Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
Is it just me or are we much more open about using profanity in ordinary discourse? Our sitting president has exhibited an unprecedented amount of “curse words” in the public square, even if transcripts of historic documents reveal that a great many of the last several presidents have used language salty enough to make sailors blush. Hollywood reactors to the president have seemingly been trying to “trump” his salacious speech and have, in many cases, upped the ante in indecent language. Recent news story include Bette Midler, congresswoman Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Hillibrand (aka “Senator Potty Mouth,” via The Daily Mail) using shocking words that the thoroughly secular media acknowledges as inappropriate and indecent—at least measured by cultural norms and moors.
I have to admit being thoroughly baffled by church members, even teachers and preachers, who adamantly argue that Scripture has nothing to say about such things. Implicitly, even explicitly, their point is that such speech is legitimate for a follower of Christ. While we must be careful not to make laws God does not make in His Word, neither can we be so reckless as to hurt Christ’s cause by encouraging the Christian to mimic the world’s behavior, speech, or attitudes without discernment. When godless media, non-believing coworkers, classmates, and cul-de-sac compadres, and others in society associate certain words with the rebellious, humanistic lifestyle, shouldn’t we take pause?
Is there room in Paul’s admonition to Ephesus (4:29; 5:4) and Colosse (4:6) or Jesus’ public discourse (Mat. 12:34ff) for the kind of words that so many in society still find shocking and inappropriate? Are the principles of godly influence (Luke 17:1), salt and light (Mat. 5:14-16), example (cf. 1 Tim. 4:12), and the like not enough to cause us to feel strongly about how we use our words with people? Do we feel like well-chosen swear, scatological, and smutty words are essential to successfully relate to and connect with the rougher elements of society in an effort to win them to Christ?
We can relate to and reach people without resorting to irreverent and indecorous words. We can keep pure in speech without becoming isolationists in society. It does not have to be an either-or proposition. May we realize that what we say (and how we say it! See Gal. 5:20, Rom. 3:14, and Jas. 10, for example) will impact people like we do not realize and in ways that we do not realize. It extends well beyond just our speech, but our words paint a picture of us for the very people we should desperately want to reach for Jesus. Please, give thought to the power of your words (cf. Prov. 18:21).
What do a fantasy football service and a seafood restaurant have in common? Maybe the advertisement firms they both hired and they felt proud of their play on words that made the commercial viewers hear one word but think of another, extremely vulgar and profane word. Is this perhaps part of a linguistic trend in our current culture that seems to love to give a good shock to anyone who might still have sensitivity toward foul language? Hopefully it isn’t, but it seems like a trend to twist speech in the apparent interest of the salty and salacious. Is it imaginative or just plain impure?
You hear it with these pun-like, substitute words that are like euphemisms only more edgy. You hear it in drug references, referring to behavior, good or bad, as likened to one smoking, inhaling, or intravenously taking something illegal (or in the case of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, now legal). You hear it in crass references to body parts. You hear it in sexually suggestive and charged words, anywhere from “hot” and “sexy” to the more vulgar in an attempt to describe a project, product, or person. How many of these cross the line of being sinful is difficult to assess, but so many of them flirt with crossing into inappropriate territory.
In Ephesians 5, Paul is in the middle of telling Christians how to “walk.” Apparently, the walk includes the “talk.” The chapter begins with his commanding us to imitate God and walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Then, Paul deals negatively by saying how we should not walk. He begins with actions of the mind and the body, then in verse four says, “…Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” To put an exclamation point on the discussion, he says that those practicing such things have no inheritance in the kingdom. That’s pretty serious! Bratcher and Nida sees all three nouns as referring to indecent, inappropriate speech, from sexually suggestive words to “shameful, shameless talk of every kind” (A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, np). At least the second two, “foolish talking” and “coarse jesting,” should cause us to give closer examination both to what we say and how we say it.
Our speech is powerful. One wise word may result in a soul’s salvation. As death and life are in the power of the tongue (Prov. 18:21), let’s heed the advice of the children’s song—”Be careful little mouths what you say!”
If you are a college football fan, you have likely heard your fill of coverage about Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini. Two years ago, before giving a post-game interview following a victory over Ohio State, he had a very frank, foul discussion with the Nebraska play-by-play man. Somehow, someone recorded the whole thing. In the candid, clandestine rant, laced with profanity, Pelini denounced Cornhusker fans who roundly criticized him for the team’s blowout loss the previous week. A sport’s website released the raunchy rant earlier this week. Words like “alienation,” “irreparable damage,” and “classless” easily come to mind, describing the coach’s mini-meltdown.
Yet, if it had not been recorded, nobody would have known, right? Wrong! The three other men in the room would have known, but that is not who I mean. What we can often forget, as we lose our grip on self-control and sin with our tongues, is that there is One who is always listening. “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Mat. 12:36-37). Jesus does not specify the type words, except to call them “careless.” He speaks in terms of totality (“every”), the ultimate test of our words (“they shall give an accounting…”), and the temper of those words–either justifying or condemning us.
We may seek to project something publicly about the type and temper of our words only to reveal something else when we think only one or a few can hear them. The tongue is fiery (Js. 3:6) and tameless (Js. 3:8), whether the ignition and wreckage is public or private knowledge in this life. Jesus warns that we cannot get away with a lifestyle of loose, lewd lips. It will catch up with us. It may not cost us a high profile job, as it probably will Pelini. But, as Jesus says, it may cost us infinitely and eternally more!