Ethics: Use of Language

As we continue our series on ethics, asking why we believe certain things to be wrong or how are we to make moral decisions that honor and glorify our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Coming into this series we know that salvation is granted by grace through faith alone. We are saved by the grace of God. Salvation is a gift. So, as we think about these these moral decisions or moral opinions that we are forming, we think about them in the context of God’s grace, knowing that these decisions that we make do not save us. These decisions that we make do not take away the salvation that has been given to us. They do help us to live a life that honors God on a real and on a deep level. Got his promised rewards according to our obedience in the life to come, in eternity, and we want to represent, to the world, Christ in our lives. This means we seek to live holy lives. We seek to make these moral decisions and form these moral opinions that honor our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, so that we can reflect Christ in the world today, so that we can be a light in a dark world.

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The topic at hand is language, specifically the cleanliness of our language and we will refer to cussing or cursing within this lesson, but it will involve more than that. How do we use, or can we use language in a way that actually glorifies God and is there a way that we can use language today that does not glorify God?

Colossians 3:1-11 HCSB

So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God. When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

Therefore, put to death what belongs to your worldly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, God’s wrath comes on the disobedient, and you once walked in these things when you were living in them. But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self. You are being renewed in knowledge according to the image of your Creator. In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.

Filthy language

The very first think that I want to do is consider the nature of what it is we are referring to when we think about the language that we use. Paul here, writing to the believers in Colossae, says this: You have been saved by Christ! He is acknowledging salvation from the start. He’s acknowledging the grace of God from the beginning. We have already been saved and because we have been saved, because we have received the grace of God, our response should be that we set our minds and our thoughts on the things above. Everything that we’re talking about begins with the things we think about or dwell upon. What is it that we dwell on? Do we dwell on things above, things that are Godly, or do we dwell on worldly and earthly things?

Keep in mind that as we think about this, it is all in response to God’s saving grace. We remember that God has saved us in Christ, therefore we choose to set our minds on things above not on things below.

Paul, writing to the church in Colossae, states that we respond in our minds first to the grace of God, to the salvation of God. The fact that Jesus loves us so much that he would die on a cross for us and offer us salvation draws us to respond to this grace by setting our minds on things above not things below. Then Paul begins to list some things below including sexual immorality,  including filthy language. We’re going to focus on the concept of filthy language for our current purpose. Paul is telling us put this off. Put this away. Put this to the side. He is instructing believers to reject this in our minds first and not to let it come out in our speech, because we want to respond to the grace of God.

When Paul refers to filthy language, according to this text of Scripture, he is referring to more than just some four-letter words. When we think about cussing or cursing we think about the four-letter words that we have designated as cuss words or curse words, and we say, “Yeah those things are bad. Stay away from those!” Then we tend to just leave it there. Paul goes further. He says this: reject all slander! What is slander? Slander, simply stated, is when we talk bad about someone. This is a simple definition, I know. Paul writes that we should put that off. Don’t talk bad about people. Don’t say those four-letter words that are considered to be filthy. Don’t let any angry talk come out of your mouth. In fact, Paul instructs us to put away all anger, and by anger, he’s talking about spitefulness toward other people. There is a righteous sort of anger that we can have, but Paul says we need to put off anger (which includes angry talk). This would be included, then, as he addresses filthy language. He also instructs his audience to put off wrath, or wrathful speech and condemnation of other people. This means that if we were to say something like, “This person has no place here!” or that Jesus doesn’t love someone, or that someone is somehow condemned; that would be aa cuss word or a curse according to the Apostle, Paul.

When I read through this text of Scripture I notice something very important for our lives. When our parents tell us that we don’t need to cuss, they mean something entirely different than what God means when God looks at us and says, “Put away all filthy language.” Our parents are referring to a certain set of words that have been designated in our culture as cuss words, but when Paul writes to the church in Colossae; when God, through Paul in the Scriptures, tells us to put away all filthy language, he’s telling us to put away a lot more than a few words that have been designated as cuss words. What I find is that God, according to His standard (which is based on his character), is way stricter than our parents might be.

