II TIMOTHY 6
THE DANGER OF WORDS
In chapter 2 verse 14, in his instruction to Timothy concerning the faithful men whom he is to appoint to teach the Gospel, Paul warns
him to teach them to avoid striving about words. I think this is important enough for us to give it a careful examination. I grew up in an age when many preachers prided themselves on the debates they had conducted, but all that I attended left the two parties further apart and less friends than when they started. Religious debates seemed only to emphasize that Christian people were divided but did
little to cure that problem. Paul says, “Quarreling about words only ruins those who listen”. I think Paul’s admonition to Timothy should be taken seriously by all Christians. “Handling aright the Word of
Truth” means don’t argue about the words. Get the message of
God across to save souls.
Words are very dangerous. In the seventy-three years I have occupied the pulpit, I have seen many divisions within the fellowship of which I am a part. Most of them were caused by the misuse of words. For example, some people, reading the account of Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper, where He took the “cup” and told them to drink of it, insisted that He said “cup” and not “cups”, so we
should have only one cup on the communion table. This caused a split in the church over the misuse of a single word. The “cup” really should refer to the contents, not the instrument, according to most
scholars, and that seems obvious to me.
There have been other divisions over the kind of juice to be used and the kind of bread to be served. All of these arguments have to do with words and instruments. None of them stress the central point Jesus made when He instituted the Lord’s Supper. He said, “Do this in remembrance of Me”. The instrumentation is of minor consequence. The important thing here is where your mind is when you partake. I often see people engaged in conversation, or looking through the song book, or engaged in some other activity which obviously means that they are not “remembering” the Lord, nor
being humbly grateful for His gift of salvation to sinners, which the
Lord’s Supper represents. Words are said, but seldom seem to penetrate the hearts of the participants.
Words have no meaning. Meaning is always in the mind of the one using the words. The same word can be used to encourage or to discourage, depending on the tone of voice or the context. Words can be used to inform or to mislead. They are dangerous tools and should be used carefully and received with much thought. To say that a word “means” some particular thing is always a mistake. The context and purpose determine the meaning of any word. The word “up” takes up an entire column of definitions in a large dictionary. A great semanticist said the word “is” is the most dangerous word in the English language. It always needs a modifier. If one says, “It is too hot”, they should always say “to me”. If one says the meaning of a word “is” something, it should always be accompanied by two modifiers: 1. in this place 2. I think or to me.
I have spent much time talking about words, not only because of
Paul’s warning, but because most of my contact, with those of you who get my essays, is with words. I want you to be aware that the
words I use are the result of decades of study, thought and prayer.
However, they are not infallible. So, I caution all to read them carefully, and give careful thought to the point that I am trying to make. Please do not accept or reject any concept because you agree or disagree with the words. If they convey ideas with which you do not agree, do not hesitate to write me about it. It is often because the words I am using mean something different to you, or they do not present the concept in the orthodox manner.
However, when dealing with God’s Word, know that you are in the presence of infallible truth, but in the hands of fallible men as its
translators. So never read just the words of the Bible. Spend much
time thinking about them, and striving to find out what the Lord is trying to say to you, using the fallible words of human beings. Do not strive with the meaning of the word. Look for the divine message the Lord is sending.
Toward the end of this chapter, Paul, still thinking of those who make words their religion and strive about them, says, “The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, and patient”. How much controversy would have been avoided if those in charge had been gentle and patient, avoiding controversy about words, while they emphasized the Cross, and the oneness and love of those who seek its promises.