ChurchETHOS

The Power of Abusive Speech

Posted in christian thought, church reform, cultural relevance by Nathan Creitz on July 1, 2008

What makes a word offensive? Is it merely the putting a few letters together to form a four letter word that makes it wrong? Is it society that tells us what is right and what is wrong? I grew up in a Christian subculture for the first part of my life so I know what it’s like to be legalistic about this issue, but at the same time, I do think there are some words that shouldn’t be uttered by a follower of Jesus.

I have many Christian friends who seem to have no problem with some of those words which would cause even Hollywood to put an R rating on a movie (if the offensive language is pervasive enough). Basically, those who I have talked to about this have given three reasons they don’t have a problem saying these words.

1) These are merely words that only have a meaning that society puts on them and in different societies there would be nothing wrong with them. For example, Americans have no problem with the word “bloody”. In Great Britain, on the other hand, this is just as bad as “f***” (I’m told). In Great Britain, pissing means drinking, but in America this is a vulgar term for going to the bathroom. The list of societal words is long, but you get the idea.
2) Many people have said to me that they see no problem with the “s***” because there is no rule in Scripture that that is a word we should not use. There are many words that are considered “curse” words that really are not preached against in the Bible.
3) As Christians, we are free in Christ and if we are among other Christians then there should be no problem with these words.

I believe this topic is an important one for 3 reasons:
1) Our very existence is because of the spoken word.
2) Jesus is the Word and He was with God from the beginning.
3) The Bible warns us of abusive language

I want to answer each of the disagreements that my Christian brothers and sisters have had with me on this issue. First of all, the argument that these words are not wrong because they are determined by society. There are a lot of missionaries who spend years studying a culture so that they do not damage their witness by the use of a wrong word or doing an obscene (to that culture) gesture. Just because society makes the rules doesn’t mean we are free to go against them and use objectionable language because what’s in a word? Words are very powerful, and even if it isn’t an objectionable word like the “s***”, they can still do damage. Telling someone they are stupid can do a lot of harm.

It is humorous, but depressing to me that my Christian brothers can make this argument when secular TV stations and movie rating systems are the ones bleeping out words or giving a warning not to take certain people to see these movies. Why do we let a lost world determine standards and then we go and watch something or even go so far as to say something that even lost people say is objectionable. At that point we have submitted to their measure of morals and we have failed to live up even to that standard. The Bible tells us to, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Colossians 4:6) We are also told to, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” (I Timothy 4:12) Are we setting an example when we let these words come out of our mouth.

Secondly, people have said, there is no “s***” commandment in the Bible, but they fail to realize that we are to “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14) If we are disciples of Christ then we would want only the words that He would have us say come out of our mouth. A taste of what the words of God are like are found in Psalm 12:6, which says, “The words of the LORD are pure words; As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times.” Maybe they aren’t so bad, but are they pure?

Finally, we are free in Christ so words mean nothing, right? Wrong! “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) And, “you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh.” (Galatians 5:13) Don’t use freedom as a “get out of jail free” card. We are told to be an example and we are told to be pure in our thoughts and words.

From the creation of the world God has placed a special emphasis on the spoken word. We were created by it. We are comforted by it. We are confronted by it. Sometimes we are cursed by it. Even Peter, Jesus’ disciple, when he wanted to prove that there was absolutely NO alignment between him and that Jesus fellow, used curse words to reject his Lord. “Then he began to curse and swear, ‘I do not know the man!’ And immediately a rooster crowed.” (Matthew 26:74) If that weren’t enough, the Bible tells us that, “by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:37) If there is a question about whether it is right or wrong to say a certain word, just don’t say it. Our reputation as the light-bearers in this world is on the line and you are destroying it with your careless word. Why else would Paul exhort Timothy in this way, “In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, 8 sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. There is power in speech, let’s use it wisely.

Here are some verses in scripture that I find helpful when thinking about God’s will for our speech:
Ge 1:3; Le 19:12; Ps 12:6; Ps 19:14; Ps 59:12; Pr 4:5; Pr 4:24; Pr 10:19; Pr 17:20; Pr 19:1; Pr 26:2; Ec 5:6; Ec 6:11; Ec 12:11; Isa 29:13; Isa 50:4; Isa 59:13; Jer 7:9; Ho 10:4; Mt 5:22; Mt 12:36; Mt 12:37; Mt 24:35; Mt 26:74; Mt 27:44; Mr 14:71; Lu 9:26; Ro 3:4; 1Co 2:13; Eph 5:6; Col 3:8; Col 4:6; 1Th 4:18; 1Ti 4:12; 1Ti 6:4; Tit 2:6-8; Jas 3:9; Jas 5:12

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3 Responses

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  1. kristarella said, on July 3, 2008 at 7.40 pm

    Very good food for thought. This is something I struggle with. I do curse too much, but I don’t rationalise it away like the friends at the start of your post. I think it’s bad for the reasons you’ve said and I shouldn’t do it.

    I’m not really a naturally positive person, I need to find better ways of expressing my frustrations and then letting them go.

  2. Creitz said, on July 3, 2008 at 9.30 pm

    Thanks for your honesty. I think the larger issue is to have positive speech that’s edifying to others and glorifying to God. I wouldn’t ever look down on someone for something they said (because there are plenty of things I’ve said or done that I’m not proud of). Hopefully this post serves to get us thinking about healthy ways of speaking with one another. There’s a lot of room for improvement in all of our lives…thanks for sharing your struggle with us.

  3. Ben said, on July 4, 2008 at 12.40 am

    Nicely reasoned, Nathan. I’ve come across this issue of ‘how do we use our freedoms in Christ?’ more often than I would have liked – and, as you have said here, I agree that we need to identify what is and isn’t glorifying to God. There are plenty of specific words or actions that the Bible is silent on, but the general themes of holy living are what should define our answers.


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