On %$#@!& and the Use of Our Tongues
There is no existing list of words given to us in the Scriptures that are off limits. Instead, we are given guidelines and parameters to operate within. These guidelines are found throughout the Word and can be derived from passages such as: Prov. 10:19-21; 21:23; 25:9-11; 16:21; 22:11, Col. 3:8; 4:6, 1 Tim. 4:12, Titus 2:6-8; James 1:26; 3:3-10.
The use of language is a perfect example of divine essentials meeting cultural boundaries and personal application of principle.
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. – Ephesians 4:29
There is no denying that words have various meanings in differing contexts and social groups and points in history. This should show us that there is nothing intrinsic within a word that makes it wrong or vulgar. The contemporary use of the word and the hearer’s understanding of that word or expression are what determine its character; therefore, we cannot jump from century to century and from tribe to tribe exalting the proper use and virtue of this saying or that. We must take each verbal situation on its own merits and time.
This comes into play in the well-used Ephesians passage (Eph. 4:29) as the great apostle is concerned about not allowing our speech to become ‘rotten’ or ‘corrupted’ or ‘no longer of use or value’. The principle of this exhortation will never change, but the semantics that qualify will.
Much is said today about ‘abusive’ and ‘obscene’ illustrations being used in writings and sermons and while I agree with some of the condemnations of this approach to being ‘relative’ and ‘hip’, we must also accept and deal with the fact that the very same sermon preached in the heart of New Orleans may very well be rejected in rural Mississippi as some words and idioms that are legitimate in your town may be deemed foul, harsh, crass, and/or ‘inappropriate’ in my neighborhood. This is where the crux lies. Are we willing to be gracious to those who are speaking from a good motive but are merely ignorant of your colloquial use of a term or phrase? Would we simply throw out a preacher from England because he used a ‘bad word’ while in our church? I sure hope we are more mature than that. Sadly, though, I know many churches are not.
Like many other points in our application of biblical principle, it is our heart motives that need to be examined. And that isn’t just a matter of the heart of the one speaking; it is on both sides of this discussion/topic. If the speaker is trying to be crude, provocative, rude, and risqué and seeking to push language barriers to their extremes then he needs to examine himself and whether or not his motives are good, wise and just. Concurrently, if the hearer is not aware that not every offense taken is an offense given, and that we must not be so quick to judge hearts but rather seek clarification and understanding first, then he needs to learn more about charity and grace and be educated.
While we could compile a cultural list for ourselves of words and phrases that we should avoid or that are clearly offensive in our communities (such as the F-bomb and the like) there is simply no way to know exactly what words and phrases and expressions are going to set someone off as the examples of ‘pregnant’, ‘britches’, and ‘screwed-up life’ clearly show. Discernment and wisdom should be exercised in loving tolerance.
As for the directness of the Ephesians application, I think it is in reference to making sure our words are as Calvin put it , “the word(s) of grace, comfort, advice, and everything that aids the salvation of the soul.” as opposed to speaking in ways that merely raise up the lusts of the flesh. Keep in mind that even the most acceptable terms spoken from the wrong heart can be equally vile and corrupt. We tend to focus more on the word itself, rather than the intention of the speech. That, I think is where God wants us to focus while at the same time keeping in mind how we come across since perception creates its own form of reality.
Restraining our lips at times is wise and guarding our mouths is essential to keeping our souls from harm. We should seek to present our words as golden apples in silver settings.
We should be characterized as honeycomb-lipped speakers who words are seasoned with salt as they soothe troubled souls and heal broken bones. Those who seek pure tongues and gracious speech but who also know that rebuking times tempt us to fall so we pray for wisdom. We must be those who learn to bridle the untamable tongue which is easily set aflame with hell’s own spew and have soundness of speech that is beyond reproach so that no one will have any ammunition to bring reproach upon us.
That, my friend is the task; may He bring us all we need to accomplish it. Amen.