Do words really matter? 13

If you follow the comments to any of these posts (they’re usually more interesting than the posts themselves), you’re aware that there’s a bit of a discussion emerging about the propriety of claiming to be jacked up about the Gospel. The word is commonly defined as either being broken or being under the influence of drugs. I and a few others have taken the position that it is not an appropriate term to describe one’s reaction to the preaching of the Word, and others are saying that emotions trump whatever words we choose to describe them. In other places on this blog, we’ve looked at how the modern church is frequently promiscuous in its use of language.

Does it really matter? Should Christians be so careful about the words we use?


We follow a Savior who described himself as the Word. God created and sustains us and everything we see by the power of his word. Words are powerful and meaningful. If we assume we can take liberties with the words we use (Bamf, jacked and BangORang to describe God’s work, for example), then we strip words of all their meaning, usefulness and power.

When God told Timothy to study, what was he supposed to study (2 Timothy 2:15), if not words? When Peter tells us that some of Paul’s teachings are difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:16), it’s the words that hold the key to their meaning. When God wanted his prophetic message to be clearly expressed in Habakkuk 2:2, what did he use? Written words. What would make Solomon judge a word as fitly spoken (Proverbs 25:11), if not an excellent match between a word’s definition and its application?

When we want to understand the precise meaning of Scripture, we go to the original languages to research the definitions and usage of the words we’ve translated into English. In knowing God’s revelation, precise and unchanging meanings are crucial. If we treat words as being infinitely malleable, we give ourselves the liberty to treat the Bible cavalierly and read our own meanings into it.

Words are so important, God would rather us not use them at all than to use them carelessly, which is one of the important lessons Job had learned by the end of his book.

The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him. (Habakkuk 2:20)

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty with your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2)

I would expect that there’s a very high correlation between leaders who carefully watch their language and who preach God’s Word faithfully, insightfully and effectively. If you don’t treat the definitions of words seriously, how can you possibly study the Bible?

Find a preacher with a loose tongue, and you’ll probably also find a preacher with loose doctrine.

13 thoughts on “Do words really matter?

  1. Anthony Sep 8, 2009 6:31 pm

    Downing…my views and your views will never, ever see eye to eye but with that said this is an insightful post. you should try to be like this more often šŸ™‚

    I have no idea how old or young you are but there seems to be a generational gap going on here. I COMPLETELY agree with you about choosing our words wisely and I have never used “bamf” in my daily life because I always assumed it meant what everyone else did. However, Brad Cooper could have honestly meant it in the way he did, big audacious mighty fortress, quite frankly none of us know his heart. For the record, I thought that was too much and I love his teaching and enthusiasm for The Gospel. As far as BangORang, when I first read it, my initial thought, the very first thing that came to my head was, “That’s awesome, he just broke out Hook on everyone!!” This generation, which includes myself, does not always use words in situations that a dictionary prescribes for them. For me Jacked up = Excited, enthusiastic, something along those lines. But just because you dont agree with them, doesnt make those words wrong! I just chose to use my words differently than you do. Whose to say that your words are right?

    God didn’t call Christians to help JUST the church; much like a doctor doesn’t cater to the healthy. We are meant to reach the lost and reach them with a boldness and that means getting uncomfortable for Jesus. James, you seem to have a problem with churches that have lights, bands and big buildings? What about Andy Stanley and North Point Church? Is there a certain number of attendees a church has to stay within in order for you to appreciate them? ALOT of people on here are judgemental and immature about mega-churches who are reaching thousands of people for The Gospel because of the way they talk about sex and other topics the church AS A WHOLE, should learn about together (obviously children excluded). God is the only One that knows the true salvation of His people, not bloggers on Pajama Pages.

    Back quickly to a small point a made earlier…I dont think we should compare Rick Warren, Andy Stanley and Larry Osbourne to Steven Furtick or Brad Cooper because quite frankly the latter two are still in their infancy. the first three have been doing this preaching thing a long time and are leading people to the Lord…is that a bad thing? I dont think so!

    • James Duncan Sep 8, 2009 6:48 pm

      Anthony, Downing will appreciate your compliment, but I was the one who wrote this. Let me know if you want to retract your praise. šŸ™‚

  2. Paul Sep 8, 2009 6:45 pm

    amen brother. failure to use mature language often is a sign of immaturity as well.

  3. Anthony Sep 8, 2009 8:11 pm

    Duncan…my apologies for not reading the name correctly. And no my comments and praise stands. Insightful post. What about my response? thoughts? I told you I wouldnt be as mean, like I said I came across hateful and its my sincere goal to never come across that way on this blog again. Hold me accountable though šŸ™‚

  4. James Duncan Sep 8, 2009 10:59 pm

    Anthony, megachurches aren’t the issue here, never have been.

    You might review my response to MW’s apparent appeal to flexible standards and definitions in the “Live by slang” post for my thoughts on your comments, to save me repeating them here.

  5. James Downing Sep 9, 2009 9:27 am

    Anthony, I’m gonna disclose a little more in this post than I’d really like to, but there are so many false assumptions going around, that I’d like to set the record straight. First, I’m 34. Though that seems ancient to a 20 year old, it puts me right in the middle of most of the staffers at Newspring and Elevation. In fact, all of Elevation’s lead staff have been friends of mine at some time in the past, including Furtick. A few would still call me friend to this day.
    2nd – I am a worship leader. I work with a band in a pretty large church building. I have never made any comments at all about those things. Why would you assume that I don’t like them?
    I do find mega-churches to be problematic, but some of that is down to personal preference. I will admit that. What I don’t like is entertainment driven churches, or churches that are doing unscriptural things.
    I disagree that the church AS A WHOLE should learn about sex together. Not in an R-rated way. The way the Bible approaches sex can be preached to children with no problems. If teaching must go beyond that, it should be reserved for a marriage retreat, marital counseling, or something of that nature. I don’t go along with the idea that since sex is a part of life, it must be preached from the pulpit. There are many things that are just as integral to daily life, but are private matters and given that respect. For instance, I’m sure a pastor would be glad to speak with you in private about personal hygiene, and what the bible has to say about it, but it isn’t likely that he will go into gory details from the pulpit. Why? Sex sells. Hygeine doesn’t.

  6. Anthony Sep 9, 2009 9:44 am

    Downing, Thanks for the post and information. I know more now so it definitely helps. I have a problem with any church that does ANYTHING un-scriptual. The reason I brought up the issue against mega-churches was because I felt you have been un-fairly critical in the past. But thanks for the post it clears some issues up. I’m 24…you are not old yet.

  7. Seth Sep 9, 2009 11:58 am

    Dare I step in here and mention that I am listening to the Nine conference today? lol

  8. James Downing Sep 9, 2009 1:36 pm

    No shocker. Just a question…Don’t you think you’ve heard what these guys have to say about church leadership?

  9. Seth Sep 9, 2009 1:56 pm

    Actually, I am learning alot. some pretty cool insights. And I love to be reminded of things I already know. I believe it was C. S. Lewis who said that we need to be reminded of things just as much as we need to be reminded of things.

  10. James Downing Sep 9, 2009 1:58 pm

    Ahh, C.S. Lewis. I’ve been on a big Lewis kick lately.

  11. Seth Sep 9, 2009 3:08 pm

    That is a good kick to be on. I want to start reading more of his books soon. They are so very good.

  12. Anthony Sep 9, 2009 3:47 pm

    I just bought ‘The Problem with Pain’ and am looking forward to reading it. I have heard alot of good things about it! Anyone else read it?

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