Some scholars count based on a narrow definition of “word” and estimate about 250,000 words. Others are more generous in the specifications for a word, and they come up with almost 900,000. No matter how you count them, a writer can use any of them.
If you start counting commonly-used phrases and special terms, then the raw material for a wordsmith, otherwise commonly called a writer, is rich. The trick is to find just the right word to transfer the writer’s wonderful idea into the reader’s brain.
If both the writer and the reader speak English, what could go wrong? Here is an example.
You probably often hear young people say that they want to grow up to do something that will “make a difference.” You hear social activists try to inspire people to do good works in order to “make a difference” in someone’s life. You may even hear political candidates tell you that they want to “make a difference” in the political climate. If you want to write about the importance of living in faithful obedience to Christ, you may be tempted to use the same phrase, because it already carries the aura of doing something good for other people when it might not be convenient for you.
A Christian writer has two good reasons to avoid this phrase:
- The phrase does not specify what sort of difference is desired, and
- The fact of making a difference requires a focus on the person who allegedly produces this difference.
First, the manner of difference that results from an act is important. If I see a hungry bear and feed him, I have done something that appears to be kind. In fact, I might say that I had made a difference in the life of that bear. From the bear’s point of view, the difference between being hungry and not being hungry is me.
There is another way to look at the difference.
The bear may never have previously had any interest in people, but after I feed him, he may think all the other people should feed him. I have made a difference in the life of the bear, but it is not an altogether good change when I consider what the bear might do to people who refuse to give him food. Simply to say that I “made a difference” does not automatically justify praise for the difference that came about as a result of my action.
Second, Christians are not called to make a difference. If a person makes a difference, the work is attributable to the person and all the gratitude and praise go to that person. Christians are instead called to serve in a way that points people to Christ. I write, because Christ made a difference in my life. I write, because I want other people to meet Christ and to experience the difference Christ makes. I may be handing out food in a homeless shelter or helping to dig a well for clean water, but I am not doing it in order to earn the gratitude of the people who need food or water. I am doing it in order to show Christ to those people. I serve Christ, doing works that are good, because I want people to see Christ, not me.
Christians do not do good works in order to make a difference. They do good works as an outgrowth of their relationship with Christ, and the good works they do point to Christ, not to them.
As Paul wrote:
“We are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (Ephesians 2:10).
Christian writers ought to examine their work diligently to assure that the work points to Christ and to assure that any action inspired by their work also points to Christ. Avoiding use of the term “make a difference” is a good way for a writer to be reminded to keep the focus on Christ.
* Image credit: Joe Cavazos (Creation Swap)