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Leaving Unfit Words Unspoken

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Leaving Unfit Words Unspoken

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As beings designed for relationships, we are constantly communicating with one another. Although spoken words are one of the most common methods in our communication toolbox, high frequency is not necessarily an indicator of high quality.

A late 1800s American author named James Lendall Basford wisely observed that “Many talk as easily as they breathe, and with quite as little thought.” It’s very true and well stated—we all quite easily speak first and think afterward. Saying things that don’t do much to “improve on the silence,” as one Spanish proverb states, is a common occurrence in our conversations.

One specific aspect that we must constantly monitor in our choice of words is the use of expressions that are socially accepted forms of things that we shouldn’t say. Such expressions are called “euphemisms,” which the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines as “the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend . . .”

The Merriam-Webster explanation of a word’s implications, especially as it applies to substitute phrases that Christians should avoid, is quite helpful:

“Euphemisms can take different forms, but they all involve substituting a word or phrase considered to be less offensive than another. The substituted word might, for example, be viewed as a less coarse choice, as when dang or darn is used instead of damn or damned. Or it might replace a word viewed as insulting to a religious figure, such as the various euphemisms for God (gad, gadzooks, gosh) or Jesus (gee, jeepers, jeez).”

There are many such words that easily find their way into our vocabularies and conversations—sometimes because we genuinely think they are okay, sometimes because we don’t understand what they mean. To counteract this, there are several wise word usage habits to focus on developing while excluding any form of words or phrases that are better left unsaid.

Habit 1: Show love and honor to God

It is often said that the Ten Commandments are a summary of how to love God and love one another. One of the elements of loving God, the Third Commandment, focuses on how we think about and treat His name—and by extension, how we think about and treat Him. This law prohibits taking God’s name “in vain,” which has several important implications.

For this topic, the applicable meaning is that we should not treat God’s name as empty. It has worth and value that deserves respect. The Common English Bible’s translation of Exodus 20:7 brings this out well, “Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance . . .” Substitute words such as “gosh” or “jeez” and phrases such as “Oh my God” or its acronym “OMG” do just that.

As Christians, our patterns of speech should strive for and exemplify the Kingdom level of purity and spiritual maturity now!

This type of speaking reduces God’s name to meaningless expressions that are thoughtlessly added to conversations as a matter of habit. Ironically and sadly, the topics in many conversations that include careless uses of God’s name include things that God would certainly not agree with or approve of! God the Father and Jesus Christ both deserve far more esteem and reverence than conversations that misuse Their names show to Them.

Our example as Christians should hold to a higher standard and demonstrate a better way. Treating God’s name with the respect that it deserves is an important aspect of genuinely developing that respect in our relationship with Him. It also helps us to internalize the incredible future that God is planning—to share His name with us by bringing us into His family!

Habit 2: Speak with consistent integrity

At Camp Cotubic earlier this year, one of the questions submitted by a camper in the brother and sister dorm I was working with asked whether there would be only one language again in God’s Kingdom. It was a great discussion, and especially exciting because the Bible does give an indication of what the future holds. In Zephaniah 3:9, God states: “I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they all may call on the name of the Lord . . .”

The word “pure” in this verse is filled with refreshing hope for the future of human communication! Its various meanings indicate that the language used when God’s government is administered on earth will have been purged, cleansed, tested and proven as fit for use by those who are living and learning God’s way of life.

None of the languages in our present world can claim this level of integrity. Under Satan’s influence and the corrupt tendencies of human nature, our languages sadly reflect the reality of the human condition. They contain all manner of blasphemy, curses, euphemisms (mildly softened blasphemy/curses) and innuendo (veiled references implying all kinds of wrong thoughts and actions, often with a sexual connotation).

Zephaniah was inspired to prophesy that these things will cease to exist in the language of the Kingdom that Jesus Christ will establish at His return. As Christians, our patterns of speech should strive for and exemplify that level of purity and spiritual maturity now!

Habit 3: Strive to enable positive outcomes with your words

In his letter to the Church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul provides a very helpful framework for ensuring that our words are helpful, rather than harmful, to those who hear them, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).

The Greek word translated as “corrupt” in this verse has a broad implication for words that are unfit for use because they lack value and worth. The Britannica Dictionary’s definition for the English “corrupt” is instructive as well. One of the meanings is “to change (something) so that it is less pure or valuable.” Allowing euphemisms into our communication does just that.

The verse goes on to say that we can avoid degrading our communication by making sure that it provides “necessary edification,” meaning it meets a need, fulfills a purpose and builds up the receiver. The final portion of the verse then addresses the most important element of any communication, which is the motive. Why are we saying what we say? What long-term results do we want our words to have, both in the lives of the hearers and our own lives?

Paul encourages us to pursue grace as the outcome of our words. Grace is a word filled with hope, describing a status of favor that is not dependent on what someone has earned or what they deserve. Our words and our communication are meant to supply favor to the hearers. This result is much easier to accomplish when we speak accurately and genuinely, leaving out words that are meant to stand in for something that is better left unsaid. As folk-rock band the Avett Brothers rightly imply, “I don’t need those words to say what I mean . . .” (“Tear Down The House”).

To the extent that we focus on developing these habits in our communication, we can fulfill and receive the benefits of this inspirational admonition: “The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent, and their lips promote instruction. Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:23-24, New International Version).