By Michael E. Brooks
“Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm” (1 Timothy 1:5-7 NKJV).
On a recent trip to northern Bangladesh we fell in behind a bus and noticed an unusual description – “Digital bus.” My companions in the van discussed what could be “digital” about an ordinary looking beat up Bangla bus.
Just a few minutes later we were stopped in traffic at an intersection. A vendor came to our window, trying to sell us handcrafted baskets and other novelties.
On his head was a stack of woven cane hats which he pointed to when I would not buy any of the other merchandise. After my first refusal he pointed to the hats again, smiled broadly and said, “Digital.”
It is not unusual here in South Asia to find English advertising which uses words in strange ways. After all English is not commonly spoken; even those who have studied it to some degree often have minimum proficiency.
Names are chosen for their sound, or faddish popularity, not because they are fitting to a particular application. Adjectives may be wildly mismatched to corresponding nouns.
This practice is relatively harmless and even amusing in the context of billboards, buses and street vendors. But in other arenas such misuse of language can be exceedingly harmful.
In the text at the beginning of this article, Paul describes a loss of faith which resulted from idle talk and careless use of language. Just because they loved to talk about things which they did not understand, some were led completely away from their belief in the Gospel.
Peter exhorts, “If any man speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). I have often applied that statement to preaching and teaching on religious matters.
Peter does not necessarily restrict his command in this way. We are to be careful of every word we speak, using our tongues and language to honor God and serve mankind.
There is considerable emphasis in the New Testament on the importance of every word we speak, and the necessity of using care in our language.
“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification” (Ephesians 4:29).
“Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Ephesians 5:4).
“These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to their own advantage” (Jude 16).
“Nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith” (1 Timothy 1:4).
When a street vendor or sales person in Bangladesh uses an English word he does not really understand, no harm may be done. When Christian people use words incorrectly, without proper understanding, the result may be corruption of doctrine and loss of faith.
Our predecessors in the Restoration heritage correctly insisted, “let us speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent. Let us call Bible things by Bible names and do Bible things in Bible ways.” Or, more Scripturally, let us speak as the oracles of God.