My first birthday after Melody and I got married, she presented me with a card which was supposed to express her undying affection, allegiance, and affinity for me. Because Melody and I were friends some ten years before a "romantic spark" developed between the two of us, she gave me a card that read appropriately, "You're not only my husband, you're also my friend." What a sweet affirmation of a marriage that is grounded not merely in quixotic attraction, but in steady friendship.
But have you ever had one of those instances where your eyes inadvertently switched around two words while you were reading them? This is what happened to me. The card read, "You're not only my husband." But I read, "You're not my only husband." Two little words - a world of difference. Thankfully, as soon as I read the card, I knew I had misread the card. So I did a double take. Melody and I laugh about my misreading to this day.
Words matter. That is why newspaper editors meticulously review columns. That is why presidents carefully craft speeches. That is why pastors carefully prepare blogs. Because words matter. A good word can paint a picture, enrapture a spirit, or grip a soul. Conversely, a misused word can cause confusion, cast doubt, and wound hearts. Because words matter.
In our reading for today from 2 Timothy 2, Paul warns against a reckless use of words: "Warn before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and ruins those who listen" (verse 14). Paul pens this verse against a backdrop of a heresy known as Gnosticism, a Greek word meaning "knowledge." This heresy taught if a person could gain secret knowledge concerning matters such as good, evil, the cosmos, and mystic spirituality, one could become enlightened and ascend to a higher spiritual plane. This religious system taught such secret knowledge through cryptic writings and rituals. Not surprisingly, such enigmatic writings and rituals led to quarreling over what it all meant. This is why Paul warns against quarreling about words. For such quarreling is of no value. It does not solve Gnosticism's riddles. And besides, Gnosticism isn't true. This is why Paul finally calls its teachings "gangrene" (verse 17).
In the midst of Gnosticism's many and baffling words, Paul invites us to concern ourselves with the Word: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" (verse 15). There is a Word of truth and it is God's Word of truth. And unlike the Gnostics, we ought to be careful and conscious of how we use this Word. We ought to "correctly handle" God's Word of truth. What does this mean? It means standing on the historicity and accuracy of Scripture. It means sensitively and compassionately sharing God's grace with those who are crushed by the cares of this world. It means voraciously and unapologetically proclaiming that Jesus is Lord. For words matter. And how we handle God's Word - that really matters.
So today, be careful what you say. Be careful what you write. Be careful what you text. Ask yourself, before firing off an email or carelessly making a phone call, "How can I reflect God's Word in my words?" And then choose your words cautiously. Because your words, used carefully, may just be the words that someone else needs to hear - for their encouragement, for their conviction, and, by the power of God's Spirit, even for their salvation.