The wise man, Solomon, knew the almost unbelievable power of words when he wrote so long ago: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in baskets of silver” (Prov. 25:11, R.V.)
New words seem to be capturing the minds of men and women every day. Every new dictionary is bulging with words not used or understood fifty years ago, yes, even ten years ago.
Words are pictures. They have personality and character, like people. There are words that laugh like a babbling brook; words that cry. There are beautiful words and sacred words; yes, and there are ugly words. There are words that like a drawn sword hurt people we love, leaving scars that time will not erase.
Our text suggests the high esteem Solomon placed upon well-chosen words. In his day, when a banquet was given by an Eastern king it was customary to pre sent each guest with a golden apple. These golden apples were placed upon the tables in lovely baskets of silver filigree work, and then through the meshes, the glittering fruit delighted the guests.
Today, few human beings touch lives at more levels than does the Seventh-day Adventist minister, teacher, or Bible worker.
We are often privileged to use kind words much as a skilled surgeon chooses ever so carefully just the proper medication or suture. No doubt each sincere worker for Christ can remember some of his own well-chosen words that indeed proved to be “apples of gold in baskets of silver.”
But you say, “How is it ever possible to use kind words when one is faced with some of this impossible situations-yes, situations which require some word of rebuke? How can one be kind then?”
The great John Wesley had the uncanny ability to rebuke in a most loving and kindly manner. One day one of Wesley’s workers thrust the bejeweled hands of an embarrassed new convert before the gaze of that large-hearted man of God. Wesley said simply: “You have such beautiful hands.” It was enough. She never wore jewelry again. His loving, Christ-filled soul captured her.
The Best Words
Perhaps the best words are those words we sometimes leave unsaid. I am acquainted with one minister who while driving along the street in a large North American city thought of the apparent ingratitude of a subordinate. The more he thought of it the more upset it made him.
He decided he would drive there at once and tell this friend a few things! But then the mood changed-a voice seemed to urge, “Don’t do that,” And he is glad that he did not, for he kept a true friend. Had he spoken his mind he certainly would have bruised a friendship, and for no good reason.
Probably all of us in our “trying hour” have gone to our files and pulled out an encouraging letter from a conference president or other leader. Every true minister for Christ has written many such letters himself. We all need these “golden apples” of encouragement; many a man has given up and died for the lack of them.
There was something wistful in the appeal the little boy made to his father when he cried, “I often do wrong, I know, and then you scold me, and I deserve it; but Father, sometimes I try my best to do right. Won’t you let me know when
I do please you?”
How many times have we left unsaid words, indeed apples of gold, when a word of sincere appreciation for a fellow worker’s efforts could have buoyed him up splendidly in his Christian journey?
At large funerals a small fortune is some times spent on expensive floral offerings when the man now dead might have given even greater and longer service to this cause had we reached down and given him a lift and a friendly word of helpful encouragement when he needed it most!
I like the words of one unknown author:
“Bring me all the flowers today. Whether pink or rose or red.
I’d rather have just one blossom now Than a whole truckload
When I’m dead.”
Begin at Home
Another area where we as leaders in God’s cause can truly present “apples of gold in baskets of silver” in our choice of words is right in our very own homes. Someone has wryly said, “One can al ways be kind to people one cares nothing about,” meaning, of course, that the businessman is always courteous with a client -he has to be–but the moment he steps into the house he takes his wife’s head off! Yes, the woman who has borne his children and bathed his wounds a hundred times “gets it.”
I remember one woman, the daughter of a minister, who told me, “I have never heard my father raise his voice at home.” I thought that because of her great love for him and because it happened only seldom that perhaps she could not remember it. But no, she said, “He never did.”
What a magnificent thing to be said of any man! I am sure that Jesus always chose His words well. When He had to rebuke the people there were always “tears in His voice.” May it be said of every Seventh-day Adventist worker: “That man is a true Christian in his home and in every relationship in life.”
Life is short at best and one day some of these chairs about the dining room table will be empty. We really ought to treasure up every happy and lovely and wonderful thing to repeat at mealtime. We ought to make sure that we are at our very best in our homes.
“You may breathe a pious blessing Over viands rich and good,
But a blessing with long faces Won’t assimilate your food,
While a meal of bread and herring, With a glass of water clear,
Is a feast if it’s accompanied with the blessing of good cheer,
Knowing something funny, tell it;
Something sad, forget to knell it;
Something hateful, quick dispel it;
AT THE TABLE.
– Author Unknown
Perhaps there is no other time when words can heal and lift as in that moment when another human being looks to his pastor for words of sympathy in the tragic moment of bereavement or in time of deep disappointment. Words of sympathy are “apples of gold, ” too. But even these should be uttered cheerfully. Few men have shown as much tact in using the right word at the right time as did John Wesley. On one occasion while speaking to a woman in trouble -a trial that was beyond her comprehension and for which she could see no reason- he said: “Do you know why a cow looks over a stone wall?”
The woman looked up with her eyes full of tears. “No,” she answered. “Why,” said Wesley, “it is because she cannot see through it, and that is just the way with your trouble. You cannot see through it so you must look over it, and go on doing your duty.”I am sure that that woman never forgot the happy comfort of that conversation. Jesus charmed His hearers by His marvelous usage of words as they sprang from His great heart. May we in the great Advent ministry do the same every day as we lift up the regal Galilean.
By R. A. Rentfro
This article first appeared in the December 1971 issue of Ministry,® International Journal for Pastors, www.MinistryMagazine.org. Used by permission.