Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
This word has no positive meaning. Fouling on a spark plug means it’s time to replace it. A foul smell is an unpleasant one. Fouling in the barrel means it’s time to clean your gun. In sports, a foul is usually bad for your team.
In older English translations, “foul” is used to describe something impure, unholy, or evil (Mark 5.8; Luke 6.18; Revelation 16.13). Regardless, we understand that something foul is not what we want attributed to our character or in contact with our senses.
Are our words foul (Eph. 4.29)? Unwholesome here is σαπρός (sapros), which means “rotten, bad, or harmful.” It describes any kind of speech that has no positive effect or worth. Christians, there is no world in which cursing is excluded from this definition.
Consider the following:
I Corinthians 9.19ff encourages us to follow culture as long as it doesn’t violate God’s law. Even our secular culture recognizes that some words are not appropriate. Every culture has a set of words, phrases, postures, etc. that are offensive or recognized as inappropriate. These are σαπρός, and have no place in our lives.
I Peter 3.10 points out that our words have an effect on our quality of life. This includes avoiding lies and evil speech. Evil here is κακός (kakos), which means “bad, injurious, harmful, or wrong.” Lots of words fall under this category, but why are some exempting curse words? How do those not fit σαπρος or κακός?
In the last few years, even some theologians have argued that cursing is not under the purview of these passages. Far too many Christians use words that our culture understands to be curse words.
Ephesians four is a chapter about leaving our old lives behind. Part of leaving our old self behind is controlling our speech and using it to encourage others (28). By using foul language (σαπρος), we grieve (offend, distress, cause to become sad) the Holy Spirit (29)!
If we know that our words can have an effect on the Spirit that translates our deepest emotions and loss for words into meaningful petitions to God (Romans 8.26, 27), why would we use words that could very easily be described as worthless, harmful, or wrong?