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…and the word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld its glory. . . Acts 1:14

 

You are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read by all men.  2 Corinthians 3:2

Lawyers are perhaps the master “wordsmiths” of the world. We love them. The more complex, erudite and obscure, the better. We even cherish the old Latin phrase to add to the mystery of our discourse: res ipsa loquitur, etc. A friend of mine and major founder of the Christian Legal Society used to have a saying which well fitted him: “Why use a picture when a thousand words will do!” I have heard it said that at one time in the development of the English legal profession, lawyers were actually paid by the word—which may account for our love affair with words.

Words are important, and the use of precise and clear language is a major aspect of a lawyer’s skill in negotiating, contract formation and advocacy. Sometimes we use words with intentionally narrow specificity, other times with deliberate ambiguity. Words, properly used and understood, are powerful carriers of meaning and emotion.

In our faith as well, words are crucial. The Scriptures speak constantly about the Word of God. His words give truth and life. Think of powerful word-concepts like redemption, justification, salvation, and sanctification. Theologians, I suppose like lawyers, spend hours (and words) analyzing these words and concepts, mining their riches.

But words have inherent limits. We see it in law and theology. Words can be misunderstood. Words can invite more disputes and arguments. We can use words and too often in our clever analysis, strip them of their life-giving power.

Perhaps that is why, when God wants to send a message free of distortion or confusion—a message in its clearest, least ambiguous and most dynamic form—he doesn’t use “words”—but he BECOMES the WORD. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

The same is true of our most powerful expressions. If you watch a reunion of long lost friends or lovers, they do not meet on the tarmac for the reunion and deliver a speech—sometimes, in fact, there are no “words” at all. Instead, hugs and tears. It is the word fleshed out in life and action. It is unmistakable. No words could have said it so clearly. Words in fact would have been stupid at such a time.

Jesus did that in the incarnation, and in the cross—he became words that defy dictionaries and syllables—but convey power. When God wants us to KNOW, no merely debate and analyze, His love and redemption, He often bypasses words and becomes the WORD. Later the words will help us understand who He is, but we must first see the WORD.

In our day, at least in my country, we have no shortage of religious words. They fill the airwaves and billboards. Our churches have millions of them. We print them by the tens of millions. But perhaps we have less of the “Word made flesh” in our lives and churches—the Word of God lived out in demonstrated illustrations of grace and love. Paul writing to the Corinthians told them, in the Scripture cited above, that their very lives were epistles—“known and read of all men.” Indeed, the written words of our faith may not be read by many, and understood probably by fewer. But the live-out Word of God in our lives is read by all—by our office partners and staff, by clients, colleagues, judges, and family. When grace and justice and salvation and forgiveness are “fleshed out”—they are not just debated, they are glorified.

Even in our legal practices, let us beware lest we hide life-giving relationships and power behind long phrases and esoteric words. Let our lives before clients include not only briefs and finely-honed legal clauses—but attitudes and relationships which “flesh out” the theory.

Let those of us who love words—both the legal type and the written Word of God—also remember that the truth of God comes not only in the words, but in the lives of those of us who bear His name. We too, in the mystery and grace of God, are called to be signs and samples of the very Word of God.

Lynn R. Buzzard

– This article comes from AI’s “No Higher Calling,” a devotional for lawyers.

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