What good are words?


“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” You’ve heard that, right? How about, “The pen is might­ier than the sword”? I’m sure you’ve heard both. But both can’t be true. Which is it? Do words have no power or are they more pow­er­ful than armies and tanks? What good are words? I’m guess­ing you’ve felt it when the fal­lacy of that “words shall never hurt me” state­ment stung. The truth is words can hurt more than any phys­i­cal strike. And on the flip­side, some­times words can do far more good than any phys­i­cal thing could have. Words have power.

But, wait a sec­ond, what about the times you’ve heard words that had ab­so­lutely no power? There are times when an in­sult doesn’t re­ally sting all that much or a prom­ise doesn’t re­ally help. Think about when that hap­pens — it de­pends on the source, doesn’t it? The in­sult of some­one who doesn’t know what they are talk­ing about, or whose opinion you don’t re­spect, doesn’t do much. The prom­ise of some­one you can’t trust far­ther than you can throw doesn’t ei­ther. Right? You’ve got to con­sider the source.

Com­pare the vows my sis­ter made to her new hus­band last Fri­day with the prom­ises of the ly­ing beg­gar I bought sup­per for the other day. I ex­pect my sis­ter to keep her word. I wasn’t at all sur­prised to see the pan­han­dler take the few dol­lars I gave him to help him get cleaned up for his in­ter­view and walk into a liquor store in­stead of the drug store I dropped him off at.

Words have power only when you con­sider the source. So let’s do that for the words of Isa­iah 55. “As the heav­ens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

This is God talk­ing. Con­sider that source. He re­minds us — I’m the one who reached my hand far­ther than any tele­scope can see and put ev­ery star, ev­ery planet, ev­ery galaxy in its place. I’m the one who carved the Grand Canyon and molded Mount Ever­est. I’m the one who grew ev­ery pine, ev­ery palm, ev­ery blade of Ber­muda on ev­ery golf course green. I’m the one who gave a pile of dirt six bil­lion lines of DNA. Re­mem­ber that? And re­mem­ber how? I said, “Let there be.” And it was.

The same LORD who spoke the words that brought life into ex­is­tence now says “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not re­turn to it with­out wa­ter­ing the earth and mak­ing it bud and flour­ish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not re­turn to me empty, but will ac­com­plish what I de­sire and achieve the pur­pose for which I sent it.”

Just as surely as wa­ter works to nour­ish life, to pro­duce food from the ground — God’s Word works. But here’s the thing, just as surely as God’s Word has power — Satan wants us not to see that power or use that power.

Think about it. How of­ten haven’t you treated this source (the Bi­ble) – not as more pre­cious to you than your spouse on your wed­ding day, but more like that liar beg­ging for money down­town? God says he’s got our pro­vi­sion han­dled; we worry. God says, “Vengeance is mine,” “I’ll take care of it”; but we hold a grudge and speak those words of anger as if God can’t or won’t han­dle it. God says to give first­fruits; we make sure our barns are full be­fore giv­ing. God says, “Preach my Word.” You say, “Well, pas­tor can han­dle that. I’m not cut out for that,” as if God didn’t make you what he has made you. So you bite your tongue in­stead of speak­ing up for your faith at work.

God speaks – the same voice, the same breath that made you, and you doubt its power. You may never say you doubt his power to do what he says, but we cer­tainly live like that’s the case, like we have to pri­or­i­tize ev­ery­thing else be­cause of all the things WE need to take care of as if God couldn’t han­dle it.

But the truth is – God can han­dle it with His Word. Con­sider the source.

And con­sider the sub­stance. Think about what he says. In our text he says His Word ac­com­plishes His de­sires (and you know that His de­sire is that all be saved and come to a knowl­edge of the truth) and achieves His pur­poses. And what is the pur­pose of his Word? John writes in 1 John 5:13 “I write these things to you who be­lieve in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eter­nal life.”

What is the sub­stance? Eter­nal life. Ev­ery­thing in the Bi­ble – from the ac­count of Adam and Eve to John’s Reve­la­tion – from the his­tory of Is­rael to the let­ters to the churches. Ev­ery last syl­la­ble of this Word is writ­ten that you may know that you have eter­nal life. This is here to give you con­fi­dence, which is im­por­tant be­cause our en­e­mies want any­thing but that. The devil, the world and our sin­ful flesh re­peat their lies again and again hop­ing that you’ll for­get the source and lis­ten to them. But God’s Word keeps go­ing out – and it comes back bear­ing fruit.

When you can’t put out of your mind the hurt­ful words you spoke in anger, the LORD says that he has long ago put them out of his. When you look at your­self and see the filth and fail­ure, the LORD tells you that he sees you as a beau­ti­ful bride, free from spot and blame. When your guilt fol­lows close by your side wher­ever you go, the LORD has put it in black and white that he has re­moved that sin as far as the east is from the west.

When you re­al­ize the debt your fail­ures owe – you open up His Word and hear him de­clare it paid. “It is fin­ished.” “The blood of Je­sus his Son pu­ri­fies us from all sin.” Sins paid for. That’s what God’s Word says. Now that has power.

Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pas­tor of Abid­ing Grace Lutheran Church in Cov­ing­ton. Wor­ship ev­ery Sun­day is at 8 & 10:30am. Full ser­mons and more in­for­ma­tion can be found at www.abid­ing­grace.com.

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