Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Power of Words

If you’ll forgive the generalization, I would say that I think there are (at least) three kinds of people in our culture: number people, picture people, and word people. Now, all people are really all of these types of people, which is to say, that all people communicate and think and interact in numbers, pictures, and words. But some are more naturally inclined to one or the other. Would you agree?

Hopefully you can relate and follow this categorization. Number people think in numbers. They are good with dates, organized with money, and probably particularly good in business, finance, or perhaps certain areas of science. Picture people think and interact more abstractly, are artistic, visual learners, and creative. Word people are good at reading and writing, communicate well in conversation, are articulate, maybe a bit introverted, but probably good at teaching.

In case you have been living under a rock and couldn’t guess, I will reveal that I am a word person. I don’t want this post to sound like a defense for word people being the most dominant people (if you are a fellow word person, check out John Piper's interpretation of 1 Corinthians 1:17 and whether there can be Christian eloquence without emptying the Cross of its power), but that I think God has made me this way (among other things) for the purpose of calling attention to the power of words, and most fundamentally, the power and centrality of a Word.

Our culture, though the people in it are not all word people, is increasingly interested and influenced by words. Have you ever heard of the Internet? If not, it’s the one with email (and the one that connected you to this blog). Through the Internet - information, opinions, truth, deceit, blessing, and debauchery - is being communicated through pictures and numbers, yes, but most predominately, through words. And as Rick Warren would say, those words are instant, constant, global, and permanent. Check out this article in The Economist that explains the groundbreaking technology called Hyperwords, which is designed to transform Internet browsing by providing more connections between data, presenting information in new ways, and making it easier to navigate. Rummaging through the Internet.

This time in our culture is a unique and important opportunity for word-centered Christians.

The Bible is a word. It is the communicated word of God through inspiration of the Holy Spirit, about the story of the Creator who has existed for all time in perfect holiness and who created man in His image to exist in perfect relationship with Him, but who rebelled from the beginning, and while we were yet sinners He chose a people to demonstrate his redemptive and covenant love to, which was eventually fulfilled and completed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible is a word, which is made up of individual words, and phrases of words, that all have power to impart grace on the spot to those who hear.

The Gospel is a word. It is Good News. It is a message. It can only sufficiently be communicated through the words of people, as it has been throughout history, and based on its most complete revelation in Scripture. It is through these words that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation. Just as light was spoken into existence by the word of God, and Lazarus was raised to life by the word of Jesus, so light and rebirth can only come into our hearts by the word of God, through the Holy Spirit, spoken and written faithfully by those who believe. The Gospel is a missionary word. It is meant to be proclaimed.

Jesus Christ is the Word. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We now see and experience the Word of God, by the proclamation of the Word of God, through the revelation to us in the Word of God.

Words are important. The Bible, the Gospel, and Jesus Christ himself is not an empty word; but our very life, and by that Word we shall live long in the land we are destined to possess, as it says in Deuteronomy. And the Word is not bound, as Paul says in 2 Timothy. It will always accomplish the purpose for which it was sent.

In the Panel Discussion at The Gospel Coalition Conference, after explaining the importance and effectiveness of having your nose in the text for those who communicate the Word of God, John Piper said:

“The assumption that having your nose in this text, phrase by phrase, to see what every precious word means for your soul, for the church, and for this world, would result in unimaginative, boring, disconnectedness from the world is JUST RIDICULOUS. Where did that ever come from? Well, it came from boring preachers who are disconnected from the world and didn’t have their nose in the text, I suppose.”

If you communicate the Gospel and the content of the Bible in some form – in the pulpit, in a small group, in conversation, anywhere – please take this thought to heart. It is really all I wanted to say. When we communicate the words of Jesus, who is the Word of God, through the Bible, which is the Word of God, by the proclamation of the Gospel, which is the Word of God, we not only speak about Jesus, and for Jesus, but as Jesus. The Word of God is not just about the grace of God, but it is the grace of God, imparted to its hearers on the spot. The Gospel is not just about a power, but it is power, for salvation.

Preach the Word. It is not unimaginative or boring or disconnected from our culture. It is our culture’s only hope. No community or relationship is anything of eternal value without it.

1 comment:

Brandon D. Straub said...

I wonder if this begs the question of timing--as in, when to preach the word? Are there certain guidelines, times, opinions, etc. on the most opportune timing to preach the word in various situations? I probably tend to think it wise to preach it 'early and often'.