Words Matter

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  July 16, 2023

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Read Isaiah 55:10 – 13
Several years ago, I preached a sermon with the same title: WORDS MATTER. 
Back then, the text came from Ephesians 4 and the focus of the sermon was on the words that we speak to one another which have the potential to become the words that we weaponize against one another. 
And while much of what was happening in the world that was at the heart of that sermon back then is still occurring to this day… I want to shift our focus away from the words that we can use far too recklessly and turn our attention to the Word of God which is what the Prophet Isaiah is speaking about in our text today.
Now, just to give us a little background before we dig into the text…
Isaiah is generally considered to be the greatest of all the prophets.  His writings are found first among the prophetic writings contained within the Old Testament and are quoted more often than any other prophetic writings in the New Testament.
You may recall that the structure of the Book of Isaiah is similar to that of the Bible in its entirety… with the first 39 chapters of Isaiah, much like the 39 books of the Old Testament, containing calls to Judah, Israel, and the surrounding nations to repent of their sins…  while the remaining 27 chapters, like the 27 books of the New Testament, are filled with the message of hope and forgiveness which is promised to God’s people through the coming of the Messiah.
Now, you have likely heard me say before that the role of the prophet can be extremely challenging… it can be a thankless job to say the least.
The primary role of the prophet was to stand before the people and share the messages that had been given to them by God… messages that were often very difficult to hear… messages warning of God’s judgment and punishment if the people did not change their ways. 
Messages that were so unwelcomed by the people who heard them that it is believed that Isaiah’s active ministry which lasted for 60 years actually ended with his execution during the reign of King Manasseh.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for someone considering taking on the role of prophet…
And yet Isaiah was not the first, nor was he the last, to accept the mantle of prophet…  as unpopular it may have been to do so.
The role of the prophet was never ever intended to be entered into lightly… and those who said yes to the call then (and even to this day) have a responsibility to discharge their duties faithfully as they proclaim the truth and bring forth the Word of God that has been entrusted to them.
Now, as we turn our attention to our text for this morning and reflect on that subject WORDS MATTER… I want to back up just a little to verses 8 and 9 which read, “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.  ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”
I think it’s important that we not lose sight of the fact that despite what some people may think or believe to the contrary, none of us can truly know the mind of God beyond what God allows us to know.
Even as a pastor with a master’s of divinity degree, I cannot stand here and tell you definitively what God is thinking at any given moment in time… and anyone who tries to tell you that they can… well, let’s just say, I would be extremely cautious.
The reality is that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts… and God’s ways are higher than our ways… so how could any of us ever honestly believe that we know exactly what God is thinking?  All that we are capable of knowing is what God reveals to us through the Scriptures and by His Holy Spirit.
The fact of the matter is that God’s thoughts are so incredibly great that they brought all of creation into existence… and while the Scriptures tell us that we were created in the image of God… let’s be perfectly clear… we are NOT God.  
Although Satan made the mistake of thinking that he was… and we all know how that worked out.
But when it comes to God and the Word of God… WORDS MATTER… so much so that God literally spoke creation into being with His Word.  “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). 
And for everything else that God said, “Let there be…” it all came to be… sky and land and sea… vegetation… sun, moon, and stars… fish and birds and every other creature… including man and woman… God said it and that was that…
And so, as we continue to think about the fact that WORDS MATTER, I want to invite us to pay particular attention to verses 10 and 11 of the text this morning which read:

