Tuesday, September 30, 2008

From the Heart: Language Matters(2)

(originally posted 7/2006)

James 3:10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. 11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? 12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.


While cussing (using what polite society considers swear words) and cursing are not the same thing, the focus here is not necessarily just cussing. The focus is using vulgar, profane, offensive speech, which indeed includes both cussing and cursing (which can and does include hurtful, slanderous, condescending, insulting language - which is certainly offensive toward the target of such verbal assaults). The way we speak as believers should never include cussing, cursing, vulgar or offensive language as James 3:10 so clearly points out by asking the comparative questions.

When I was a teenager, I had a friend with a pretty cruel step-mom. She would berate & insult, scream and yell at my friend. She might be doing this and suddenly the phone would ring. If it was one of her friends, her tone would immediately change and she'd be the nicest person you'd ever want to hear. Friendly, polite, jovial, etc.

The first time I read that passage in James after I got saved, I thought of this woman. She had the capacity to rip someone apart with her speech (with much malice and intention to hurt), then 10 seconds later switch into sweet-mode. "Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?" With this woman, it certainly did, but she also didn't confess Christ or have the Word of God as her authority on such things. If she did, it would have certainly been even more shocking to hear her speak that way to people. Most of us would call that "being two-faced" but in our day it's not "loving" and/or "tolerant" to actually use that word. I don't use the word with any malice toward this woman, I'm just saying it like it is, she was in fact like this.

The reason I used that passage in James 3 is because it asks the very same questions I ask, as it pertains to Christians who cuss and use vulgar or obscene words or phrases to express themselves.

These are the rhetorical questions I have asked myself. I would think these would be the same questions any believer would be asking themselves. Essentially, do these kinds of words have any place in the mouths of believers? Scripture clearly says no.

You will also note, Scripture does not say:

“no, except if you’re trying to be relevant to the cultural context of your unsaved, immoral audience, then go right ahead and use the obscene and vulgar kind of language that they use, so you can get the point across in words they understand”.

You will never find that out-clause in Scripture. It’s not even in 1Cor.9:19-23, as some will use to excuse such things. In fact, in verse 21 of the "all things to all men" passage that so many today seem to want to use to validate or justify their language & conduct, Paul says this:

"To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law."

I find it interesting that he intentionally makes it clear that while he deeply desires to endear himself to those without law (wicked people without restraint or regard for God's holy standard whatsoever) so that he might be used to gain them, that he himself doesn't "go there" and become like them, because he is "not without law to God, but under the law to Christ". He's saying that he's a servant to them (see v.19), genuinely loving them and ministering words of grace to them because he is under the law to Christ (see Galatians 6:2). Some might say that he stepped out of his comfort zone to be among those without the law, so that he could express his faith and deliver the gospel message to them. To read this and use this any other way would be to say that Paul became/thought/said/lived/spoke like a wicked, sinful man on the outside (to fit in among those without the law), but on the inside, still believed he was under the law to Christ. I'm pretty sure that no serious student of the word is willing to defend that interpretation of this verse.

Not to mention, if Paul actually lived & spoke like those without law, and then would dare to make any attempt to present the gospel to them, they would be the first ones (in a heartbeat - the lost are pretty quick to pick up on this) to call him on it, big time! Remember how the unsaved reacted to the huge televangelist scandals in the 80's? Unbelievers will instantly and without reserve label such a man a fraud and a hypocrite. The unbeliever may be an unbeliever, but even they know that a Christian is supposed to sound and act different than they do. They know it, and we're supposed to know it as well.

I used Ephesians 4:29 as well in yesterday's post, and the words "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth" in this verse are referring to bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, evil speaking and maliciousness in verse 31. I would even go a step further and include the first 4 verses of Ephesians 5 that speaks to the very issue I'm referring to:

Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness (obscenity), nor foolish talking (disgraceful, impious conversation), nor jesting (vulgar or lewd humor), which are not convenient (not fitting): but rather giving of thanks.

Ephesians 5:4 says it as clear as anything: this kind of language is not fitting for a follower of God.

As I said yesterday in my post, and will repeat again today:

There's a better way...

Not only is there a better way, there is a right way and a wrong way to communicate. While we all fall short of following after the right way 100% of the time (I know I certainly do) that does not negate what the Scriptures say, nor does it give us license to begin crafting excuses for it.

There is never a valid excuse before God, to do exactly the opposite of what the Bible tells us to do.

I have a few follow up thoughts on this that I will be posting tomorrow, Lord willing.