It’s funny how things will come up in a particular category from different places around the same time.
Some time ago on a Christian forum I saw reference to John Piper’s apology for publicly using inappropriate language. I even saw someone say that it was ok to swear because John Piper did. Well, first of all, I would consider his word choice in this particular incident unwise and even profane, but not “swearing.” But, as I discussed a few days ago, we shouldn’t make decisions about how we act based on how other Christians act (but because weaker brethren do this, that’s one reason we need to be careful in our actions).
Since then on various Christian sites I’ve seen language I was surprised to see.
My oldest son and I have talked from time to time about how language changes. For instance, he uses the word “crap” to mean “junk,” as in, “I need to clean the junk off my desk.” When I was growing up, that word was little better than a word still recognized today as profane and still, thankfully, bleeped out on network TV. Because of that, I cringe when I hear him use it (I cringed to even type it out here) and would prefer he not use it: his argument is that it doesn’t mean what it used to, it’s become a common term, and so it is ok now. (This post is not about my son — I just bring up this incidence by way of illustration because a lot of people think this way.)
There are many terms today that, though they are becoming more mainstream, have vulgar origins, and, even if they are not considered outright vulgarity today, they’re still considered not the best speech. I come from a public school background and, unfortunately, know of some of those vulgar connotations. Yet I know some people these days can use those terms in innocence, not knowing where they came from. And the way society is these days, perfectly innocent terms can come to have a risque double meaning. There are some secular message boards I don’t frequent and comedians I don’t watch because of that kind of thing. Once one of my sons got into trouble at school for using a particular term. He said he didn’t know what it meant, and, thankfully, the principal believed him. He picked up using it because other kids were. Of course, we had to counsel him that it’s not wise to do that. But the term itself was perfectly innocent in its exact words — neither my husband or I had ever heard it used in a negative connotation before. My husband had to ask a co-worker what it meant.
Some people will point out that there are terms used in the Bible that we would consider vulgar today. True, but in the day the Bible was translated those words weren’t considered vulgar, so I don’t think that’s justification for using them commonly today.
So what’s a Christian to do? Well, first of all we consider what the Bible says about speech. There is not a list of words that are ok and words that should be banned, but there are Scriptural principles about our speech. There is much more than can be included here, but here are a few of them:
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:29-20).
Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man (Colossians 4:5-6).
But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment (Mattehw 12:36).
In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you (Titus 2:7-8).
The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD: but the words of the pure are pleasant words (Proverbs 15:26).
Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones (Proverbs 16:24).
Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? there is more hope of a fool than of him (Proverbs 29:20).
The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable: but the mouth of the wicked speaketh frowardness (Proverbs 10:32. The NASB puts it this way: The lips of the righteous bring forth what is acceptable, But the mouth of the wicked what is perverted.)
The tongue of the just is as choice silver (Proverbs 10:20a).
There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health (Proverbs 12:18).
A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit (Proverbs 15:4).
This passage doesn’t deal specifically with the tongue, but it is an overriding principle that should guide everything we do:
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved (I Corinthians 10:31-33).
And that’s not even going into the sections about lying tongues, flattering lips, wise words, angry speech, etc. But there is plenty there to indicate to me that I should seek to have wise gracious speech that brings honor and glory to God and that isn’t profane and vulgar. I don’t think that means I need to speak formally or sound like the King James Bible in my everyday speech. But I should definitely take the high road. If I know something has a vulgar background or connotation, I don’t use it. Coming from an unsaved family, school, and background, I can tell you lost people aren’t impressed when Christians use certain language in order to sound like “one of the guys.”
James 3:8a tells us, “But the tongue can no man tame.” We need God’s help to tame it.
Personally, I use these two as a prayer:
Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips (Psalm 141:3).
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14).