Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Problem of Bad Language among Young Christians

One of the problems that is currently impacting on younger Christians is the kind of language that these young believers use when talking with their friends. This is particularly evident in the kind of language that appears on social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Young believers can sometimes be found imitating the language of their peers, using language such as OMG, WTF, faarken, fkng, f***, and other unsavoury kinds of derivatives and abbreviations.

Language does change with time, and the prevalence and tolerance of swear words in popular culture is much greater than it used to be, but just because this is the kind of language used by their peers is not a good enough reason for Christians to speak the same way.

The Apostle Paul says the following in Eph 5:3–4:
Do not let any kind of sexual immorality and impurity or greed even be spoken of among you, just as is proper for saints, or that which is shameful, or foolish talk, or coarse jokes, which are not fitting, but rather thanksgiving.
By writing as he does in v. 3 that sexual immorality, impurity, and greed are not even to “be spoken of among you,” Paul is probably not just forbidding the practice of these particular sins. Instead of taking v. 3 as an oblique way of saying “these sins should not exist among you,” it seems that Paul is saying in v. 3 that it is not fitting for Christians to be talking about ungodly deeds as if they were an appropriate topic of conversation, let alone something that should ever happen within the Christian community. I would argue that Paul seems to have speech acts particularly in mind in vv. 3–4, because the verb νομαζέσθω let it be named is implied in v. 4, where three out of the four nouns listed are clearly speech acts.

Misusing God’s name (whether in abbreviated form or not), or using coarse words referring to the act of sex (whose historical origin lies in taking the act of sex, which in the context of love is a special gift from God, and turning it into a form of abuse), is simply inappropriate for those who are called to be “saints” (i.e., holy ones) in Christ.

According to the Apostle Paul, the process of sanctification involves us putting to death the earthly things (Col 3:5), and this includes getting rid of “blasphemy” and “foul language from your mouths” (Col 3:8).

Apart from the disrespect to God that is shown in mindlessly abusing his name, along with the disrespect that is shown to God as the one who has given us sex as a special gift whenever we use in an unnecessary way coarse words that refer to sex, there is the problem of the use of such language leading to an impaired witness for Christ. Whilesoever there are people in the community who regard this kind of language as crude or rude, the presence of such language of the lips of Christians brings disrepute to the name of Christ. It can also be a source of discouragement to other Christians, and a barrier to fellowship among Christians who find such language unacceptable.

Christ has saved us to be clean and pure, and he desires that our language be clean and pure as well.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would have to disagree with you here. I don't believe that speaking words in itself is sinful. If I were to come up to you and say a curse word in greek, how would you react? You wouldn't be offended because you don't understand it, you would just think I'm saying a word you don't know. Was it sinful for me to speak that word? Now imagine I come up to you and speak a word in a language I made up. If that word was a curse word in my language, would you be offended? No, you would just think I'm a weirdo. So the question is what part of "cursing" is sinful? Is using your voice box to create certain sounds sinful? I don't think so. I would argue that the way this word impacts others is how it could be considered sinful or wrong. I absolutely agree that it is wrong to use curse words in a public, professional, or family setting. Many people get offended by them and consider them "bad". Curse words can also be used to tear people down or make fun of, and that is absolutely sinful. However, if I am walking down a road and trip, and say d***, did I just sin? All I did was use a word to express my feelings. Nobody was affected, and I am no different afterwards because of it. I also think that cursing with friends that aren't bothered by it is not wrong. Words are used to communicate. To say there is a list of words that are "sinful" is foolish in my opinion. I communicate with a group of friends in a different way than I communicate with a manager at work. The teachings in the Bible are not so black and white that you can create a list of everything that is "sinful".

Steven Coxhead said...

Hello Anonymous,

Thanks for your comment.

The intention of my post was not to provide a list of universally sinful words, so I think you have misunderstood the purpose of my post in this regard.

Words take on meaning in particular contexts, and that is important to take the context into consideration. If by d***, you mean damn, I personally wouldn’t find that overly problematic, particularly if you were using it talking to yourself. Even the word fuck can be used legitimately in limited “public” situations, for example, when listed in a dictionary, or when it is used because that is the particular word under discussion (like here), or when used between a husband and wife engaging (or about to engage) in sexual activity.

But when the word fuck or obvious derivatives of this are used in public conversation merely to express how “cool” one is—“Look at me! I can use a rude word”—or as some kind of intensifier, there are two main problems. Firstly, such language is often abusive in the sense that it often implies using sex as a form of revenge or punishment (basically implying rape in many instances). Secondly, such language is virtually always disrespectful of the act of sex, and therefore highly disrespectful of God, the one who “invented” sex in the first place.

Words are important to God, and he wants all Christians to use their words wisely and in a manner that respects God and our fellow human beings.

Anonymous said...

"However, if I am walking down a road and trip, and say d***, did I just sin? All I did was use a word to express my feelings. Nobody was affected, and I am no different afterwards because of it. I also think that cursing with friends that aren't bothered by it is not wrong. Words are used to communicate. To say there is a list of words that are 'sinful' is foolish in my opinion. I communicate with a group of friends in a different way than I communicate with a manager at work. The teachings in the Bible are not so black and white that you can create a list of everything that is 'sinful'."

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Words have meanings, whether they are expressed privately or publicly. The changes the Spirit affects in us are internal, and from that flows the external evidence of the inward transformation. God is as concerned with our private thoughts as He is our outward expressions--more so, in fact, "For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart" (Mt 12.34).

I don't like to do "Scripture dumps," but there are literally so many scriptures dealing with our manner of speech that it would take too long to examine each one individually. If you care about such things and what God has to say about this subject (and He has much to say), here are some references for your consideration:

Ex 20.7; 21.17 (cf Le 20.9; Mk 7.10b); 22.28; Le 19.12; 24.10-16; De 5.11; 23.23; 1S 17.43; 2Ch 32.16-21; Da 7.25; Job 15.1-3; Ps 10.7 (cf Ro 3.14); 15.3; 34.13 (cf Ja 3.10); 50.20; 59.12; 101.5a; 109.17; Pr 10.18, 19; 13.2, 3; 15.1; 16.28; 21.23; 25.15, 23b; 26.22; Ec 5.2, 3, 6; 7.21, 22; 10.12, 20; Mt 5.34; 12.34; 26.74; Mk 3.29, 30 (cf Lu 12.10); 7.10b (cf Ex 21.17); Lu 22.65; Ac 18.6; Ro 1.29, 30; 3.14 (cf Ps 10.7); 12.14; 2Co 12.20; Ep 4.25, 29, 31; 5.4; Co 3.8; 4.6; 1Ti 1.20; Ti 1.10, 11; 2.1; 3.2; Ja 1.26; 2.7; 3.2, 8-10; 4.11; 5.12; 1P 2.1b; 3.10 (cf Ps 34.13); 4.11a; 2P 2.10b, 11, 18; Jude 1.8b-10; Re 13.1b; 16.10, 11.

Steven Coxhead said...

Thanks for that. That’s a good list.

Blake said...

Anonymous, it seems as though the primary issue I take with your approach to language may be that you are concerning yourself with specific details rather than being above reproach. Our goal is not to 'not sin' but rather to be Christlike and God-glorifying. If our words are God-glorifying, we will be so far from reproach in speech that we need not consider which words are sinful.

Steven Coxhead said...

A couple of verses relevant to Blake’s point:

Jesus was talking in the context of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, but his teaching about careless words arguably applies to all sorts of careless words: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt 12:36–37).

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do [including speaking], do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).