Match the quote with the speaker:
a. “Y’all come back now, y’here?”
b. “Gday, mate!”
c. “I’ll have a hamburger, eh?”
1. An Australian
2. A Canadian
3. A Virginian
Vocabulary, pronunciation, and word choice tell a lot about us. Peter was in the high priest’s palace when the servants identified him as a disciple of the Lord Jesus. They said to him, “Thou art a Galilean, and thy speech agreeth thereto” (Mark 14:70). But is it possible to identify a Christian just by his language?
“Teenagerdom” is one of the most difficult periods of change in a person’s life. The apostle Paul said, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Along with all the physical, emotional, and social developments, there is a natural transition in your language as well.
As Christians, though, we must always be on guard as to the type of vocabulary, slang, and jargon we are using. It is easy to pick up the popular expressions and the fad slang. We are living in the media world where these terms are batted around in music, videos, and on the Internet. Often we are like sponges in water and unknowingly pick up terms and tones without stopping to evaluate them.
So how do you determine what expressions, words, tones of voice, and language patterns are appropriate for a Christian?
SOCIAL LANGUAGE: “Hip” or Helpful?
Language can identify us with a group and help fulfill the need to feel a sense of belonging. That is why gangs are so appealing to many young people. Those young folks secretly fear the violence and crime, but the overwhelming sense of being part of a group drives them to join anyway. The use of signs, slogans, and terms often sets apart one group from another.
A true believer needs to begin by finding his complete sense of belongingness from being “accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). He must accept himself and feel secure in Christ. Yet, at the same time, the Lord Jesus spoke in the language of His day and His culture. His motive was not to fill a need to belong and have acceptance but rather to be able to communicate with others. Paul, too, spoke Greek to Greeks and Hebrew to Jews, not for personal feelings, but so he could effectively communicate God’s message.
At the same time, all vocabulary and language patterns must pass the test of Scripture. Just suppose your peers at school use a disrespectful tone of voice and set of terms to speak to and about their parents. Could you, as a believer responsible to honor your father and mother, be clear to use the same language? Our communication choices must begin with an inventory as to our motives. Do we want to get a point across or be accepted?
MORAL LANGUAGE: Clean or Obscene?
Language reflects thinking. If people’s thoughts are pure their speech is pure. If their thoughts are filthy, their speech is filthy. Unfortunately, human nature tends toward the inappropriate and filthy. A group of children at play might surprise you with their language. Language teachers say that most people try to learn the “swear words” in a new language first. Is it harder to forget a dirty joke or a verse of Scripture? Be honest about your own tendencies. Face the danger, not just of society without, but of your nature within. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34).
Paul knew believers would have this tendency. Even though they had received “redemption through His blood” (Ephesians 1:7), Paul warns, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth” (Ephesians 4:29). The Christian mouth is still capable of speaking what is inappropriate. Paul added, “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour.” We must constantly have our filters in place so we only let out of our mouths what is true, pure, and Christ-honoring. Next, Paul gives a further prohibition, “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient” (Ephesians 5:3, 4).
So is your language clean or obscene? Are you careful about jokes, sayings with double meanings, swearing, and unclean slang? Bigotry, prejudice, and stereotyping can be equally inappropriate or hurtful. Note that Paul said, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying” (Ephesians 4:29). So, will telling that joke, expressing your feelings in those terms, or talking about others that way build people up and be a blessing to them? Does the way you speak have a positive or negative effect on others?
SPIRITUAL LANGUAGE: Casual or Careful?
“Garbage in, garbage out!” still holds true for human language. If you fill your mind with inappropriate language, it will eventually seep out. Therefore, the music you hear, the videos you watch, and the books you read will affect your social, moral, and spiritual language.
No, you don’t have to be an orator to speak with God in prayer. Yes, the Lord understands when you can’t express yourself. At the same time, would you not love to express yourself better, more Biblically, and with better dignity in the presence of God Almighty? The Lord Jesus warned about “vain repetition” – repeating the same words when your mouth is in drive, but your mind is in neutral. We are all capable of falling into that.
Another pitfall is being too casual. If you listen to casual speakers you may speak too casually to the Lord as well. So, be sure to get your doctrinal expressions from good sources that will help you meet the goal: “sound speech that cannot be condemned” (Titus 2:8). Strive to be fresh, natural, and Biblical, reflecting a vibrant and respectful relationship with the Lord.
From dawn to dusk life is about communications with the Lord, family, friends, teachers, employers, believers, and others. Taking time to improve your communication skills would be an excellent investment and a Biblical necessity. Yes, it is hard when you are constantly bombarded with less than ideal communication at school and in the media. Yet, may the Lord help you every day with the challenges and choices that are yours with the Language You Speak.