Care with Words

I’m not sure if you are a fan of Shakespeare. I am, to a degree. In all honesty, I can only take him a little bit at a time. What I mean is that I can read through the entirety of one of his works, but then I won’t pick up anything else he’s written for quite a while. It’s pretty intense stuff.

I do appreciate his usage of language. Believe it or not—and I hope this doesn’t offend you—but I think I find his insults the most intriguing. I didn’t say enjoyable. I said intriguing. Because Shakespeare has such an inventive way with language, he can say things that while on the surface appear to mean one thing, in their core, mean something completely different. And then of course there are those times when he hides nothing and just lets the innermost thoughts of this or that character pour out like lava from a volcano. But no matter the circumstance, it would seem that in almost every instance, the insult is witty and sharp in the moment, but it never helps to change the situation. It never ends well.

“Mad mustachio purple-hued maltworms!” he calls out through Gadshill in Part I of Henry IV. Funny, but poorly played in the moment.

“O wonderful, when devils tell the truth!” he writes as the angry Lady Anne to Gloucester in the first act of Richard III. Doing this, she comes very close to alienating a character teetering as an ally—at least that was my interpretation.

Now on the other hand, while I wouldn’t encourage you to insult anyone, there’s something to be said for not shying away from calling something what it is. While the rest of the world looks the other way, the Bible calls sin a sin. And there’s something to be said for steering directly into those troubling situations we’d much rather avoid—defining the challenge at hand in clear terms and then taking action to deal with the challenge—all the while knowing that it won’t be easy. There’s something to be said about thinking through the words we would use and then speaking in ways that we hope will help rather than harm.

Words matter. Care with our words matters a lot. Notice how Saint Paul highlights this when he brings together the courage to face challenges measured by self-control when he writes: “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). In other words, we don’t need to be afraid to deal with difficult things—people, situations, jobs, you name it. By virtue of our Baptism into Christ, we are new creations, and with this, we’ve been given Christian courage. This same courage draws us to reflect before we act, understanding that even as there is a time for everything, to set our hearts on Christ and His love in order that we would be self-controlled is to do everything in its time—the right time (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Will our words in the midst of an event stir love or discord? Will our subsequent actions bring peace or strife? Are we seeking the will of God or our own wills toward personal gain?

As the summer months roll in, I would encourage you to ponder these things. It never hurts to consider the sanctified encouragement of God through His Word as we live according to the Gospel promise that even as we fall short in so many ways, we are forgiven. This forgiveness empowers us to be those who face off with the world, and yet do so in love to the glory of God and the benefit of our neighbor. And while it is happening, our faithful God continues to love us and promises to keep with us each and every day, His steps matching our steps in every circumstance.

Don’t forget that. It’s everything to us.