Jim Wilson is the retired director of Community Christian Ministries in Moscow, Idaho. He will be posting regularly, so check back in soon!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Bad Words and Good Words

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:1-5 NIV)

Our speech is to be with thanksgiving and for the encouragement of others. On the other hand, our speech should not contain unwholesome talk: “obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking.”

There is no definition of unwholesome talk, obscenity, foolish talk and coarse joking in the Bible. The Apostle Paul seems to know that the people he is writing to know what he is talking about. The words commonly understood to be obscene or filthy in the English language cannot be found in most English dictionaries. They have a definition understood by constant usage. They have contextual definitions. (It is like the Supreme Court of the United States’ refusal to define pornography when it said that pornography had to be defined by local communities.) Here we have a command to be carried out with no written definitions. We understand what those definitions are. People have used obscene language for centuries, not because they did not know that it was filthy, but because they did know it was filthy. There was, and is, a delight in the use of something vulgar, dirty and unclean.

However, there are people who wish to quibble about definitions, assuring us that the words they use are not obscene, their definition is different, or it’s just colorful, or poetic, or it is the hearer who has the problem or who has the dirty mind.

There are also people who would not think of saying something dirty. They would like to use exclamations which are not dirty but are euphemisms for the dirty words. They think that they can be innocent and expressive at the same time. Examples of these euphemisms are “Shucks!,” “Heck!,” “Shoot!” and “Dang it!” There are others that I do not have the freedom to write. There are also euphemisms for using the Lord’s name in vain such as “Dog-gone it!,” “Golly!,” “Gosh!,” “Gee Whiz!” and “Dag Nab it!” We can also use another name for deity such as “by Jove.” Innocent? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Jesus made a very strong statement concerning the words we use:

But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned. (Matthew 12:36, 37 NIV)

Do I have to walk around in total fear, unable to function normally because of this clear teaching about careless words? No, there is a preventative that allows us to be normal:

...and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5b NIV)

(An excerpt from On Being a Christian by Jim Wilson)

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