Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Words: Empty or Full, You Decide

Our exegetical team was working today on word studies in 2 Timothy 2:14-19. Wow, what a bunch of rich and powerful words the apostle Paul uses in this passage, many of which are not found anywhere else in the NT. And words are exactly the subject of much of what is stated in this section. In v. 16 Paul says to "avoid worldly and empty chatter". I love the Greek word used here for "empty chatter". It is κενοφωνία, alliterated kenophonia. It's a compound word - keno, meaning empty or vain, and phonia, meaning sound. Literally the term means empty sound, vain noise. What a powerful word to describe so much of the so-called conversation that goes on around us every day. Or more importantly and relevantly, that comes from our own mouths every day. I think I have discovered a term that I will use when people are babbling and talking and saying many words but communicating nothing. "Gee, Bob, that seems to be quite a case of kenophonia you have there. Might want to get that checked out." I wonder if anyone would ask what I meant. Probably think I was referring to some kind of skin rash or medical disorder. Sorry, this one is a character disorder. And I have to say that I am subject to acute attacks of kenophonia from time to time. Like the old Indian (read: Native American) that went to church for the first time and heard a blustery preacher speak, when asked what he thought of the sermon stated: "Much thunder, much wind, no rain." Do people feel the same way after talking to me or hearing me speak? I'm sure at times they do. What about you?

Another of my favorite words is also in this same verse, when Paul warns Timothy not to "wrangle about words" which lead to no use or profit. The Greek word here is another compound, λογομαχέω, or logomacheo. Comprised of logos, meaning word, and macheo, meaning war. Literally, a word war, or war about words. Now, to be sure, words are very important. Words are the way that God has given us to communicate ideas, truth, relationship, everything that is important. Words are a means that God has revealed Himself to us, through His breathing out of the Scriptures. Indeed, Christ is referred to byJohn as The Word, Logos, the communication of God Himself. Words contain and communicate truth, and especially in this age we must defend and fight for the truthful meaning of these truthful words when they are threatened. But Paul here is warning against not this kind of word war, but rather the kind of fighting about words that lead to no profit or value. We are told not to put our energy into fighting a war about words that are not valuable, profitable, essential. In other words (no pun intended), we are not to fight about words that are kenophonia, empty and vain. But isn't this what we do so often? How much time and energy in our society is consumed in examining the empty words that someone says and then deconstructing those words into something to start a war about. In a post-modern world like ours, where the very idea of truth claims is considered arrogant, this is the stock and trade of the cultural talking heads. So more empty words are spoken in a war about other empty words, until we lose all sense of what words are truly important and become deafened by the constant droning of kenophonia and logomacheo.

For the follower of Christ, we need to reclaim the supremacy of words that are not empty but full, those eternal words spoken by God Himself which are true and powerful and contain life and health and peace. We must filter out the empty chatter and the warring about vain words, while being prepared to engage in battle for those words that are weighty and worth fighting for. So how are you doing in this? How's your kenophonia filter? And how's your battle readiness for the truth war? Like it or not, ready or not, we're in it.

And here's hoping that this entire post has not been an exercise in kenophonia. And if you think so, well, I got my logomacheo-gun loaded and ready to fire!

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