Why Words Matter

The past few weeks have been tumultuous for fans of Auburn’s football team. Three weeks ago, Auburn fired their head football coach, Gus Malzahn, after eight decent seasons. The fanbase was divided over the propriety of firing a stable and moderately successful coach in the middle of a pandemic. The fanbase’s division intensified as the names of potential replacements began to emerge.

As a lifelong devotee to all things Auburn, I’ve spent entirely too much time over the last several weeks seeking information and chasing rumors regarding my beloved team. Apparently, I’m not alone, for podcasts and websites have worked overtime to supply the demand with daily, wall-to-wall coverage of the entire fiasco.

If you are not a sports fan, you may not understand such obsession. You’re certainly not from the state of Alabama. I would add that you’re probably not from the state of Kentucky either, for something very similar occurs anytime controversy surrounds the beloved Cats or Cards. But even if you don’t get sports, you can certainly relate to this phenomenon.

Whether we are passionate about sports, Star Wars, quilting, deer hunting, literature, or politics, human beings love to talk about the things they are interested in. We delight in meeting other human beings who share our passionate interest, and when we meet people who don’t get it, we naturally become evangelists as we seek to convince them of why they should care.

Why do we do this? C.S. Lewis has offered the clearest explanation of this phenomenon that I’ve ever encountered. It’s a long quote, but it’s profound: “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.”

The desire to talk about things, to praise, to devote words to passions, according to Lewis, actually consummates our enjoyment. We enjoy things more as we talk about them. This process involves other people, as Lewis continues, “It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with.”

To fully delight in something, we need two things: words and other people. Our words express our delight and bring it to completion, but words are meant to be heard by others. Therefore, we need other people who share our interest. Delight is intensely verbal and unavoidably communal.

Jesus adds another dimension to this discussion in Matthew 12:33-37, when he says that “the tree is known by its fruit.” In using a tree as a metaphor for the human person, Jesus is tapping into a rich biblical tradition (Psalm 1). The fruit of the tree in this context is words: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” In other words, Jesus is saying that the true nature of a person will be revealed by the words that come out of the mouth. There is an unbreakable connection between the heart and the mouth. What a person ultimately loves will be revealed, in the course of time, by the words that emerge from the lips.

What are we to conclude from this? First, measure your words. If you want to understand what you love the most and what you are truly devoted to, ask yourself what topics you truly delight in talking about. If you find it easy to talk about politics and sports, but very difficult to talk about Jesus, what might that reveal? Our joy is tied to our love. If we don’t delight in Jesus, we don’t love him. If we don’t love him, we won’t talk about him.

But there’s another angle we need to consider as well. If praise is the consummation and completion of joy, as Lewis says, then our love for something will actually increase to the degree that we talk about it. If you want to love Jesus more, seek out words about him. Read his Word. Join a church where you will find other people who share your love so that you can talk about him and listen to the preaching of his Word. While we may be discouraged by what we discover about ourselves when we measure our words, we should be encouraged that our words also provide the means of Spirit-induced change. Let’s talk about Jesus.

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