Words + Works

I’m still on a quest for being the kind of person that speaks words that have weight. Not for the sake of becoming a better preacher, but for the sake of being a person God can use to influence others for eternity in everyday conversation and interaction. When I look at the life of Jesus, I see a Man whose audience knew that whenever He spoke it was time to listen. In fact, Matthew 7:28-29 tells us that Jesus’ teaching “astonished” people because “He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” Do we just chalk that up to the fact that He was the Son of God? Do we just assume that only He can speak words of weighty authority and significance because of His divine nature? Or could it be that even here Jesus models something we each can emulate as followers of Jesus?

NOT AS THE SCRIBES

And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

Matthew 7:28-29, NKJV

I’m sure Jesus’ audience in Matthew 7 had been awestruck by the content of what is now known as the Sermon on the Mount. But more than the content, it was the contrast that deeply impressed the people. The astonishing authority felt by Jesus’ hearers was in stark contrast to others they were accustomed to listening to, i.e. scribes, teachers of the law, religious leaders of the day.

Undoubtedly, these religious leaders were well-trained scholars and communicators, but still the weight of their words couldn’t come close to the impact of Jesus’ teaching. It wasn’t a difference in oratory skill or eloquence. What, then, was so different about Jesus’ words?

CONNECTING THE DOTS

I’m not sure Jesus’ audience could explain it, but they sure could feel it. Early on in Jesus’ ministry, Nicodemus seemed to catch on when he greeted the famed Teacher in an evening interview:

Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.

John 3:2, NKJV

Nicodemus himself was “the teacher of Israel” (v. 10), and he affirmed that Jesus’ words were of distinct impact because of the distinct quality of the deeds that accompanied them.

Nicodemus drew a connection between the powerful works of Jesus and the powerful words of Jesus.

While Nicodemus hinted at the distinction, Jesus eventually came outright with it when He pinpointed the shortcomings of the religious teachers in Matthew 23:3…

Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.

As you can imagine, the widening chasm between Jesus’ authority and that of the religious leaders didn’t sit well with the powers that were. As the scribes and Pharisees became aware of Jesus’ distinctly weighty words, they responded with more resistance than openness. They eventually enlisted soldiers to apprehend this astonishing Teacher to quell His impact among the people (Jn. 7:32). When asked why they had come back empty-handed, the officers responded with reverent awe, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (Jn. 7:46).

Again, what made Jesus’ words so different than not just the scribes and leaders but everyone else in all the world? Commenting on the conclusion of these officers, Ellen White hits the nail on the head:

The officers who were sent to take Jesus reported that never man spake like this man. But the reason of this was that never man lived like this man; for if he had not so lived, he could not so have spoken. His words bore with them a convincing power, because they came from a heart pure and holy, full of love and sympathy, beneficence and truth.

Gospel Workers 1892, 244

Jesus’ teaching was unlike the religious leaders because Jesus’ life was unlike the religious leaders. Jesus didn’t say one thing and do another. His words were consistent with His deeds.

Because Jesus’ life was genuinely pure, His words bore great power.

OUR TURN

So how is it with us? When we wish we could get something across to our kids or co-workers. When we long to share a word of comfort or influence with our neighbors. Do our words come with weight like Jesus? We can spend lots of time self-editing, trying to pick choice words that inspire, but what if the weight of what we say has more to do with our general lives than our great language? It’s more about integrity than eloquence. Convincing power in speech comes from a life of consistency, purity, and sympathy. Instead of asking myself what I should say to him or her, maybe I’m better off investing effort in how I live around him or her, being mindful of the example of my life in general rather than the sound of my words specifically. May the Lord cause us to live as Jesus lived so we can speak as Jesus spoke!