War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles by Paul David Tripp (Book Review)

“No matter where you live, no matter what you do every day, there is one thing that you do all day long. You talk.” (3) So begins this insightful and practical book, War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles by Paul David Tripp.

What sets this book apart from others on the same topic is its profound depth in addressing the issues of our words. “Our communication struggle is not primarily a struggle of technique, but a struggle of the heart” (30). Tripp doesn’t settle for superficial treatment. He understands that the war of words is really part of a deeper war: the war for our hearts and souls, the war between the Word made flesh, and the enemy, whose primary tools are words of distortion, deception, and destruction.

War of Words is divided into three sections. Part One: “Talk is Not Cheap” provides the theological and biblical orientation from which the entire book speaks. Tripp begins by reminding us that “God Speaks” (chapter one). “He is the Great Speaker” (15); and He has spoken most fully through Jesus Christ, “the Word who is the only hope for our words” (5). God can be known because He speaks. And we are made in His image with the ability to speak ourselves. Our words have value, because God has given them value.

But not only does God speak, “Satan Speaks” (chapter two). Paradise was lost because Satan used words to challenge the authority of God and offer an interpretation on life that was different from God’s. Lies were spoken. Words were misused. And “for the first time, people spoke against one another” (23). Now, there is “trouble with our talk” (29). In fact, “nowhere is our weakness more dramatically revealed than in our struggle with words” (31).

Into the helplessness and hopelessness of our sin, God, the Great Speaker addresses us with the greatest message of all: “The Word in the Flesh” (chapter three). The gospel of Christ addresses our fallen lives and our muddled speech. God doesn’t demand that we change in our own strength. No, He sends redemption through the Living Word who becomes the ultimate model for our speech as well. Our words are meant to redeem. But our words can be redemptive only when our “idol words” (chapter four) are addressed. We must see that our speech problems are fruit growing out of the deeper root of a sinful and idolatrous heart.

Right from the beginning, Tripp summarizes the “four fundamental, life-altering principles” upon which this book is based are:

* God has a wonderful plan for our words that is far better than any plan we could come up with on our own.
* Sin has radically altered our agenda for our words, resulting in much hurt, confusion, and chaos.
* In Christ Jesus we find the grace that provides all we need to speak as God intended us to speak.
* The Bible plainly and simply teaches us how to get from where we are to where God wants us to be. (5)

In other words, the foundation for God-honoring speech is nothing less than the gospel itself, as understood within the framework of words.

Part Two lays out “A New Agenda for Our Talk.” This begins with an understanding of God’s sovereignty. “He is King!” (chapter five). God’s sovereignty is “the cornerstone for a new agenda for our words” (70). When I truly lay hold of the truth that God is in control, exercising “unchallenged rule” in the universe (71) for His glory and my good, I can be free from trying to control and manipulate others with my words. Tripp goes on to show that we must embrace the agenda of the King (chapter six) if we are to speak for Him (chapter seven). We can only be His ambassadors when we speak out of a clear understanding of the King’s mission and methods (111-122).

Chapter eight turns a corner from theological foundation to practical application, as Tripp outlines eleven “practical steps to the destination” of using our words as God desires. Because we are “citizens in need of help” (chapter nine), confrontation is a necessary part of our speech. But confrontation is scary because it so often goes wrong. We need help in doing confrontation biblically, with the humility of the gospel, recognizing that we are both helpers to others and also in need of help ourselves.

Chapter ten, “On the King’s Mission” sharpens the focus on God’s redemptive purpose for our words. Tripp reminds us that “we are not free to handle difficulties in whatever way seems best to us. When we are wronged, the thing of highest importance is not that we feel satisfied or avenged, but that we respond according to God’s plan and for his glory” (164). The Great Commission lays claim on our everyday talk. Every word we speak is meant to carry out the redemptive purposes of God in Christ.

Finally, Part Three discusses “Winning the War of Words.” Tripp’s practical theology is at its best here, as he reminds us to put “First Things First” (chapter eleven) in our speech by embracing the gospel in a lifestyle of repentance. Four steps of true repentance (consideration, confession, commitment, and change) are discussed, drawing heavily on Colossians 3:12-17 and 2 Peter 1:3-9. Chapter twelve clarifies the win with an exposition of Galatians 5:13-6:2. Winning the war of words “involves recognizing the destructive power of words (5:15) . . . affirming our freedom in Christ (5:13) . . . saying no to the sinful nature (5:13, 24) . . . speaking to serve others in love (5:13-14) . . . speaking ‘in step with the Spirit’ (5:25) . . . [and] speaking with a goal to restore (6:1-2)” (201-216).

Chapter thirteen, “Choosing Your Words,” continues the expositional style of application by exhorting us to choose the right words: words of truth (Eph. 4:14-15), words of love (1 Cor. 13:4-7), words of restraint (Eph. 4:25-27), words of grace (Eph. 4:29-30), and words of forgiveness (Eph. 4:32-5:2). Only when we choose these redemptive kinds of words will the tongue be a tool for good, rather than a world of evil.

This is a powerful book which helped me personally and pastorally. The blend of biblical exposition and practical exhortation, theology and practicality, is masterful. Each section builds on the sturdy explanation of biblical texts, while including practical “how to” application, with frequent real-life examples of both redemptive and destructive speech. Every chapter ends with a “Getting Personal” list of questions for personal examination of one’s own heart and life. And Tripp frequently speaks from his own failures, flavoring this book with humility and authenticity. This is a wonderful book that should serve pastors, counselors, lay-leaders, parents, and spouses well, as they struggle to win the war of words.

1 comment:

MattFowler said...

Excellent book! This book helped me in numerous ways in my walk with the Lord. Tripp does an excellent job of getting to the heart of the matter with sinful speech patterns. It has had a tremendous impact on how I raise my daughter. His exhortation to view every disciplinary moment as a moment of redemption has been life changing in how view times of conflict and discipline. Excellent book!