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Tongue management: Why we care about foul language

May 9, 2017

Coarse and foul language is pretty much normalized. Words that were once considered indecent for print, television or radio, now make regular appearances. Consistent exposure desensitizes us and before we know it, we find such words or phrases popping into our minds or out of our mouths. So if foul language is everywhere, why is it a big deal? Is this just some legalistic code of conduct, or is there more to it?

The book of James acknowledges the tension between just how difficult it is to tame the tongue, and yet how vital it is that we do so. James 3:9 says “With the tongue, we praise our Lord and Father, and with it, we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers, this should not be.”  In his many verses addressing the tongue, James was addressing far more than just profane language, but in the spirit of Ephesians 5:4, these words deserve our attention as to the why.

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

— Ephesians 5:4

We could try to come up with a list of every “no-no” word and pay a dollar to a swear jar whenever we mess up. But as soon as we think our list is complete, some inventive new coarse language will come along. 

Rather than make a list, we can make a heart commitment to use the tongue according to these principles:

1. We glorify God: We don’t use language having to do with the concept of damnation, or damning someone because it is not glorifying to God to do so. It is not glorifying to God if I am putting myself into the position of God to use language that is damning of another person. God is the only one in a position to make those kinds of declarations and statements, and I am certainly, by my vocabulary, not in a position to consign someone to such a fate.

Similarly, we don’t talk about the good gift of sexuality that God has given to us to be experienced joyfully in the context of the marriage between a man and a woman using language that makes it less of a gift, less beautiful and less spectacular than it actually is.

2. We edify others: We don’t use certain words because they do not edify people. We build people up, we don’t tear them down. Besides profanity, even seemingly inconsequential words in the vein of idiot, windbag, moron, nitwit — you get the idea — demonstrate a wrong view of our fellow humans. And so we don’t call people, who were created in the image of God, names that make them less than human, or a lesser human.

There is so much wrapped up in how we control our tongues— or don’t.  Let’s not mindlessly imitate and adopt language around us, but mindfully consider how the words of our mouths can portray to the world the beauty of a life— and tongue— lived in total submission to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Matthew 12:36 tells us that man will be judged for every idle word that is spoken.  Our tongues, therefore, are part of what we submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  As ambassadors of the Kingdom of God in the kingdoms of this world, how are we representing our King?  Jesus said in Luke 6:45, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.  For out of the overflow of his heart, his mouth speaks.”  

Are we filling our hearts and minds with God’s Word – the goodness of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

For more on this topic:

Do we really value God’s word?

Surveying our walk for growth

Helping parents instill a Christian worldview in their kids


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