We saw in the first article in this series that people can use words to control us.
This lesson looks at some of the various “words” that impact us and helps us assess which ones we should heed.
If someone shouts a command at you and you obey that command then a significant social transaction has taken place. You show yourself to be under their authority.
Now, someone might call out, “Watch Out!” to warn you of a danger. Responding to that call does not put you under their authority. But someone who demands that you do something as they prescribe, such as “Stop!” or “Come Here!” is bringing you under their control by their words.
I recall reading about a man who was driving in city traffic when a police officer called out to him, “Pull over here!” The man simply replied through his open window, “Is there some problem, officer?”
The officer called to him several more times but he did not obey, but simply repeated his question, “Is there some problem, officer?”
The officer soon tired of this and called to someone else, who did pull over. The officer then commandeered the vehicle.
The man had honourably resisted the control exerted by the policeman. The driver of the other vehicle did not resist and so came under the officer’s control.
Words Are All I Have
Back in 1968 the Bee Gees released a hit song with the line, “It’s Only Words and Words Are All I Have to Take Your Heart Away”.
And words can at times be all we have. Yet words are very powerful, as the saying penned in Bulwer-Lytton’s 1839 play puts it, “The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword”. But this idea traces back to the fourth century Greek poet Euripides who said, “The tongue is mightier than the blade”.
So, while words may seem very lame at times, they are also one of the most powerful tools, or weapons, available to man. Consider how readily people use them in scoring points against each other, from the children’s playground to the halls of power.
Some Can Speak
I have pointed out in earlier essays on Jurisdiction that God has the ultimate right to speak. As creator He is immediately and powerfully authorised to speak whatever He will over His creation. And so the words of God, God’s laws, rule our lives like none other.
Not only can God speak over us, but He gets to identify others who have the right to speak. God says that husbands speak as the head of the home and that children must obey their parents. Those who God authenticates are thus able to speak with authority, in fact, with God’s authority, so long as they honour God in what they say.
The schoolyard bully, however, does not have authority. But then, neither does the teacher!
The teacher does not have inherent, god-given authority. Nowhere in God’s Word, the Bible, are we told to obey all teachers. It is up to each student enrolling in the class to submit to the teacher. If they choose not to do so they will probably be removed from the class.
So, some can speak with inherent, god-given authority (so long as they honour God in their use of that authority), and others have authority because we confer that upon them for the convenience of our circumstances.
Consider, for example, how a child is under the teacher’s authority in the class, but the teacher cannot then invade the family home and usurp the parents’ authority. The parents have inherent god-given authority, while the teacher has limited authority conferred by the student’s willingness to submit, and limited to a specific place and set of circumstances.
The Toothpick Story
I saw a report of a chap who went to court and defied the court’s assertions of authority. He had several questions to ask the court which deflected the court’s claim of jurisdiction. However the chap came undone because of a toothpick. You can find the full account at 1215.org.
“One guy went up there was chewing a toothpick. He knew how to ask the three questions, and he was cruising through them and he got down to the end and then looked a little bit confused as to where to go from there. At that point the judge from the bench said “Take that toothpick out of your mouth”. And the guy reached up with his fingers, took the toothpick out of his mouth, and the judge immediately yelled at the bailiff, “sieze that man and throw him in jail for ten days for contempt”. When he followed the orders of the judge, the judge became the head and he became the tail. What he should have done was continue to chew the toothpick and say, “Do you have a claim against me?”
This toothpick story illustrates the point that when we submit to someone else’s words we acknowledge their authority over us. If the one speaking has authority then we are being lawfully and duly submissive. But if the one speaking does not have authority and is trying to exert authority, we are best to deflect the words and not submit to them, or we could be oppressed by their abuse of authority over us.
Responding to Words
A person who is the “head” and not the tail would respond to the attempted impositions from others in a particular way. They would be free from the imposition.
One way to be free from attempted impositions is to ignore them.
Recall the account of Mary Slessor, the missionary in West Africa who sent a home-made cloth document to two warring factions, instructing them not to fight until she had arrived to explain the significant message contained on the document. Mary was asserting her intervention.
The warring parties could well have rejected her imposition. They could have thrown her cloth into the fire or sent it back to her. It had no inherent power of itself. The only reason it had influence over them was because they allowed it to have such influence. And, of course, there was the moral conscience of the men and Mary’s prayers for them.
Similarly for Gladys Aylward, the wild-eyed murderer could easily have cut her to pieces. Her presence awakened the conscience and brought God’s grace into an otherwise godless situation.
In the next lesson I will explore the options you have in responding to the imposition of words into your life. You may be rejecting words that you should heed. And you may also be responding to words that you should ignore.