Words say and do. The first part of this sentence is obvious. The second part may not be so obvious. But our words, in fact, do things when we speak. Put in the biblical idiom, we must speak the truth (say) in love (do). And this matters because to speak the truth without love is not of God, but to speak the truth in love is of God for God is love (1 John 4:8).
And this means that when we speak, we must do so in such a way as to communicate love by our words. For to do the opposite makes our truth claims sound like a “resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1).
To understand the dynamic of saying and doing, we must turn to God. The nature of words finds its foundation in the nature of God whose speech does and creates.
Divine words do
In Genesis 1 the phrase “And God said” occurs ten times. After each saying, something happens. God says, “Let there be light,” and then “there was light” (Gen 1:3). God speaks and things happen. Word and creation go hand in hand. Significantly, the tenfold repetition of God’s creative speech matches the tenfold commandments of Moses in which God creates a people for himself (Exod 20).
God’s word created the heavens and the earth as well as birthing the nation of Israel through the covenant made at Sinai.
The Word does
In John 1, the Word of God is said to be with and to be God. For the Word was in the beginning and apart from God’s Word nothing came into being. And this is obvious from Genesis 1 since when God speaks a Word, the world comes into being.
And yet God’s word is not an abstract principle for this Word becomes flesh and lives among us (John 1:14). The Word, whom we know to be Jesus of Nazareth, does. He lives, dies, rises, and ascends on our behalf.
The word of the Word does
God’s Word (Jesus) powerfully acts in the world today by the word of the Word of God. The word of promise, the Gospel, is God’s power to save and recreate (Rom 1:16; Gal 6:15). For the Gospel does not come as a brute word but as dynamic power by the Spirit from the Word of God (see 1 Thess 1:5).
When we preach the Word (Christ) by the words of God, we speak the power of creation to all. When the words that we say have their effect in someone, the Word’s power recreates that person afresh.
Revelation and creation do as much as they say
So God’s Word creates. And when we speak God’s word, we speak the Word of power that can recreate someone into the image of God by preaching Christ and him crucified. But creation too, since it finds itself created by God, not is something but does something.
So the heavens above may have clouds, stars, and planets. But they too speak by proclaiming the glory of God (Ps 19:1; see also Job 38:7). Yet despite not having a sound box like a human, the heavens do in fact speak: “Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun” (Ps 19:4).
Creatures in God’s image reflect God’s speech
As creatures created in God’s image (Gen 1:27), we should expect that what we say has some effect on the world. And while we can speak the word of the Gospel to transform hearts, we cannot say “let there be light” and have it happen (light switches don’t count!). Creatures differ from their creator.
And yet we can use our words to lord our authority over others (Matt 20:25), to speak truth without love (Eph 4:15), to torment and crush (Job 19:2), and to flatter (Ps 5:9). On the other hand, words can also bring life (Prov 10:11). Words do a lot.
And one may use words to flatter by saying “you look wonderful” yet without true love and with a desire to influence. This sort of word may in naked terms seem good, but it will not ultimately bring life if done for selfish gain.
And so for us, we must speak the truth in love considering not just our words but also what they do
I can tell a friend that putting a knife in a toaster is a dumb thing to do. I’d be right. But my true words likely will cut him down. He will feel dumb, and I will have been “right.” Yet I could say: “Be careful. You could hurt yourself,” and my true words will likely communicate love. I am worried about my friend and now he knows it.
Words matter. Speaking the truth in love matters. It is best to speak truth in a loving way because we want people to know that our words communicate truth in love not truth without it. Without love, our words may sound to someone like a clanging gong. And we might just miss our opportunity to plant a seed of truth in a heart that is watered by love and truth.