23 Mar #113 – The Power of Words (and Disordered Words)
ESSENCE: For a leader seeking to lead an organization to faithfully “do right” through business a better way, or a person seeking to “work” in alignment with Biblical beliefs, values and priorities, WORDS MATTER. We believe words are important and powerful. The culture of the world is filled with words that blind us to God’s purpose for work and business. Even some words and phrases used in the faith/work movement are disordered. For example, we strongly discourage anyone from striving to be a “Christian businessperson“; no person who professes a Biblical faith should pursue “Work/Life Balance”; and faith-driven leaders should never seek to integrate “their faith into their business“. Disordered words that embody the world’s priorities rather than Kingdom priorities infect our thinking, which ultimately infects our heart.
If you have been reading our posts, you know we believe words are important and powerful. After all, God created the universe by speaking, and Satan tried to tempt Jesus by twisting God’s word. Words have the power to build up or tear down. Words have the power to clarify or confuse.
The culture of the world is filled with words that blind us to God’s purpose for work and business. If you have been reading our posts, you also know that we believe even some words and phrases used in the faith and work movement are disordered. They keep well-intentioned people off the ancient path of business a better way and can act as Placebos, sending leaders and organizations down Side Roads.
In the next few posts, we will focus on some of those twisted and disordered words that have the power to keep us from all that God has for our work and the organizations we lead.
The Power of Words in the Bible
None of this should be new or a surprise, but we think it is still worth recalling some of the things the Bible tells us about the power of words (and disordered words):
Power to Create: And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11:3)
Power to Effect Change: Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. (Mark 11:23)
Power of Life and Death: Death and life are in the power of the tongue. (Proverbs 18:21)
Power to Build Up or Corrupt: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up. (Ephesians 4:29)
Power to Bring Health: Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. (Proverbs 16:24)
Power to Destroy: With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor. (Proverbs 11:9)
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matthew 12:36-37)
Perhaps the ultimate statement about words comes from John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Words That Shape Work
In our next post, we will dig deeper into words that shape (or distort) our relationship with work. In particular, we will examine the impact of words and phrases that have become ingrained in our culture and explain why no person who professes a Biblical faith should pursue “Work/Life Balance”.
Words That Shape Identity
After considering words that shape our relationship with work, we will consider words (and disordered words) that shape our identity and our behavior at work. We will look at why we strongly discourage anyone from striving to be a “Christian businessperson“ (or a “Christian lawyer“, or “Christian doctor” or “Christian artist“, etc.).
Words That Shape Organizational Culture
Finally, we will examine words (and disordered words) that shape organizational culture and can either support or undermine efforts to faithfully “do right” through business a better way. In this discussion, we will explain why faith-driven leaders should never seek to integrate their faith into their business.
Words are sacred. If you get the right ones in the right order you can nudge the world a little. (Tom Stoppard)
The Power of Words in the Kingdom (and the World)
There is a famous quote (attributed to various people in various forms) that essentially says our words become our actions, which become our habits, which become our values, which become our destiny.
What is the “destiny” of our efforts to understand God’s purpose for work and business in the context of our lives and humanity if our words about work and business are disordered. What is the destiny of our effort to understand the intersection of faith and work and actually integrate faith and work if we start out with words that are twisted?
Disordered words that embody the world’s priorities rather than Kingdom priorities infect our thinking, which ultimately infects our heart.
In the words of Tom Stoppard:
Words are sacred. If you get the right ones in the right order you can nudge the world a little.
In the right order, words nudge the world a little toward beauty–toward God’s design for His Kingdom. In the wrong order, at best they can lead us to settle for “good” at the expense of God’s “best”, and at worst, they can nudge the world a little toward ugliness–away from God’s design for His Kingdom.
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): Lawyers care about words (and it is not just because they used to get paid by the word). Some people (some I love dearly) might say we care too much. Litigators use words in briefs for persuasion. Corporate lawyers use words in contracts for precision. When I drafted a contractual provision, I used to stop and ask myself if I could come up with an argument that the provision meant something other than what it was meant to mean. If I could, then I would go back to change the words in order to eliminate that possibility. It mattered.
Just as he did with Jesus in the desert, I believe Satan has introduced twisted phrases and disordered words into the world in order to disrupt our efforts to work and lead organizations in alignment with Biblical beliefs, values and priorities. I hope the next few posts will help untwist and reorder a few. I believe words matter, and if you don’t want to take it from me, consider the advice of the March Hare, the Hatter and the Dormouse from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:
“Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on.
“I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least—at least I mean what I say—that’s the same thing, you know.”
“Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter. “Why, you might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’!”
“You might just as well say,” added the March Hare, “that ‘I like what I get’ is the same thing as ‘I get what I like’!”
“You might just as well say,” added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, “that ‘I breathe when I sleep’ is the same thing as ‘I sleep when I breathe’!”
“It is the same thing with you,” said the Hatter, and here the conversation dropped, and the party sat silent for a minute, while Alice thought over all she could remember about ravens and writing-desks, which wasn’t much.