Christians Should Use Salty Language
Nothing will wake you up quicker than a convinced and committed follower of Jesus shouting expletives in your face. If you can get a preacher to drop a four letter bomb in the middle of his sermon that would really do the trick, wouldn’t it? But that’s not at all what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about being strategic with our words. Think about it, we use a ton of words every day. We direct them at a lot of people. We speak them. We write them. We publish them on social media. But do we think carefully about how we are using them, about where they all will go, about who is listening in?
Here’s the Apostle Paul’s advice on the use of words:
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5-6, ESV)
This line has always struck me, that we are to season our words with salt. Salt doesn’t bring attention to itself does it? It draws out the qualities of whatever it is added to. In this way, the Christian is to use words like seasoning, to draw attention to the Christian message. Sadly, sometimes the way we talk does the exact opposite.
Sometimes we make the message unclear by using words that are more about making us sound intelligent than about communicating. Or maybe we use insider language to show that we are in the know and to signal to those whose acceptance we seek.
I think often we use non-strategic language because we are lazy. Our communication becomes droll background noise filled with the predictable, the undefined, and the otherwise bland. We throw out tired cliches and trite Christian slogans, or we may even use respectable theological jargon, with little to no thought about how or where these words might land.
I thought about this the other day when reading something written by an academic for a popular audience. It was clear the person was just doing what I call a “data dump.” A data dump goes something like this: I know X. Here is X. And I know Y. Here is Y. I know Z. Here is Z.
That’s not very interesting to read is it? I fear that’s sometimes how others hear us talking about God. We end up sounding like the teacher from Peanuts. And if our language is tired, maybe, our audience might conclude, it’s because our message is boring.
Truthfully, the problem isn’t with our message, is it? It’s with us. It’s with a lack of effort to use words that befit the value and beauty of the message we proclaim. Maybe it’s due to a lack of compassion for our hearers. Love will compel us to learn to communicate more effectively. The more we love the better we will want to communicate.
This is really well stated in a recent article by Kathy Keller where she explains her and Tim’s approach to communication at Redeemer Church:
We must have a care for how we choose our words, our images, and our ideas when we communicate, no matter what we’re communicating . . . Redeemer has been pretty good at this, partly because it was actually one of the major parts of my job description to search and destroy any piousbabble . . . Piousbabble are those phrases and those words that creep into your prayers and into your language.. Lord, we just, we just, Lord … We want traveling mercies, we want to bathe it in prayer, and we need prayer warriors, and we need a hedge of protection. All that sounds kind of normal-ish to most Christians. But it’s like Swahili to the nonbelievers and the seekers who are coming.
How can a church like Redeemer flourish in a secular city like Manhattan? By talking about God in ways people can understand, in real language that is well-seasoned and strategically used. By having enough love for their neighbors to want to talk about God in a way that is attractive.
Do you know where your words will go today? Have you considered who might hear them or read them? Does your audience in any way impact your use of words? It should. After all, the gospel deserves our best efforts, our best words, and our best communication. And if we want to articulate the gospel in an understandable and compelling way, we will have to know what words best communicate the story of Jesus to our audience.
You’re going to use a lot of words today. So, think before you speak. Avoid piousbabble. Don’t do a data dump. Be wise. And while you’re at it, add some seasoning and a touch of grace.