This is the outline of remarks I gave to the male students of NSA this afternoon.
Here are three things I want to set out with regard to the sins of words. I am not speaking here of the broad category of sins of the tongue — gossip, slander, quarrelsomeness, and so on. My concern here is vocabulary sins. Can Christians cuss?
The first point is that there is not an index of prohibited words in Heaven. A man can sin through vocabulary choices, but this is not because the word involved is found on Plato’s Roster of Naughtiness.
Consider these four categories — vulgarity, obscenity, cursing, and swearing. Pretty much every bad word you have ever heard can be filed under one of those headings. Think earthy words for bodily functions, earthy words for sexual functions, damning somebody or something to Hell, and invoking (in vain) the name of God. We can all think of ways to express each one of those sentiments, and the way to do it is usually through “bad words.”
But we can find godly examples in each one of these categories, and using the same sorts of words. Isaiah says that our own righteousness is like a used menstrual cloth (vulgarity, Is. 64:6), Ezekiel says that disobedient Israel was lusting after Assyrians who were hung like a donkey and who could ejaculate like a horse (obscenity, Eze. 23:20), Paul says that if he or an angel from Heaven preached a different gospel other than the first one preached to the Galatians, then God damn that guy (cursing, Gal. 1:8), and the law requires us to take our oaths in God’s name (swearing, Dt. 10:20).
This is the first point so that you won’t think this is casuistry built out of two by fours.
The second point is that the Bible flatly prohibits the kind of foul mouths that have become routine and normal in some of our circles, or in some of our overlapping circles. You may suggest any number of extenuating circumstances in order to defend your right to your potty mouth — you’re a hipster, or you are Reformed, or you are Dutch, or all three.
“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Eph. 5:3-4).
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).
In the previous verse, it says let the thief steal no longer (Eph. 4:28) but rather get an honest job. This is the same construction that is used when Paul says a few verses later that we should not give way to foul talk, but rather . . . to be thankful. An attitude of thanksgiving is what is missing when Christians allow themselves to speak as though filth is acceptable.
And this brings us to the third point. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). If you have a foul mouth, it is because you are bitter, discontent, unhappy, and cranked. That is the sewage down below; the words you speak are the effluvia.
“He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people” (Tit. 3:5-8).
Grace > gratitude > good works.
Bitterness> discontent > foul mouth.
Doug, I work in Law Enforcement. There are more than a few real Christians in the dept. We have often discussed the proper and useful use of our vocabulary dealing with both inmates and the other sundry types we deal with everyday. It seems that the only language they understand is the more colorful use of words when we need to get our point across. I often wonder what the Lord thinks about this after I have had to express my obsenity in the line of duty. Any thoughts on this that I can share with the shift. Thanks Jeff
Unless you’re going to give the Doug Wilson version of the George Carlin list, these types of rants are meaningless. It just leaves it up to the individual and what they think is inline with those verses.
Can I say “geez” and “gosh”? Or “holy moly”? There are some in my community who find all 3 offensive (presumably because they believe them to be sinful)…do those words fall under the “weaker brother” umbrella?
The funny thing is how big a rise you can get out of people by using mild language. An emphatic “Oh dear” when something saltier might be expected surprises and delights, or at least amuses.
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Moor – I consider that Romans 14 territory. If hearing me say “zounds!” is a stumbling block for a brother who know that it’s a contraction of “God’s Wounds”, then I’m not going to say it around him – even though when I say it, it makes me think of monocles and velocipedes, not the Cross.
I think you misspelled F-luvia. (Is it very bad of me to have thought up that one?)
Doug, thank you for noticing the link between bitterness and bad language. / / / / 3rd commandment, don’t put Yahweh’s Name where it doesn’t belong; parallel to 8th, don’t put your name where it doesn’t belong (on your neighbor’s stuff); by extension/application, don’t put any name where it doesn’t belong. Michael would not put Satan’s name where it didn’t belong. So neither with bodily parts and functions. / / / / JJ and others may have situations where such language does belong for special reasons. I worked in a nasty meat department where I didn’t use such language, and… Read more »
Valerie, That was as good as the post! Am I bad if I laugh at your comment?
Hardly meaningless. There is a proper time and place for terms of invective. Their use as expletives (i.e. “filler words” akin to “um” and “like”) is not that time and place, unless the person who uses such words wishes to be mistaken for all those pagan youth on the ~other~ college campus.
Which brings up the related point of not being conformed to the world.
This is, in fact, exactly in line with the other exhortations “A word to NSA students” and “Why cigarette smoking is not a sin for others, just a sin for you” that are linked at the bottom of the entry.
You might consider reading those for an expansion on the same theme.
Well said, Arwen. After all, a “list” is only useful for about a decade, until people invent new words or the connotations of old ones change. Going at it from the standpoint of category, motivation, and appropriateness to context is far more useful and meaningful in the long run.