What you’re about to read is my inner dialogue over the past few years as it pertains to speech in our modern context. In a society where inflammatory headlines, partisan rhetoric and freedom of speech are on many people’s mind it’s important for me to figure out where I stand. I grew up in the church with a specific morality and attitude toward language, basically, “Some are good, some are bad,” and “don’t say the bad ones.” I feel like as you grow it is important to critique your own beliefs and conclusions to see what is truly biblical and what is just good old fashion legalism. What is that line between legalism and grace and how do I walk in faithfulness while not justifying sin that grace may increase? (Romans 6:1)? Small questions perfect for a short blog. Let’s jump in.
I want to start writing more. There is something about writing that is therapeutic to me. If I may over-spiritualize for a moment, writing gives me a connection point with God. As God created, so I create. The ability to use words, music and art as an expression of my Imago Dei (Image of God) is satisfying but also a little weighty. Like going on a hike out in the wilderness with my 3 1/2 year old in one of those fancy toddler backpacks. Each step matters and can mean the difference between a safe, though strenuous trip, and disaster.
“The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”James 3:5-6
Just a little light reading for a Tuesday, eesh… This is our reality. Our words carry weight. Perhaps as a “Words of Affirmation” primary love language type I’m a smidge biased. But, the Bible says what it says and we have to grapple with that. The outward expression of our God given voice can make lasting impressions and turn the tide on any situation for better or worse. In many of these circumstances I choose to give up my right to any speech in an effort to bring about the better result by using better speech.
Let me just address the elephant in the room for you politically minded, free speech. Now, I myself am pretty close to a free speech absolutist. I think anyone should be able to say anything they want regardless of how abhorrent at any time. That way it’s much easier to know who I don’t want to be friends with. In all seriousness, I support free speech because it’s a slippery slope for the governing authorities to dictate what is right and what is wrong. I do not believe it is conspiratorial to say at some point The Gospel will be on that list of unapproved speech, even Jesus said.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death,and you will be hated by all nations because of me.Matthew 24:9
So, here’s the tension I sit in as a follower of our Lord Jesus. I can say anything I want, but that does not mean I must. Paul says in 1 Corinthians ““I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.” Thanks Paul, couldn’t have said it better myself. I would even take this one step farther and say we don’t have the right to do or say anything we want.
I referred to Jesus earlier as our Lord. A Lord is one who rules over his subjects and they submit to his authority. Christ is the ultimate authority in our lives and so we need to submit our lives to Him.
“But” you say “cursing is subjective to the culture you live in and besides Jesus never said cursing was wrong.” I will grant you various cultures give certain words connotations that other cultures do not. However, I know within my culture what words have what connotation so that’s really a scape goat argument. As far as Jesus’ words, yeah , If you’re looking from those specific words from Jesus in his 3 1/2 years of earthly ministry you may be right. But, if Jesus is the Word and therefore all scripture is in essence the teachings of Jesus than you’re wrong. Ah man, relative truth strikes again… Here are some relevant scriptures.
Ephesians 4:29 – We should build up and not degrade others.
1 Peter 3:10 – Speak truth in love, even harsh truths.
James 3:9-12 — Avoid hypocrisy in our speech, praising & cursing others.
Luke 6:45 – Our words reflect our inner life.
Romans 14:21 – Avoid actions that would cause our brother or sister to stumble.
Matthew 5:22 – Your intent and heart are what God views.
My basic analysis would be that first “can” and “should” are two very different things and that intent of language and audience are very important.
Here’s where I give the sailors reading a swarthy meat covered bone. In this broken world we’re will suffer. In times of profane suffering some times a profane word is the only word with the gravity to describe your despair. In those times there is grace. On top of that one could argue our language is a bridge among cultures to “win those outside of the law” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) and that overcoming some of our more legalistic theologies bridges gaps to share The Gospel. After a’ll, Paul says…
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”1 Corinthians 10:31
That being said here’s my challenge. It is clear throughout scripture that God wants his people to be different , set apart, sanctified from the culture at large. Whether you like it or not language can be one of those indicators of our heart position, faith and maturity.
I am blessed to live where I have the right to say anything I want, but I am more blessed that the God of the universe came down to sacrifice himself for me despite all that I’ve said and done. So, I give up some of my rights for his sake. I speak the truth in love (even harsh truths), I strive to not be a stumbling block to those in my life and to glorify God with my speech.
With my words I can tear someone down or build them up. I can push people away from Jesus or draw them in. I can glorify God or curse him. If my speech is going to set a fire I want it to be one of revival where people encounter the truth of Jesus and turn their lives over to Him. I’m thankful that I can rely upon grace in the moments that I don’t live up to this standard.
If you want to hear a little more on this topic check out this conversation between Mark and Bryce.