult to believe that you can’t just “do over.” But, that is the difference between human cultures and God culture.
I use only one more example for the sake of brevity. In the New Testament, Herod has a fascination with John the Baptist and is quite afraid of him though it could be argued that he has a degree of respect for the man. But, John is incarcerated by Herod because of his unfavorable prophecy- statement of truth- about Herod (Mark 6). When Herod throws a party, he makes a vow and to his own chagrin in keeping the vow, he regretfully had John the Baptist beheaded. That story tells us that he was haunted by that action. He later projected Jesus as John the Baptist reincarnated. There was nothing other than paranoia that would lead to that thought. But, his word needed to become action- like it or not.
Something in each of these stories makes people wonder, “Why didn’t they just say, ‘I didn’t mean it?’ Or, ‘Acting on my word turned things wrong, so I should be able to retract it.’” That is our cultural and unfortunate understanding of separating word and work, verbal commitment and committed act. Whether foolishly or wisely applied, the Biblical narrative lets us know that there is an undeterred connection between word and work.
Perhaps that is why Jesus directed his highest regard of faith to a Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:10). The officer knew that Jesus word and work were inextricably connected and possessed equal power. The Latin expression is “ex loquitur operato” (“out of the speaking it is done”). The Roman officer knew that Jesus could simply speak healing and regardless of the distance or knowledge of the circumstance or proximity to the sick person, it would be done as he spoke it. And, because the soldier “got it”, Jesus expressed his delight in this man’s faith and apparent understanding of the connection of word and work. Jesus applauded his understanding it extraordinary ways (Matthew 8:11). And again, sadly, our cultural understanding of the permissible disconnect between word and work, makes us wonder why Jesus would regard the Roman’s statement so highly. By the way, the servant was healed by Jesus word.
There is a reason that Jesus said, “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No’ and anything beyond that comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37). The word must be potent, unequivocal and meaningfully applied. Anything less is insidious to the core- even attributed as coming from Satan. We must never forget that we will give “account for every idle word spoken on the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36). The word “idle” can also be translated as “unemployed,” “unused” or “barren.” In other words, don’t think that barren words disconnected to action will be ignored. Don’t say things that are not accomplished or applied. That is why the Bible sharply reminds us to be scarce with our vows and make sure to keep them. It is also why the Bible warns against oath making. Word matters. Word should be as certain as the work it claims. There should be no separation between word and work. Anything less is a lie that makes us less godly and even less human.
What has happened between there and here? We have forgotten the power of word. The end result is not a diminishing effect of word, but our misunderstanding of its power. We think that word not culminating in work are benign. They are not. They are dehumanizing and crippling. When we say things that really don’t seem to matter, make promises without any serious intent in keeping them, make promises with no consequences for not keeping them and make statements that are untrue in order to make life easier for us, we diminish our work altogether and our relevance to people. It is an inversely powerful thing. Just as word connected to work is powerful, so is word disconnected from work. It strips our work of any potency at all. It makes us ineffective and benign in this world. Our words and work become in effect, irrelevant. We become altogether unreliable and untrustworthy.
So, what do we do? We make a more concerted commitment to our word and its effect. We pray before we speak. We treat our word as act. We repent with deep grief when our words and work do not match. When we say, “We should get together sometime,” we actually do. When we say, “I love you”, we follow it with endless demonstrations proving our love words. When we say, “I will do that when I finish these other priorities”, we will insure that it is ex loquitur operato. Holy people are separated people. They speak differently and do differently. Their words are uncommon and so are their actions. Love fills both words and work. In fact, there is no separation between word and work. They are truth in word and action. It is more than “our word is their bond.” Our word is as powerful as the most powerful prophecy when it is connected with action. Let’s be holy in word and work, indistinguishable.