Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Filthiness, Foolish Talk, Coarse Jesting

Is it wrong to use bad language? Ok, so Paul talks about it in Ephesians 5. What does he mean? Is there a list? Were there taboo words in Greek, and didn't biblical authors use some of them?

How do we define profanity and cussing? Is it based on the meaning of the word? Are there some things polite people just don't talk about? Do word origins or associations make a word profane? What about the words that, when used properly, are not profanity (often religious words like God, hell, damn)? Is a word appropriate if we don't mean it in a profane way? What about the opposite? If we are really angry, and feel the situation warrants, can't we be like everyone else and use those words to express ourselves?

- Profanity is lazy. Find a word that means what you want to say. Usually people don't literally mean the crude words they use. Even if they do...

Some people say that Christians can use profanity as a matter of liberty, but probably shouldn't cuss around non-Christians or weaker Christians or those who would be offended by such language. Which situations would make cussing acceptable? Is there nothing better to say?

Other Christians think that we the pious should use common language, including all its coarseness, to relate to non-believers. To prove that we are not hypocrites, we should even use the language in church.

What about non-believers who are turned off by the better-than-thou purity of Christian's speech? Shouldn't we become all things to all men so that we might win some? Think of how the world will respect us for having the courage to be real.

How do the non-believers know what is bad language and what isn't? Should we be encouraging them to do something they think is wrong? Is it conforming to the world to accept the world's list of filthy language? Or is it conforming to the world to use language enunciated by the basest criminals?

Do bad words change over time? Can a word become bad because it is adopted by bad crowds, or misapplied? Can a bad word become good through frequent usage and acceptance? Is the culture becoming crass or the crude word being redeemed?

Does Paul's admonition in Ephesians extend beyond a certain vocabulary? Does he constrain our topics, our attitude toward certain topics? Does he demand an alternative?

Are there other instructions that apply to our speech? For example, the word 'modest' in the Greek is not limited to what people wear. Shouldn't we guard our speech to ensure its modesty? Excluded styles then would be those called vulgar and obscene. A little later in Ephesians, Paul says that some sins ought to not even be mentioned among Christians. Is there any way we practice this in Christian circles?

Shouldn't we be the same in every circumstance, around all people? Can't we be ourselves? Should Christians be ashamed to let non-believers know how they really are? But doesn't that mindset contradict the call to holiness and purity, love and edification?

It does. The Bible teaches to refrain from filthy speech for a reason. It's application is wide, aimed at motive, thought, and utterance. Our mouths were made by God for better things, and His Spirit in us would use our lips to preach the good and lovely truth. (Philippians 4:8?)

Compromise is unacceptable. This is one of the last bastions of Christian separateness, of a light that distinguishes us from the darkness. The light offends the darkness, but also shows the way to life.

Guarding our speech isn't easy. It starts with right ideas, thoughts and intentions that agree with God's perspective. Then out of love we communicate to each other - not making light of sacred and serious things, nor laughing at sin - but encouraging our fellows to love and good works. We pursue excellence in all things, even in taming our tongues (from gossip, slander, lies, coarse jesting, foolish talk, mention of unspeakable sins, and from foul language).

I have left some unanswered questions. Can words move between acceptable and unacceptable? Who decides? Does context matter?

But I believe that a reliance on the authority of the Bible (knowing that if something was written, it has meaning and importance still today) will guard us from straying. The beggarly excuse for Christian community that the world offers, built around crass talk and coarse jesting, as I mentioned in my previous post, must be rejected! Trust that our relations with non-Christians are overseen by a sovereign God who alone saves sinners will give us freedom to walk in wisdom and holiness towards them.

To God be all glory.


comatosesoul said...

We pursue excellence in all things, even in taming our tongues (from gossip, slander, lies, coarse jesting, foolish talk, mention of unspeakable sins, and from foul language).

This almost reduces me to tears. It is almost my point exactly and yet I don't think our thoughts are aligned. There is an entire generation that feels justified. They find confidence in their righteousness by avoiding words. And yet they still gossip, slander, lie, enjoy foolish talk, and coarse jesting. Whitewashed tombs.

Lisa of Longbourn said...

"There is an entire generation that feels justified. They find confidence in their righteousness by avoiding words."

This concerns me, too. I'm not kidding. Three steps. Doing X is wrong. Not doing X doesn't mean you're doing right. Doing Y is right. It's too easy to live by a list, to live in the middle and feel justified. That is NOT walking in the Spirit.

Or you can take it the other way:
Doing Y is right. Because I did Y, I am a good person.

Both are legalistic. I abscribe to neither! We don't come to God on the basis of what we have or haven't done. We can't demand acceptance. Our good works (apart from God) are like filthy rags, and that we refrain from certain sins sometimes is no alibi for the rest of our 'falling short' (James 2:10). Walking in grace means that we aren't keeping score, for ourselves or others. Reminds me of Tim Keller's Prodigal God. Did you recommend that to me?

But I still believe in right and wrong, and that it is important to discern between the two: as potential choices, as actions already committed in my own life, and in the habitual choices of Christian brothers and sisters. If you see wrong in me, will you confront me?

To God be all glory,