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, 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.
Or as it reads in the Message Paraphrase:
Just as rain and snow descend from the skies and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth, doing their work of making things grow and blossom, producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry, so will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed.  They’ll do the work I sent them to do, they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.
The words that God speaks to us through the Scriptures and by His Holy Spirit have all been given an assignment… His words have a purpose… clearly WORDS MATTER.
And if the words that God speaks matter and we were created in the image of God… then guess what that means… the same is true for us… WORDS MATTER.
The Psalmist David’s prayer in Psalm 19 is something that you hear me make reference to each week in my prayer just before I deliver the sermon, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14).
David’s prayer serves as a reminder of the importance of the words that God gives to His pastors, preachers, and prophets to speak… of the power and impact those words contain… which is why standing up to preach on any given Sunday is not something that I take for granted.
But let me suggest… it is not only the preached word on a Sunday morning that has power… all of our WORDS MATTER… 24 / 7 / 365.
It is in Proverbs 18:21 that we read, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit,” which reminds me of a church sign I read years ago that said, “Keep your words soft, you may have to eat them.”
And if we look to the New Testament, the book of James, particularly chapter 3, has a lot to say about the power of the tongue… and what we read there serves as a stark reminder that WORDS MATTER.
A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!  It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.  This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!  My friends, this can’t go on (James 3:5 – 10).
And so, as we think about the tongue and the damage it can cause… and we think about the Word of God and the power that it contains… what makes more sense… to speak words that destroy lives and kill the spirit or to speak words of love and life?  Seems kind of like a no-brainer if you ask me.
So, why people spend so much time hurling insults and epithets at one another is beyond me… it would make so much more sense for us to focus on God’s word… especially as we look at the last verses of the text which read in the Message:
So you’ll go out in joy, you’ll be led into a whole and complete life.  The mountains and hills will lead the parade, bursting with song.  All the trees of the forest will join the procession, exuberant with applause.  No more thistles, but giant sequoias, no more thornbushes, but stately pines—Monuments to me, to God, living and lasting evidence of God.
WORDS MATTER and the Word of God promises us that we can have not only joy and peace… we can have a full life through Jesus… the One who John speaks about in the beginning of his Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind (John 1:1 – 4).
After reading that, can there be any doubt that WORDS MATTER… especially when it says right here that the Word is Jesus, Himself?
At the end of the day, nothing else really matters except Jesus… the One who gave His life in exchange for ours… the One who paid the penalty that our sins rightfully deserved… knowing that the price was too much for any one of us to pay… as it says in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but I feel like that is way more than I can afford… but thankfully, the rest of that verse says, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Because Jesus was willing to lay down His life for us (John 15:13), we have been given the gift of eternal life… and that is the greatest gift we could ever hope to receive.  But there is some other good news… there is even more to this gift of life that Jesus has given us than what awaits us in eternity.
In John 10:10, we read, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Now here’s the thing… that full life which Jesus offers… it is meant for us to start living right here and right now. 
There is work that He is calling us to do and it starts long before we get to eternity.
If we look at Paul’s letter to the Colossians (3:12 – 17), we will see that the life that Christ calls us to live between now and the start of eternity is a life that should be characterized by love and compassion:
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.  Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.
WORDS MATTER… and our words ought to bring praise, glory, and honor to God in everything we do…
As our text from Isaiah reminds us, God’s Word does not come back to Him empty… it shall not return to Him “void” as the King James Version says.
And like it or not, our words do not come back to us empty or void either… WORDS MATTER… and we are accountable for the seeds that we plant with the words that we say.
It is sad to say, but this world has become consumed with spewing words that sow chaos and confusion, devastation and destruction… all while hiding behind the banner of “freedom of speech.” 
But freedom of speech does not simply give someone license to cause pain and anguish to others…  
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote:
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (Galatians 5:13 – 15).
And make no mistake, no matter how much we try to rationalize hurtful behavior or sugarcoat our actions… God knows the true motives of our hearts.
In the very next chapter of Galatians (6:7 – 10), Paul cautions:
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
WORDS MATTER… and there is no doubt that God hears every word we say… and knows the motivations in our hearts for why we say them. 
So, let’s make the choice to always use our words in the way that matters most as we seek to do good to all people… speaking words of life… wonderful, beautiful words of life that teach us about faith in God… about grace and mercy… about love and forgiveness… about being with Jesus the Christ in His kingdom forever.
Wonderful, beautiful words of life that we are all invited to join in singing right here and right now as we stand and sing our Hymn of Discipleship:  Wonderful Words of Life #323.