Episode 99 - Watch Your Mouth
I know a few people who claim Christianity but don't seem to have any problem using profanity or making an inappropriate joke from time to time. I don't often confront those who aren't as careful with their mouths and I've often had to explain why I don't use bad words. I'm not standing in any sort of judgment here: I've had a strong personal stance on profanity my whole life (even before I was dedicated to following Jesus, I believed it was wrong), but forsaking slightly off-color or inappropriate jokes has been a much slower process. All I want to do here is offer a Biblical perspective on this area of the Christian life. I would like to do that with four points, all from Paul's letter to the Ephesians.
Number One: We are commanded to use good (gracious) speech.
In the Apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesians, after going through some heavy theological foundation building, he shifts to some more practical issues. In other words, "...since all of these amazing things that God has done to bring about and work your salvation in real, spiritual but tangible ways, you ought to be something new." Therefore, he says, "...put off the old and put on the new (Eph. 4:22-24), because that is what has happened, is happening, and will happen." Your Spiritual Reality needs to be manifested in Actual Ways. One of those ways being your speech.
In chapter 4 verse 29 he 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." (Eph. 4:29 ESV) This sets a good precedent for all manner of speech. The first mention of God's speaking in the Bible is during the creation story. When He speaks, light bursts into existence, mountains form, ocean waves hit their first beaches, birds take flight for the first time, and nostrils fill with breath as new consciousness comes into existence. God's speech creates all good things, our speech ought to also be creatively good at building up and bringing life. Speech that corrupts mirrors the speech of the serpent that entered all that was good. Don't let corrupt, degrading, destroying speech come out of your mouths, but only speech that administers grace.
Number Two: We are commanded to use clean speech.
Ephesians 4:29 is not the only place where Paul discusses speech. In the very next chapter we read in verse 4, "Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving." (Eph. 5:4 ESV) There are three things mentioned here, let's take a quick look at all three.
The first one is "filthiness" which is the Greek word, aischrótēs αἰσχρότης. It means filthy or dirty speech and is the common Greek word for obscenity. That, in and of itself, is profound, isn't it? Every generation, every culture, every people group, and every society/community has and understands the concept of obscenity. Paul didn't say not to use certain words, he says, don't use dirty words. Instead of giving a list, he simply says, don't use those filthy words. There are some intellectual-sounding Christians out there that like to debate over which ones are dirty and which ones aren't, but ask any kid if a word is a "bad word" and they will tell you. There might be some differences here and there, but for the most part, people know if a word is a bad word.
In the context of this verse (the verse before Eph. 5:3 and the verse after Eph. 5:5), there is discussion on sexual immorality and it not even being named among us Christians. I don't believe that it is any coincidence that many of our dirtiest words are directly related to sex acts and sex organs. Stop using these words as adjectives, adverbs, nouns, and verbs... Smurfs only use the word "smurf" the way they do because that is what they are.
Number Three: We are commanded to use un-moronic speech.
In Ephesians 5:4, the next type of talk that is discussed is "silly talk" or "foolish talk" from the Greek word mōrología μωρολογία. This is a combination of two Greek words: mōrós μωρός meaning foolish; where we get the word moron and lógos λόγος meaning word.
Before I get into what this one might mean, could I be allowed to say that this one is difficult? Not just difficult to define, but difficult to follow. I like talking about stupid, foolish things sometimes. I like listening to people talk about stupid, foolish things sometimes, it's funny. I get it. To adopt this wholeheartedly feels a little boring. On the other hand, maybe I feel that way because my culture has uplifted humor to a higher standard than holiness? Isn't that the one cardinal sin that is upheld? ... thou shalt not be unfunny or unhumoruous. If thou dost not exhibit a good sense of humor, thou shalt not be deemed worthy of notice in our society and will be banned without any likes on any of your posts!
With that out of the way... or maybe right in the middle of the way... what does this mean? Maybe it means, don't talk in foolish ways about serious things. Maybe there are some things that we shouldn't be silly about because they are serious things? Maybe we can be silly about cats getting scared by cucumbers (that's a thing), but we can't be silly about things like homosexuality or talk foolishly about sex before marriage or make moronic jokes about pornography. Maybe we are to hear our Lord's command through the Apostle Paul in this letter to the Ephesians and stop talking stupid about serious things... things and behaviors and actions that could potentially have eternal ramifications for people (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
Number Four: We are commanded to use un-twisted speech.
The third thing in Ephesians 5:4 is "crude joking" from the Greek word eutrapelía εὐτραπελία. If you are a wordsmith at all, you may recognize the eu- at the beginning referring to "good". This word is literally talking about a "well-turned" response. The definition can be used in a good sense to refer to a humorous or quick and witty response, but in the negative sense (like here in Ephesians) it is referring to that well-turned response that could take something from being meaningless or pure and putting a bad spin on it.
If (like me) you ever taught a Junior High boys PE class, you would know exactly what this is referring to ... especially after you realize how often (in a PE class) you need to refer to "balls". Sometimes it isn't even a response that turns it bad, it is just a well-timed snicker, a precisely-timed raising of the eyebrows, or a perfectly phrased question that turns the mind from the innocent topic to the naughty one.
This has all been summed up with the, now infamous, Michael Scott response, "...that's what she said." This will work after nearly any statement that is made: taking one mundane statement and adding this mundane follow-up, resulting in a seemingly humorous but typically sexually explicit joke.
Christian... as funny as it is... it isn't. In nearly every list of sins mentioned in the New Testament, sexual immorality is one of those character-defining sins that display a person's spiritual state as being absent the Spirit of God. Those who have been saved by God's grace through His gift of faith (Eph. 2:8) will begin to ... gradually perfected but immediately started... to work the very works of God prepared for us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 2:10). That is what faith is and a faith that doesn't work these works is no faith at all (See James 2:14-26 or all of 1 John).
Being talented at a well-turned joke, taking something from innocent to impure isn't something that should be proceeding from the mouths of Christians. Especially making jokes about behaviors that, at the very least, are considered to be holy, pure acts between a husband and wife (Heb. 13:4) and not something for joke material.
These four points that I've shared with you from Ephesians are not only Biblical reasons to not use vain, profane, foolish, or dirty speech, but also what sort of words and combinations of words will fall into these categories. I know I have been brief in my explanations and descriptions, so if you have any questions, feel free to send them my way. I do hope this has been helpful and purposeful for your daily walk and that these words will build you up in your growth in Christ.