Book Review & Response: War of Words (Paul David Tripp)

The following is a Book Review and Response of

Tripp, Paul David. War of Words.  Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000.  245pp.  $14.99.

Copyright © 2008 by Alex S. Leung. All rights reserved.

I. What I’ve Learned

In Paul David Tripp’s War of Words, the biblical counselor addresses one of the most difficult issues in all of counseling: the struggle of communication.  Since our God is a speaking God and the Lord of language, he has given us the ability to speak and communicate through words.  However, it is necessary to grasp that words do not belong to us but rather God, and for this very reason, our words are to be regulated by God’s word as found in the Holy Bible.  On this foundation, Tripp teaches us a few important truths that we ought to embrace in this war of words.  For myself, I was reminded about the idolatry of words, the purpose of words, and the choice of words.

The Idolatry of Words

Because we live in a fallen world where the presence of sin is still prevalent, we must admit that there is a war for our words.  How is this possible, except that we know that we do not fight against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces that fill the heavenly realms (39).  To get at the heart of the struggle in words is not to find better techniques or methods of communication, but to address the deeper – the deepest – issue behind the things that we say to each other, namely our heart (54-56).  For as children of God, we know that it is from the heart that our true desires are revealed.  When we say things that are hurtful and unhelpful, we ought to see the heart problem that belies such sin, because in such situations are we given the opportunity and occasion for our true hearts to reveal themselves.

The question thus becomes, What is ruling our hearts and our desires?  Is it God, or something else?  The truth of the matter is that an “idolatrous heart will produce idol words (56).”  Fights and quarrels ensue when we want something and we do not get it from; happiness and appreciation, on the other hand, ensue when others help us get what we want.  Tripp admits that with such a mindset, “human conflict is rooted in spiritual adultery (59)” but the beauty of the gospel is in that it gives us a new heart that is no longer slave to the desires of the flesh.  I myself am reminded by this very gospel truth, that there should be a consequent change in my behavior, thoughts and motives.

The Purpose of Words

“What kind of Messiah do you want Jesus to be in your life (87)?”    Many of us may have followed Christ for all the wrong reasons, having been lied to by the Devil.  But we must accept the verdict of God that lies of temporary, tangible satisfactions in the bread of this life (90-91).  We should yearn for spiritual bread, to hunger for that which is deeper, to desire life in Christ above all else, for he himself is the Living Bread.  Once we have such a desire within us, we can then embrace the mission of God for our mouths: we are called to be Christ’s ambassadors here on earth (107ff).  As such, we ought to represent him rightly through our words, speaking the way he speaks, and speaking the message he has spoken: self-sacrifice, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

The Choice of Words

If we are to be Christ’s ambassador’s here on earth, we thus must be careful with our words, for words matter and they can destroy if uncareful.  We ought to prepare our hearts at the beginning of each day for the words that would come out our mouths in the day that is to come.  This means confessing our need to God, acknowledging his grace towards us, saying no to the sinful desires of the flesh, and giving thanks to God for the calling and opportunity to be instruments in the Redeemer’s hands.  As we have prepared our hearts to serve him and others with our words, we should choose our words carefully to glorify him and edify others, Tripp reminds us that we should choose words of truth, love, restraint, grace, and forgiveness.  Only through such words may we be found faithful in “speaking the truth in love.”

II. Application to Life and Ministry

I have found numerous applications of War of Words to my life, but three of the most important things that I have tried to apply are the Significance of Communication, the Signs of Confrontation, the Steps of Repentance.

The Significance of Communication

I have often forgotten about the power that my words have on other people.  I am reminded through this book that especially in heightened times of teaching, especially on controversial theological issues or topics about the church, I can be very arrogant and prideful, maybe even hurtful.  I must continually remind myself that I as I teach and instruct, address and admonish, I do speak not as someone who is any better or more holy – but as a sinner who has been saved by grace alone – a child of God who has been justified by faith in Christ’s substitutionary death on the Cross.  We are very much alike, and there is no partiality.  For I also am a Christian who struggles in this spiritual journey, and yet—I am preserved by the Holy Spirit to persevere on this mission to make much of Him who has died to make us righteous.

In  times of sin and temptation, especially in word and not just deed, I ought to repent and apologize for the pride and arrogance in my heart.  I admit that I have often said many things that I did not mean or intend to say, or mistakenly come off in the wrong way or have been misunderstood. I know I may often seem very dogmatic about doctrine and how church should be done.

For those times I have unlovingly criticized how or what we’ve done things at my home church, I should apologize to those people whom I have hurt, whether directly or indirectly. I should approach them in all humility, to confess such sins of disobedience, to just let go of my pride and not worry about “saving face”.  While many people do know that I speak out of a great love for theology and God’s Word and church, they should also know that there has been significant fleshly desire for personal fame and renown, anger at individual persons because they are not like me, hatred for theologies I do not agree with.  While many of such feelings may be warranted and truth must be contended for, the heart issue is still there.  I must continually submit my heart to the work of Christ, so that by the conviction and empowerment of the Holy Spirit I may magnify God in Christ through all that I say and write.

The Signs of Confrontation

I do not think I have ever appropriately confronted anybody with the word of Christ.  While I know that there is a biblical way and a not-so-biblical way of confrontation, I have never found a method of going about it with a Christ-like humility.  As a friend, I need to develop such biblical confrontation, even as scary as it might be.  Too often, I know that I can spend a lot of time blaming, hiding from, or outright excusing sin, saying that it’s just the way we are.  But such is where confrontation is desperately needed.  With the example of Nathan as a model (2 Sam 12), we must be ready to confront others everyday, to do so in the spirit of humility from the gospel of Jesus, to encourage with a message of perseverance.

In the context of church, ministry and leadership, I should develop and nurture in my own arsenal of biblical counseling methods the model of biblical confrontation (153-155): Examine your heart, Note your Calling, Check Your Attitude, Own your own faults, Use words wisely, Reflect on the Scripture, Always be prepared to listen, Grant time for a response, Encourage the person with the gospel.  I have never thought that it was necessary to prepare myself for one-on-one times of personal ministry, situations where confrontation is needed.  Now I am convinced that I should never go into a counseling session, or a meeting with one of my sheep unprepared.  I need to be ready to seek out the heart issues that lie beneath the war of words; I need to be ready to search for the hidden sins that are covered by external symptoms of lying and deceiving words; I need to be ready and willing to confront a brother or sister who is in sin.  I should do this not only in formal settings of the counseling session, but also in the informal times of personal fellowship.

The Steps of Repentance

Over the past few weeks since taking this class, I have been trying to use the steps of repentance that Tripp has outlined in this book.  Consider, confess, commit, change.  It is so much easier to just think that I have repented of my sin, but in actual fact, friends and family confront me themselves by telling me that there is still much change needed.  One example is my dogmatic theology: I have been told on numerous occasions recently by my sister or my parents that I am not loving enough or humble enough in the things I say about the church.  I think I have grown in my humility over the past couple years, but I know I am still a person in process.  While I desire for a humble orthodoxy, it can very much still appear and sound arrogant.  I cannot just wing repentance and think God will do it for me, through me: by faith I must embrace these four steps of repentance and be attentive to using them for myself first, and then secondly, for the up-building of those around me.

Almighty God, Our heavenly Father,
we have sinned against you in thought and word and deed,
through negligence, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault.
We are truly sorry and repent of all our sins.  For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, who died for us, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may serve you in newness of life,
to the glory of your name.  Amen

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