The Vocabulary of Words
Today will be the ninth and final devotional on the topic of words. To conclude, I want to go back to an earlier verse we studied.
"The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." (Luke 6:45)
It's absolutely true that what's already in our hearts will be revealed by what we say. But there's something else that this verse - and the overall message of Scripture - teaches us:
What we say is not as important as why we say it.
In other words, the specific vocabulary that we select is not what makes our speech godly or ungodly. Rather, the motivation behind the vocabulary selection is what pleases or displeases God.
We see this theme in two other famous verses:
- "Man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7)
- "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence" (Matthew 23:25)
Don't get me wrong. There are certain things that you should never say. Words that bring to mind sexual impurities and cause you or others to stumble, for example, should not be spoken.
"God damn you" should never be spoken. There are clear guidelines in Scripture as to why we should never say these words or phrases.
Then there are words deemed "culturally impolite" by some circles. It may be wise to avoid saying these for the sake of others, but we must be careful to examine the heart motivation over the specific vocabulary selection.
Judging the specific vocabulary selection is naive and superficial at best, and could be self-righteous and legalistic at worst.
If you're able to speak "culturally impolite" words with a pure motive of heart that edifies another person, the Bible would say that you have pleased the Lord.
In the same way, if you speak "culturally polite" words to another person with a very ungodly tone and impure motivation, you cannot walk away from that conversation thinking that you have pleased the Lord because of your vocabulary selection.
I once had a man disrespectfully use my title of "doctor" and my accomplishments to slander me. He was using flattering vocabulary, and he never uttered a "culturally impolite" word, but his motivation was to harm.
Let me say one final thing: don't use this as a license to be lazy and say whatever you want.
The Bible is very clear that we need to speak slowly and carefully. We also are commanded to put the ears and hearts of our listeners above our own desires and preferences.
But, we need to be a people concerned about our hearts and the "inside of the cup" more than anything else.
May Jesus help us - not only with our words, but in all of life - to be a people who examine our motivation and rely on his grace to transform our hearts!
1. Where in your life should you pay more attention to what you say for the sake of another? Identify a relationship where you need to put their ears above your own preference.
2. Are there ways in which you are more concerned about the outside of the cup than your heart motivation? Think of areas where you try to get others to approve of you.
3. Where are you using words (flattery, guilt, threat, etc) to manipulate another person to do what you want?
4. Today, what life-giving words can you share to exhort someone whom God has placed in your path?