The Power and Impotence of Words

I’m a bit of a political observer. I’m not a junkie, but I do enjoy talk radio and the cable news channels. Let me review some recent headlines I’ve noticed to help illustrate my point. One headline I saw online yesterday said, “Obama’s words fail to bridge health care divide.” Another story was about the President’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel’s use of the word “retarded” when criticizing people during a strategy meeting last August.

In these stories, we see how powerful and how empty words can be. 

This post is not about politics. It’s about how words can reveal, and even betray what is in our hearts. It is also to illustrate that words carry little weight if they can’t be backed up by action and our character. 

Mel Gibson’s first movie since his infamous drunken tirade is now out in theaters. While intoxicated nearly four years ago, Gibson made many sexist and anti Semitic comments which made the news. In an instant, a reputation which he had cultivated for years was significantly, and possibly forever damaged. Is it possible that what is buried deep in a person’s character can be revealed in a moment of intoxicated rage? I say yes.

Many politicians, radio and television personalities, athletes and movie stars have had their careers, and even their families ruined in light of things they have said. It’s not that they chose their words poorly as much as the things they said revealed an ugliness in their character. 

In other cases, people often say things they can’t back up. There are many people who are very good with their words. They can mesmerize audiences with eloquence. They can charm people into following them off cliffs, or motivate them to run through walls. So many cults have formed around very charming and eloquent leaders. Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite and David Koresh led thousands of people to their deaths. Many of the deceived were very intelligent, educated people. Charles Manson was a songwriter who was gifted in the ways of charming people with words. He convinced a small but devoted group of followers that if they followed him to an underground city of gold, they would be saved from a racial Armageddon.

In each of these notable cases, the leaders never were able to live up to their words. Whether they claimed to be Christ incarnate, or some other kind of messiah, they were never able to back up their words. 

The bible says in Luke 6:45, The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”

In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases this verse this way, It’s who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.”

If you rely on words to convince others that you’re a good person, you’re going about it all wrong. The people I have admired through my life have all been very humble people who never sought attention. Instead, they took great pleasure in serving and promoting others. 

Who we are at our core is what will define us. Our actions and our words will reveal who we are. The question is, will the revelation be a blessing, or a betrayal?

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