Following Jesus in the Real World: The power of words

by Dave Burchett
Posted on Monday, April 27, 2009, at 2:50 pm

One of the fun facts that you will learn about your humble correspondent is that I was ADD before ADD was cool. So instead of a guilt-reducing diagnosis and explanations about my serotonin deficits and unique brain chemistry I was given this uplifting analysis in school:

"You are a lazy slacker. You are too smart to be getting these grades."

I ask you, how can that not inspire dedicated effort and long lasting self esteem? So I have lived with a brain that veers wildly off course for no apparent reason. Last week I kind of promised that we would discuss the use of God's name and examine how in the wide, wide world of sports did Jesus Christ become the phrase of choice when hitting your thumb with a hammer. I have been distracted, however, by the shiny objects of your comments last week and I want to spend another round on the topic of coarse language and civility in the workplace. By the way, you are doing a great job so far in responding with grace. Thanks.

Reader Jon wrote this:

"I don't like it when every other word coming out of someone's mouth is the 'f' word because I think it cheapens its value to be used as an adjective of emphasis. But I do think there are appropriate times and places to use that word."

I would (gracefully) disagree with Jon. Although I realize the proliferation of the "f" word in our culture has blurred the original meaning, it is still a sexual word. So I choose not to use it. I can think of many other words that can forcefully and accurately communicate my frustration, disappointment, or even humor. If I would concede that there is an "appropriate time and place" to use that word, then I would certainly suggest that place should be away from other people not involved in the conversation. That is one of my primary arguments for a call for civility in workplace language. I don't want to hear it.

I thought reader Harris made a great point:

"I have found that language like that sticks to me the way smoke from the bar does---I bring it home."

I have found that to be so true. I have to be careful to avoid bringing home not only the coarse language but also the locker room sarcasm and joking that the sports world produces. My wife will often gently remind me that I am no longer in the "TV truck."

Perhaps my greatest issue with the coarsening of our language is simply how inescapable it is. Second-hand cursing is like second-hand smoke. The purveyors wonder what the fuss is all about. Those forced to inhale or listen resent it greatly.

I cringe when I hear someone loudly and continually "f" bombing on a cell phone or talking with a co-worker in public when there are children all around. Because the average person doesn't understand the concept of the microphone picking up your voice, these dipsticks speak at a decibel level just below a rock concert. I cannot avoid hearing their creative use of the word as a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, conjunction, modifier, preposition, and interjection. And that was just two sentences.

So if there is an "appropriate" place, then could you please scout around and make sure that kids and strangers are not forced to listen in?

One of my co-workers argues long and passionately that the "f" word is just a word. Why make such a big deal? Yet when his young children visit the workplace he does not use the language and does not want others to use it as well. Hmmm . . .

Commenter Spinoza jokingly (I think) said this about Paul's words to the Ephesians concerning obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking, which are out of place:

"Even more evidence that Paul needed to lighten up!"

The fact is that Paul was not afraid to use strong and even vulgar words. He wrote these words to the Philippians:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).

The Greek word translated here as "rubbish" is "skubala." The word is a slang or vulgar word for human excrement. Yep. Paul said that he considered all of that other stuff as . . . well, you know the word.

I want to thank my friend Jeff Woffard who has written an interesting and humorous article about this exposition at his blog. So Paul was not afraid to use bold language if necessary, but he more often called for us to speak with gentleness and in a way that would edify others:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29).

I think for Christians the principle comes down to living for Jesus in a way that is thoughtful of others. If you feel it is OK to use certain language, then that is between you and God. Why flaunt your freedom if others do not share it? The principle I use when it comes to the language I use in the workplace and in public comes from Paul's words to the Romans. This is a slightly modified version of the text:

So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For the Scriptures say,

"'As surely as I live,' says the Lord,

'every knee will bend to me,

and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.'"

Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let's stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no word, in and of itself, is wrong to say. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. And if another believer is distressed by what you say, you are not acting in love if you say it. Don't let your cursing ruin someone for whom Christ died (Romans 14, NLT).

That is the bottom-line for me. As a co-worker my language is a matter of civility and manners. As a Christian it is a matter of honoring others and extending grace by not flaunting the freedom I may have in my walk with Christ.

Next week I hope to move on but I cannot promise. After all, skubala happens.

Dave Burchett

Dave is a former WORLD contributor.

Read more from this writer