&%#@- Words Matter

“It was f---ing crazy!”

Foul language doesn’t usually surprise me. Over the last few decades vulgar speech has become increasingly common and can be heard in almost every setting and circumstance. This particular instance of the f-bomb caught me off guard because of the speech that had preceded it.

The F-bomber and I had just been engaged in a casual conversation at the gym. We do not know each other well but we have had a number of gym conversations, enough for us to know one another’s professions and injuries. There had also been enough passing references to faith to lead us to consider one another to be Christians. On this particular evening he had talked about his pastor and how he had been helping the pastor get in better shape.

Thirty seconds later, while talking with someone else in the gym, his speech became more colorful. I was surprised, not by the fact that he swore, but at the ease with which he transitioned from spiritual to vulgar dialogue. It was clear that he did not think word choice mattered at all.

The next morning I had a medical appointment to get my knee brace adjusted. The brace adjuster is a nice man I have seen on a number of occasions to get my custom brace sized and fitted. In the course of our session I had learned that he was active in his church, hosting a small group Bible study and serving as a camp counselor for a week each summer at a camp for troubled children. In the course of my brief visit with him he used all of the language I had heard in the gym the night before. He did so with ease and without hesitation. It was clear that this was how he talked all of the time. I drove home thinking, “When did Christians quit caring about the language they used?”

My childhood home was anything but Christian and vulgarity was common. My step-father had been a sailor and he cursed like one. Like the father in the movie “A Christmas Story” profanity was an art form to my step-dad. In spite of his foul language I grew up with a clear understanding of the difference between good words and bad words. I learned that good people used good words whenever possible.

While I may be out of touch with current social mores, my sense that there are words that should not be spoken by good people, particularly Christians, is not a belief of my own invention. The idea that there is speech unbecoming godly people was clearly described by the apostle Paul almost two thousand years ago-

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” Eph 5:3-4 NIV

Paul makes it clear that what we say matters. Christians are to be heavenly minded people who are continually thinking of the world in the context of their faith. As people who embrace the reality that we have been saved from our sin and called to be different we should seek to be better and different in every aspect of our lives. The desire to be different and better should extend to our speech as well as our actions. True followers of Christ take His teaching that “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.”

Taking Jesus’ words to heart leads to the conclusion that our words matter. When, over and over again, God calls His people to be holy, he is calling His people to be clearly distinct from the world around them. It seems this teaching that Christians need to strive for higher standards of behavior has been swept under the church carpet.

My greatest concern is not that Christians use bad words. Far more important is what the casual use of profanity represents. Too many Christians are no longer concerned with sin. Excellence is no longer a virtue or a goal. It seems that many believe it more important to display our commonality with those outside the church than it is to show our differences. We are more concerned with being “one of the guys” than we are with being “one of the chosen.”

People of faith will do well to consider Paul’s instructions in a letter to his friend and protégé Timothy to “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” 1 Tim 4:12


Thanks for reading and for sharing. Comments and questions are welcomed.