2005-10-17 - Profanity
Originally Published 2001-10-01
James 3:8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.
We probably hear profanity more than we realize. Christians respond in various ways when they hear profanity. I am not sure there is a perfect way that Christians should respond, but I would like to suggest three ways that we can respond when we are confronted by obscene language: admonition, reproof, and silence.
"Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted." Galatians 6:1 There are times when a simple admonition will restore someone who has slipped in their conduct. This can be true when someone utters an oath or curse which is clearly out of conduct for them. Often when a brother or sister sins, we do not need to offer a sharp rebuke, because their conscience is already accusing them. Rather these are often times when we need to remind the offending Christian of the truth of the gospel and the forgiveness that is abundant in Christ.
There may however, be a Christian or non-Christian who has developed an unhealthy practice with their use of language. This may call for something stronger than admonition. For want of a better term, I have called this rebuke or reproof, Leviticus 19:17. When someone is frequently poisoning the air with filth, we may need to speak up. Silence, in the company of frequent lewd assaults, may make us seem cowardly for the cause of God. Filthy talk is unbecoming decent company, and whether the offender is a Christian or non-Christian, there are appropriate times for us to speak up.
What might surprise you is this last suggestion at how to deal with a profane person, namely silence. There are people who swear, blaspheme God's name, slander others, and use other similar profane language as if such conduct was normal. And to them, it probably is normal. Sometimes we should simply respond to it by offering no response at all. Christ Himself says, "Give not what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine..." Matthew 7:6
Those who are obstinate to wise counsel and instruction are likely to take any rebuke regarding their language and scoff at it. "Do not reprove a scoffer, lest he hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you." Proverbs 9:8
There are some who will not listen to instruction. There are some who will not listen to reason, and there may be times when we keep silent, lest they profane or blaspheme even more those precious things that we hold as holy. "...let the one who is filthy, still be filthy..." Revelation 22:11
It is not always easy to know when to speak and when to hold our tongue. When we are perplexed about what to do, it might be wise to consult someone else about the proper response. We certainly do not want to welcome the language of hell in our company, but our protests may only serve to encourage the profane offenders. There are those who enjoy living in filth and mud, who are consumed with earthliness while never giving a first thought to God, sin, or eternity. There may be little we can do in cases like this, but pray and maintain silence. I am not saying we should always maintain silence, but I am suggesting that there are times when this may be a wise decision.
It may be that some reading this struggle with profanity. I might remind us all of an old story. A coachman and traveler were walking together, when the coachman pointed to one of his horses and said, "That horse, sir, knows when I swear at him." "Yes," replied the traveler; "and so does your maker." It is good for us to remember that God is omniscient (knows all things).
There are many places in Scripture where we are warned to guard our tongue. "And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment." Matthew 12:36 I have found this verse very helpful since I committed it to memory. It is always there for me, though I might be far from my Bible, reminding me to watch my tongue. Another passage to consider, if this is an area of struggle, is James 3:1-10.
Our speech is one way in which people judge us and our profession to be children of God. Let us guard our tongue carefully, so that we do not betray our Lord with the tongue and mouth that He formed and gave us, that we might praise Him.
Soli Deo Gloria,