Today’s Vocabulary Lesson

Words in the Christian Language

English teachers all over America cringe at the words “ain’t” or “gonna.” Dialects that include “d’jeet jet”* and “whichadija”** are examples of ways we create vocabulary. Plus there’s an entire chapter of words many people find offensive, none of which we’ll mention for obvious reasons, words that most Christians try to eliminate from their vocabulary in order to honor Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4:29 to “not let any unwholesome talk” come out of our mouths.

Despite our attempts to clean up our mouths and create a vocabulary that honors our Savior, Christians still use one word every day that is completely unChristlike and unscriptural. It’s a simple word, a tiny contraction, a word we hear and speak frequently, most often incorrectly.

The word . . . CAN’T.

You won’t find it in the dictionary. Instead, we must look up “can,” which means “have the ability to.” So, can not means to NOT have the ability to . . . or impossible. The New International Version of the Bible only uses the word 14 times, and even well versed theologians must have a problem understanding the usage of the word because of those 14, the translators have only used it correctly twice.

Most often when we use the word “can’t,” what we really mean is “don’t have permission.” It’s not that we aren’t able. Our correct response would be “may not.” On other occasions when “can’t” is used, the word we should use is “won’t.” We often willfully choose not to do one thing or another, and instead of honestly expressing our willfulness, we say, “I can’t.”

By now you’re thinking about all the times you use the word “can’t.” I can’t, you can’t, we can’t . . . Take a moment to consider those times when someone asks you to dinner but you “can’t.” Generally, it’s not that you don’t have the ability to eat dinner with the person. The truth is we should probably say, “I’m sorry, I have a prior commitment” or “I prefer not to.”

  • I will not.
  • I do not choose to.
  • My schedule doesn’t permit.
  • I don’t have permission.
  • I may not.

It’s quite easy for us to mistakenly rephrase any of those sentences to include the word, “can’t.” As you read earlier, there are two places in scripture where one of those statements just won’t work as a substitute for the word “can’t”. Both are found in the dialogue of the chief priests and teachers of the law when Christ was on the cross. These learned Jews said, “He can’t save himself.” They were obviously wrong! However, they really believed that it was impossible for Christ to save Himself even though He saved others.

Although we truly can’t save ourselves, and we generally can’t do anything about a terminal illness not brought on by some unholy lifestyle, for the most part when Christians say, “I can’t” we throw out at least two verses of scripture. In Matthew 17:20 Jesus says that just a bit of faith gives us the ability to do ANYTHING . . . Nothing will be impossible for you. And Luke 1:37 gives us Gabriel’s message to Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.” If we truly believe these two verses, it becomes necessary for us to throw the word “can’t” out of our vocabulary.

Although we use the word “can’t” arbitrarily; sadly, we often believe it. It’s not necessarily using the word that’s terrible, but it’s the confidence we place in it. For instance, I often say, “I can’t cook,” and at first glance, most would say it’s true. But the more appropriate description would be, “I don’t LIKE to cook. I’m not good at it, and I’ve never chosen to devote the time it takes to learn to do it well.”

Although that seems pretty harmless, there is a more destructive use of the word “can’t.” This comes when we feel a call from God. It’s then that we hear logical, but false, reasoning. For instance . . .

  • I can’t go to Africa because . . .
  • I can’t teach a Sunday School class . . .
  • I can’t host a small group.
  • I can’t read scripture every day.
  • I can’t pray in front of people.
  • I can’t give my testimony.

Why can’t we? Because we don’t believe scripture, and we don’t trust God to keep His promises. We don’t really believe that “nothing is impossible with God.” We believe the lie of “can’t,” and sometimes we perpetuate the lie by passing along the sentiment to others around us, including our children. In America our conversation is generally more casual, we almost never articulate our thoughts in full. We use the easiest verbiage possible. So there will be many times we get lazy. Not a big deal. But it’s important we are aware of the words we are using. As Christians we have the power to defeat the “can’t” attitude. By our encouragement, our prayers and our faith we can strengthen the body of Christ and rid the family of the word “can’t”

NOTES

(*)Pittsburgh’s version of “did you eat yet?”

(**)Foxworthy’s redneck dictionary says you would use it in a sentence like this, “You didn’t bring it ‘with you, did you’?”

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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