Monday, December 5, 2011

Watching Our Speech

Did He Really Say That?

Written by Dr. Bill Bagents

“For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:2).

I was listening to a basketball game as I worked. The commentator captured my attention most negatively when he said of a player, “And when he catches the ball in the paint with his hands . . .” How else would he catch the ball? With his feet? In his mouth?

I cringe every time I hear a college football announcer utter the worthless phrase “young freshman.” Virtually all freshmen are young. It’s noteworthy only when a freshman isn’t young. Same goes for “young rookie” in professional ball.

With apologies to bikers, I was part of a conversation with a gentleman who fit the stereotype. From the scars to the “body art,” he was on the well-worn side of life. The subject of drug abuse came up. He denied any involvement. To reinforce the denial, he said of himself, “You can’t look like this and do drugs.” I was (and still am) thinking just the opposite.

Some counseling friends and I were in a training session in Atlanta. Regrettably, our presenter used salty language. But she began an even saltier quote on one of her clients with, “I don’t curse.” To make it even more ironic, she was wearing a cross on a chain around her neck.

I recently heard of a man who used a quintessential racist word in a text. When challenged by a friend, his reply was the classic, “I’m not racist. I have black friends.” The very use of the word is racist. Having 10,000 friends wouldn’t change that.

I read from 3 John 2 in a recent sermon. Not once or twice, but three times, I caught myself saying, “As the Apostle Paul wrote . . .” I know Paul didn’t write the book of 3 John. I have no clue why I wanted to credit the book to him.

What a challenge to get our language right! Factually right. Compassionately right. Non-redundantly right. Graciously right.

We know that it’s a battle worth fighting. Redundancies and little slips of the tongue might merely be annoying. Untruth, hateful speech, and all unrighteous words aren’t merely annoying. Such words deny the faith, obscure the gospel, dishonor the Lord, and endanger our souls.

“But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37). We have God’s word on that!

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