Most of us use the expression “OK” several times a day. Little children say it. So do mature adults. We use OK as an adjective, a noun, and a verb. We communicate it through body language by making a circle with the index finger and thumb. OK may be the most frequently spoken expression in the world, recognized by English speakers and non-English speakers alike. Everyone knows what OK means, right?
Actually, we don’t. Quick, off the top of your head, what do the letters OK stand for? The truth is, no one really knows. A common view is that it originally meant “all correct,” from variant spellings such as “Oll Korrect” or “Ole Kurreck.” The Oxford Dictionary mentions other possibilities. Perhaps OK comes from the Scottish och aye (“oh yes”), the Greek ola kala (“it is good”), or the Choctaw okeh or okey (“it is so”). Slaves of West African origin used OK to mean “all right” or “yes, indeed,” and some say the expression may have arisen from the initials of a railway freight agent named Obadiah Kelly who wrote them on documents he checked.
Other theories suggest OK came from ship builders marking their wood “Outer Keel,” or from signs carried by soldiers indicating that none of their companions had died in battle (“Zero Killed”). The expression gained popularity in the 1840s when President Martin Van Buren was nicknamed “Old Kinderhook” because he was born in the town of Kinderhook, New York. His supporters in the Democratic party formed the “OK Club” (although they didn’t succeed in getting Van Buren re-elected).
Honoring the Lord with Our Hearts
We say “OK” every day without knowing exactly why. But come to think of it, we do a lot of things without much depth of understanding or intention—even in the church. Jesus’ critics asked him, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?” (Matthew 15:2). In response Jesus asked a “why” question of his own: “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” (v. 3).
Why, indeed? What is the rationale behind our behavior? What motivates us more: tradition or Scripture? Political arguments or biblical truth? Cultural pressures or love for God and neighbor? Are we more interested in impressing our peers or pleasing our Savior?
Do we communicate sincerely with the Father, or has prayer devolved into a mindless formality in which we rattle off thoughtless words before meals or meetings?
Do we gather with other believers on the Lord’s Day because of an authentic desire to participate in Christ’s body? During the worship assembly do we pray and sing “with understanding” (1 Corinthians 14:15) or simply mouth the words? Is the Lord’s Supper a meaningful time of remembrance and recommitment, or merely a bland tradition? Do we carefully differentiate between human opinions, cultural expectations, personal preferences, and the Word of God? Do we honor the Lord with our hearts, or merely with our lips?
Ancient wisdom reminds us, “Above all else, guard your heart” (Proverb 4:23)—because no other priorities should take precedence over authentic love for the Lord. Outward actions might impress others, but if our hearts aren’t right—well, that’s simply not OK.
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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