Monday, February 27, 2012

Praise and Cursing: Reflection on Language

Ephesians 4:29
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

James 3:9-12
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Growing up in a Christian home and in largely Christian circles, most of the “talk” that surrounded me was fairly “wholesome”.  People did not use profanity and even words like “butt” and “crap” were frowned upon.  On retreats I distinctly remember other students talking about how their experience from the weekend had lead them to try not to curse anymore and I know that I self-righteously judged those at my school who used foul language.  It wasn’t really until college that my pretty little world began to get really shaken.  I met Christians who did not adhere to the “rules”, who used words that offended and rattled me.  In one conversation with a friend on the subject, he noted an article by a Christian who was almost arguing in defense of profanity, which of course left me indignant.  How could “they” justify using such language?  How could “they” choose unwholesome talk?  What I didn’t realize was that it really wasn’t “those people” who were shaking up my thinking, but rather, it was God.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but all of a sudden my ears were opened.  The words I was using were thrown into the spotlight, their ugliness exposed and painfully vivid.  No, I wasn’t using words that strictly qualified as profanity, but neither was my language wholesome.  I started to see that my criticism of others was tantamount to cursing them, that my harsh tone was salt on wounds, that my loss of temper tore down rather than built up.  I was claiming to be a fresh stream yet spewing salt water.  The absence of crass jokes and “swear words” did not make my language pure and certainly did not justify me in God’s sight.  I did not meet the mark but fell far short of it (Romans 3:23).  Worse still, God made me realize that my black and white view of things had given me a false sense of self-righteousness and that I’d set myself up on a pedestal from which I looked down on others as if I had somehow not fallen short at all.

Don’t misunderstand; I’m not necessarily justifying obviously foul language, rather I’m challenging a thorough examination of all the language we use.  Do the tones and words we use tear down or build up?  Is God glorified in everything we say or are we glorified?  Do we use our own standards to judge others and proclaim our own “righteousness” or do we look to the cross and humbly realize that our only hope of righteousness is the unearned righteousness given to us by Christ?  I pray for conviction, I pray for mutual encouragement among the believers, I pray that Christ will be glorified in every word we use.    

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