In what I consider to be the most important theological document ever produced, the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel, John the Evangelist begins with this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

He took a complex term from Greek philosophy, the logos, which we translate as “word,” and applied it to the full incarnation of God’s self in the figure of the historical Jesus of Nazareth. The totality of Jesus Christ — his life, his teachings, his death, and his resurrection — were the utterance of God, the revealing of God’s self to humanity.

I believe that it is significant that John, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, chose to describe what God was doing as a Word. Could it be because words are so laden with meaning, so powerful, so capable of both building up and tearing down? And since it is true that “Word” was the way that God chose to be revealed, doesn’t that indicate something about what “words” reveal about us?

In our culture today we are seeing, often negatively, the power that words have. Words not only have meaning; words have consequences. Words poorly chosen can lead others down wrong paths. Words chosen so that the actions of others cannot be directly laid at the feet of the speaker are dangerous nonetheless. Words said without sincerity but merely out of obligation fail to ring true.

It is not our place to judge the words of others. We are capable of knowing neither their hearts nor their intentions. While we may caution others about their speech, it is not ours to control.

What we can control is what we say ourselves. We can remember that our words say almost as much about us as the Word revealed in Christ says about God. And that should cause us pause.

It should make us more temperate in our language, more loving both in the words we use and the feeling that they convey. It should make us more hesitant to criticize, more effusive in our affirmations, more gentle in our correction, more humble in our assertions, less certain in our declarations of our opinions, and more open to the possibility that the words of others are as true as our own.

In other words, we should be more like Christ, who never spoke a thoughtless word, who was loving even when he was correcting, who was gentle with the ones who needed it the most and firm only when it served the higher good.

If we were this cautious and thoughtful in what we said, I think the end result would be that we would speak fewer words, but that the words we said would have greater impact — and that their effect would be to build up rather than tear down. I’m just not seeing as much of that as I would like. I can’t do anything about how anyone else talks, but I can be very careful about my own words. And so can you.