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Curing Bad Language

By Pastor Tom Anderson

The tongue is the most powerful part of your body. With it you can say things that will inspire children for a lifetime or things that will discourage them for a lifetime. Words spoken well can get you hired. The wrong words can make you unemployable. Words carry meaning--that’s why we use them! Children--and adults--need to know the moral boundaries of language.

We should be careful about the words we use. Jesus said, “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36) Any collection of words used carelessly can do great damage to someone else. This warning is primarily intended to prohibit gossip, slander and negative talk about others but it also applies to profanity.

Profanity falls into three main categories. The first is the misuse of great realities such as God, Jesus Christ, hell and damn. Each of these are profound spiritual realities that carry enormous substance in Christian faith. When we use them to express personal hurt, anger, surprise or inconvenience we belittle these realities. It would be like taking your mom’s best evening dress and using it to mop the floor. It’s devaluing and disrespectful. The third commandment addresses this disrespect, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” (Exodus 20:7) Many people misuse these words frequently--this only reveals the condition of their heart which is that they have no respect for God.

A second category of profanity is the crude and the vulgar. These words may vary somewhat from one culture to another. No hard and fast law can guide us here. What is called for is the ability to judge the intent of any given word. Words don’t belong to the individual--they belong to the community in which we live. The community assigns them meaning as offensive or crass. Because no one should intend to offend someone, we should be mindful to avoid words we know offend. So Paul says, “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) Our language should be ruled by love and as scripture teaches us, “Love is not rude” (1 Corinthians 13:5)

The third category concerns the heart. Jesus recognized this, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:18) When people drop the F-bomb it is a sign of a heart filled with poisonous anger. It’s a warning sign that says, “I’m angry enough to break boundaries.” It’s intended to intimidate: I might escalate to breaking dishes and maybe after that I’ll start breaking heads. Spousal and child abuse almost always begin with profanity. An out-of-control heart will search for words to hurt or threaten.

Ultimately our words are judged not because they come from an official list of bad words but because of our intent in using them. Ephesians 4:29 says “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.” Profanity is defined as words that tear down, belittle, intimidate or degrade others. The believer is guided by a sincere desire to give grace to those who hear us speak.

So here’s a useful guide to watching your language: Does my language belittle the great things of God? Is my language intentionally crude? Do my words come from a bad heart? Does my language give grace to those who hear me? The first step to teaching children good boundaries with language is to know them yourself.


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