We must mind our language when spreading the gospel
As the sun starts to shine this summer, we should also make sure that we speak sunny, life-giving and hope-filled words when talking to friends and neighbours says Gary Gibbs.
On the day I made a conscious decision to give my life over to Jesus Christ and to follow him, some remarkable changes took place, one of which was that I lost nearly half of my vocabulary!
I was a seventeen-year-old from a council estate in the Black Country. Growing up, I had learnt plenty of words which were not in the Oxford English Dictionary, and I was very adept at inserting two or three of these words into most sentences coming out of my ‘potty mouth’.
I had been a Christian less than 24 hours when one of my friends asked me “So, now you’ve ‘gone religious’, does that mean you’re not allowed to swear?” To be honest, I hadn’t even thought about it, but my mate informed me that I had not uttered one bad word or profanity all day.
Forty-two years later, I think there have been three occasions when I’ve let Jesus down and used a swear word, but considering it used to be three times each sentence, that’s not too bad!
As if to reinforce what had happened to me on that Monday afternoon in May 1974, the very first words I read in the Bible as a believer, having simply flicked it open, not knowing where to start read as follows:
“When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun!”
Can you imagine what an assurance that was to me as a one-day-old Christian!!
So, having lost a lot of words, I soon began to acquire some new ones; The Language of Zion!
Most of us have learnt to speak ‘Christianese’; in fact, if you don’t learn this code, you may struggle to understand what is being said in some spiritual environments. The problem is that most people in the UK don’t speak Christianese; they speak English! If then we try and communicate the Good News about Jesus using words such as ‘redemption’ ‘washed in the blood’ or ‘justified by faith’, it will probably mean that our message isn’t being understood.
I was speaking at a training event on the theme of ‘friendship evangelism’ and one of the participants declared that we needed to use words such as ‘sin’ and ‘repentance’ in our Gospel presentation because these were ‘Bible words’. Gently, I tried to explain that actually they were 400 year old English words; Bible words (New Testament at least) are ancient, rustic Greek!
The challenge for us as missionaries in Darkest Britain is to put into 21st century language the nearest equivalent words which do justice to the original text. It doesn’t mean we can’t use the words translated in our English Bibles, but we do need to explain what the words mean otherwise those who are a million miles removed from biblical Christianity will not ‘get it’.
It’s summer! We are going to be rubbing shoulders more often with our neighbours and friends than in the dark winter months. Let’s commit to speaking sunny, life-giving , hope-filled, Gospel-shaped, intelligible words to them!
In the words of the apostle Paul:
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Not rude words, not swear words, but words which tempt people to find out more about our wonderful Jesus!