Watch your language!

We’ve certainly heard that line before. Whether we’ve used it or had someone use it on us, we know that something inappropriate had been said, something that didn’t fit in the conversation or context. Now, many of us would relate that unfortunate language to various four letter words that we may have heard throughout our lives, or perhaps to the childish giggles that accompany the use of “potty words” outside of their appropriate place, but today I’d like broaden the application of this phrase.

Alejandro, one of students in my evangelism class was testifying of a recent encounter. It wasn’t a report of “salvation” or “re-dedication,” but a reflection on his overly technical spiritual vocabulary. He was giving his friend a Bible that he had purchased when she asked him where to begin reading. He mentioned that the book of Matthew was a good place to start. Disappointed, she explained that she wanted to read about Jesus and not about Matthew! He had to take a minute to collect himself and explain that the gospels, although titled with the name of the writer were actually records of the life and work of Jesus. In his testimony, he shared with us that he was going to take the time to work through his thoughts, making sure that his communication with those who were not followers of Jesus would not only be correct, but also clear and understandable. He was committing to watch his language.

This testimony is a good reminder to all of us. We have a tendency to slip into routines in our speech. One story, related to me by fellow missionary Paul Kazim, is about a group of Bible School students traveling together. When stopping for gas, one of the students sticks his head out of the car to say, “The gas prices have really gone up, Amen?” Now while that line is certainly not out of place in the church, it would have a group of people scratching their heads at the local 7-11. Are we watching our language, or are we thoughtlessly separating ourselves from those we should be reaching with the use of a “sacred dialect.”

We missionaries must especially guard against this kind of behavior as much of our Spanish language habits are being built within the working environment of the church. Phrases like “Dios le bendiga (God bless you)” or “Bendito sea su nombre (Blessed be His Name)” are lines that can bring instant reaction in a worship service, but lose much of their significance when spoken in a secular context.

My brother’s post on the Bible knowledge of an AU student is proof that in the US as well, the need to clearly explain our God speech is more necessary than ever before. More and more, we are facing the same cosmopolitan, multicultural, and very often secular society that Paul faced in his missionary journey to Greece. In light of this, it would be a good practice to adopt Paul’s methods of explanation and the use of cultural references as he spoke to the crowd in Athens (Acts 17:16-31), meeting them in their context in order to share with them about their need to be in right relationship with God.

Like Alejandro, I realize that I need to remember to watch my language. I need commit to clearly relate to others (in Spanish or in English) what God has done in my life, and welcome them into the discussion by decoding my technical “God-speak.” Won’t you join me in the process?

How about you? Do you have a story to tell? Post a comment and share with us when you had to watch your “language.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Holly’s avatar

    Not a story directly pertaining to “God-speak” but when I lived in Alaska I took my 7th and 8th grade students on a mission trip to Mexico. Of course…they did the traditional youth group like skits and I narrated. One of the skits (I can’t remember exactly how it went) pertained to a chair representing sin “pecado” in our life…but I kept saying “pescado (fish).” I caught it after a few times when the crowd was chuckling and looking at each other and of course I said “yo quiero decir ‘pecado’. ” Woops! Of course, maybe “pecado” is God-speak too and I should have used “malas cosas (bad things)” instead!

    P.S. “pecado” is the word for sin in Spanish isn’t it? It’s been so long since I’ve used Spanish out of classroom context! We don’t talk about their “pecados” in class…although we should!!

  2. Dave’s avatar

    Ah yes, the pecado, pescado mistake, very common, especially with missionary preachers. Yes, pecado is the Spanish word for sin.

    That reminds me of one of the mistakes that I had made in Phonetics class. I was trying to say that my mother-in-law (suegra) was coming to San Jose for Easter Week, but it came out “cegua” (with a soft c) instead. It just so happens that the cegua is a monster in Costa Rican folklore. As a beautiful woman, she lures unfaithful husbands into giving her a ride home, when she then converts into a terrible beast with red eyes and a horse’s head. Sometimes I think that Spanish was invented in order to trap foreigners into mistakes like that.

  3. Mike’s avatar

    Was it to trap foreigners or was the folktale invented by a man with a difficult mother-in-law?

    Hey thanks for all the links! My Google PageRank is now 4!

  4. Mike’s avatar

    p.s. Is that Smokey or do you have a new cat?

  5. Dave’s avatar

    Good insight, Mike, but that doesn’t explain the pecado/pescado problem, and the cat was just a picture that I found on an Internet photo hosting service in order to grab attention. With Joseph’s allergies, I don’t think that we’ll be trying out any new pets that happen to have fur soon.

Comments are now closed.