Wouldn’t it be wonderful to share God’s word with perfect clarity?
I’ve most often muddled the task when I have assumed I know what to say instead of understanding I don’t. The only perfect words are authored by our perfect God and it’s easy to get in his way sometimes.
One of my favorite verses in Scripture is Psalm 19:14. It is a verse I like to pray before I teach, speak, or write a blog post. The psalm says, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
We need more than words to communicate the truth of God; we also need an acceptable heart.
The phrase word salad has been used for political purposes recently, but I wondered what the phrase meant. As it turns out, it’s a pretty good description for some of our “muddled” speech. If we want to share God’s word with clarity, we should understand what that means biblically.
What is word salad?
Merriam-Webster defines word salad as “unintelligible, extremely disorganized speech” or “a string of empty, incoherent, nonsensical words or comments.”
Technically, it has often been used to describe the speech of someone with a mental disorder. Lately, word salad has been used politically to describe an answer to a question that never really provides an answer, or a series of relevant-sounding phrases that are actually irrelevant to the listener.
If you are like me, you’ve heard sermons and podcasts or have read articles or papers that, when finished, haven’t seemed to make an important point at all. (Even as I type those words, I am prayerful for my own writing!)
Someone described word salad as a jello salad, saying, “Who first thought about opening a can of fruit and putting it in a bowl of jello? It is like taking something healthy and mixing it with something to make it less healthy.”
Obviously, that person isn’t a huge fan of jello salad!
Do we sometimes mix God’s word up with things that make it sweeter to the taste but less beneficial than God intended his word to be?
One of the best seminars I ever attended was led by a Christian fiction writer who had, on occasion, been criticized for being too graphic in his mystery writing. He said his editors would often ask him to “soften” his words.
The man then spent the next minutes describing several passages in Scripture that had been “softened” in order to teach or preach them in church. I will always remember the point he made that day. He asked us, “At what point did God give us permission to edit or soften his word?”
It is sobering to consider the words of Christ who said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36–37).
Careful speech is not “softened” truth
I think we need to word God’s truth carefully.
I sometimes cringed when I sat in the pew with my young boys and listened to a biblical passage or sermon that dealt with sensitive, adult topics. I knew the car ride home might get interesting!
Thankfully, I knew the preacher was coming home soon and I could just say, “Wait and ask your dad about that.”
My husband, Jim, and I were talking about our early years of ministry. We had a conflict in our small church because some of the women wanted to do a baby shower and help an unmarried, pregnant teen get ready for her baby. Other women in the church worried that we were expressing acceptance of sin as we were offering compassion to someone who needed it. Honestly, both sides of the conflict were able to make a strong, biblical argument.
We ended up hosting the shower and helping the unwed, teenage mother. I’m glad we did that, but, at the same time, forty years later, I’ve seen the problems associated with softening or withholding God’s word on the subject of a premarital sexual relationship. A 2015 survey said that almost 90 percent of unmarried men and women confessed to having a sexual relationship prior to marriage. Other articles called premarital sex “the norm.”
When is the last time your preacher boldly preached the truth of God’s word on the subject?
Hebrews 13:4 is a clear statement: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”
Have we softened God’s word on the subject of homosexuality?
Paul told the church in Rome that there would be consequences for those who engaged in that behavior. He said, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:26–27).
Many have tried to edit Paul’s statement or rewrite it to bring it into agreement with current, more tolerant thinking. There isn’t any way to edit Paul’s words to make those sexual sins acceptable today.
At what point did God give us permission to tolerate what he has said is dishonorable, unnatural, and shameless? Are we helping a person if we offer tolerance for sin instead of offering the truth about that sin?
Paul taught we must speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), but he also taught we must speak the truth.
Does our word salad sweeten God’s word but make it less beneficial?
As I have said before, one of my “life verses” is from the book of Hosea. God told the prophet, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hosea 4:6).
Is our good desire to protect people’s feelings hindering God’s desire for them to know the truth?
Current statistics would seem to say that tolerating sins is not helping people to understand that God has said there are consequences to those sins.
Are people’s lives, and eternal lives, being destroyed because they lack knowledge of God and his word? Is a lack of truth destroying our children’s and grandchildren’s generations?
I know I have softened God’s word at times to help it feel more appropriate or acceptable. I may even have helped others feel better about their sin as a result. I pray that God will forgive my offering of word salad when what they most needed was the truth of God’s word.
There is a new way to look at an ancient psalm. Those words say, “Set a guard, O Lᴏʀᴅ, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! (Psalm 141:3)”
As I read that psalm, I pictured the plexiglass guard that hangs over the salad bar at a steakhouse. My new version of that psalm became this: “Hang the guard, Lord, over all my ‘word salad’ and help me leave the jello-words unspoken. Instead, guide me back to the table to consume and share the meat from your word.”
The words of our lips ought to provide people the wisdom they need to walk in God’s truth.
Let no one suffer because they lack knowledge of who God is and what God most wants for their lives now and eternally.
They might want the salad bar, but we need to help them choose the steak instead.