Tasting our words before we speak them

By MICHAEL J. BROOKS / Guest Columnist

I was in what we used to call junior high when we visited my dad’s brothers in Indiana. One day my cousins asked me if I wanted some soda pop. I told them I’d always heard of this but never had any and would love to try it out. To my surprise, they brought me a can of what in Alabama we called “coke”—our generic descriptor of anything fizzy and caffeinated. I learned that words can be different north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

South of the Mason-Dixon we have Jeff Foxworthy to thank for codifying many of our maxims. He writes that we don’t push a shopping cart but a “buggy,” things don’t tip over but “tump over” and I’m amused by his account of unattractiveness: “He fell out of an ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down!”

A communication professor pointed out that we can often identify several things on a phone call with someone we’ve never met: sex, age, education and country of origin. Our words define us.

The disciple Peter discovered this that awful day in Jerusalem when Jesus was arrested. We remembered this story lately during Holy Week. Peter was close enough to Jesus to see what was going on, but far enough away not to be associated with him, he thought. He warmed his hands near a fire and must’ve been talking nervously since someone heard his dialect.

“You’re from Galilee just like Jesus,” someone said.

“Oh, no; you’re mistaken,” he replied.

When the inquisitor continued, Peter reverted to cursing like the sailor he was to prove he didn’t know Jesus. The rooster crowed and Jesus passed near enough that his look of hurt broke Peter’s heart. Ministers a generation ago preached about Peter “warming his hands by the devil’s fire.”

Believers know our words demonstrate our commitment or lack of commitment to Christ.

The Message Bible has a striking rendering of Ephesians 4:29-30: “Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart.”

A man in our church told me recently that he used terrible language before he became a Christian, but he never cursed in the presence of women. He also said though he used the name of God in his cursing, he never used his father or mother’s name in cursing. This underscores psychology’s assertion that we exercise some control in our choice of words.

As followers of Christ we should choose words of grace rather than words of degradation and insult. One lady insisted she “tasted” every word before she spoke them.

So should we all.

Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church’s website is Siluriabaptist.com.