I’ve lived in the south my whole life. Well, except for the few months that I lived in Louisville, Kentucky where they give you a funny look if you order sweet tea at a restaurant. While the south is far from perfect, there’s a lot I like about it. One of the things I like most about the south is the way we talk. We have a funny accent and we know it. And we don’t care. On top of that, we even go so far as to make up our own words or give our own meaning to established words. Take, for example, wack-em.
Wack-em means something completely different in Brooklyn, New York than it does in Macon, Georgia. If you hear the wack-em phrase in Brooklyn, someone is about to be murdered by a man named Fat Tony and thrown in the trunk of a Lincoln Continental. But if you hear wack-em in the south, it’s because someone has been nice to you.
You: “Thank you for refilling my glass of sweet tea.”
Southerner: “You wack-em.”
The lady waiting your table isn’t telling you to go kill someone. She’s saying, “You’re welcome.” The moral of the story is that if you’re ever at the Cracker Barrel in Macon, Georgia and you have a waiter from Brooklyn named Fat Tony, be careful. Things could get confusing.
There’s another moral too.
Your accent reveals where you’re from. In the same way, the words you use and how you use them often reveal who you worship. Your words are far more powerful and revealing than you think they are.
James puts it like this when describing the tongue.
With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. James 3:9-12 (ESV)
Christian, if you are constantly tearing others down with your words, if you feel the need to always have the last word in a debate or disagreement or if you use verbal nuclear weapons when a scalpel will do, you are not at all acting like the One you claim to worship.
Proverbs is sort of like the James of the Old Testament. Take a look at the words used in that book to describe the kind of speech that is pleasing to God. You’ll find words and phrases like gentle, wise, knowledge and tree of life. If you move forward to the New Testament, you’ll see those same words used to describe Jesus, the One who is supposed to be the object of our worship.
He is gentle to the broken (Matthew 11:29).
His wisdom is undeniable (Matthew 13:54).
His knowledge is infinite (Colossians 1:16-17).
He is the one who removes the barrier between his people and the tree of life (Genesis 3:22; Revelation 2:7).
When we carry the name of Christ but speak like the world speaks, we misrepresent where we are from. That goes deeper than simply not using certain four letter words. You can live 80 years without ever saying a “bad word” and still leave behind you the wreckage of broken hearts and crushed souls that will never be the same because of your speech.
As Christians, we must speak with the accent of heaven. Yes, there will be times when we have to disagree with others. There will be times when we have to speak with courage, boldness and firmness, just like Jesus did. But even in those times, we must love, just like Jesus did.
Your accent lets the world know where you come from. Your speech goes a long way in telling the world where you are going.