What comes out reflects who we are and we have been raised with the Messiah, Jesus Christ, according to this passage of Scripture. We have died with the Messiah. Our old self has been put to death. When we accept Christ, the old self is no more. We are being transformed into the image of Christ and so we are resurrected with Christ. What we reflect on in our minds, what we think on, and what we dwell on are to be the things of Christ. The reality is that if we are dwelling on the things of Christ, what comes out of our mouths ought to reflect the very character of Christ, the character of God.

Thanksgiving

In Ephesians chapter 5 and verse 4, Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, writes that we ought to put away filthy language and instead fill your mouths with thanksgiving. There is a difference between our cursing or slandering or speaking wrathful or in our anger and our Thanksgiving. These are two things that we speak that are of completely different natures and, as we examine our own hearts and lives, one of the big questions that we need to ask is this: Is my life filled with more slander, more wrathful language, more angry talk, or is it filled with more thanksgiving?

One thing that a relationship with Christ is going to do in our hearts, through this process of sanctification as Christ is drawing us closer to himself and as God is drawing us into deeper holiness, creates a pattern in our minds and in our hearts of thanksgiving. We are going to realize, more and more, that we are so sinful, that we are so fallen, that we are so undeserving of God’s grace, anything I had to complain about before is no longer worth complaining about because I have been brought from death into life! Everything that could possibly be wrong, in light of this, just doesn’t matter because God has been so good to me! He is filling my mind and my heart with this thanksgiving.

As we are brought closer to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we find that, hopefully, we are complaining less about the circumstances of life. These circumstances may not change. They may be just as bad as they ever were, but we have Christ, who has delivered us from darkness and into light, from death into life! We have reason for thanksgiving because we are in the very grace of God. We don’t often talk about the practical nature of the scriptures, but here’s what I find. This is not some how-to gospel. This is not how to find joy in your life. It is that when Christ is sanctifying us, He has already saved us! When He is sanctifying us, drawing us closer to Himself, conforming us more to His image, and filling our minds and our hearts with more thanksgiving; we will find that we are more joyful in this life, or that we experience more joy in this life despite all of the negative stuff around us. If we are tempted to speak slander or speak wrathfully, to speak in our anger or to cuss, to use filthy language, and we instead choose to reject that and find something to be thankful about, we will probably live a life that is way more joyful! Now, that’s not what the what the gospel necessarily is about, but we do find that practical advice in the text of Scripture (which is pretty amazing to think about). In my own life, I wonder how many times I have focused so much on the negative and this negativity has just brought me down to a level where I couldn’t experience joy. It happens to us, but when we are tempted to focus on the negative we can look to Christ, think about our salvation and the fact that we don’t deserve grace but God has given it to us and done something good in our life. Thank Him for that! It actually brings about more joy. It is not salvation, but it is good to experience joy in this life and God has given us an avenue through which we can experience joy. It is through thanksgiving.

In our lives, I know it can be difficult to find things to be thankful for. In these instances, when nothing seems to be good, we can always remember that we were lost in sin, there was no hope for us. We were totally depraved. In our freedom, we chose to rebel against the God of the universe. Yet, He chose to save us!

God’s grace

In our sinful nature, all of us would speak in a way that is completely and entirely unclean before our Lord. I don’t think that there is any person who is exempt from this tendency. If we don’t find that we are speaking these four-letter words, we find that we probably would slander some people behind their backs when they are not listening. We talk and gossip. We do speak wrathfully towards people. We do speak in anger toward others or about others. All of this is filthy language before our Lord. All of this is wrongheaded thinking before our Lord according to the text of Scripture.

We know, then, that in our sinful nature, even though Christ has come and he has saved us, we still have to deal with these sinful bodies. We will choose to speak wrathfully. We will choose to speak in an unclean manner toward our God but God has cleansed his people from all unrighteousness. This is grace. God has cleansed his people from all unrighteousness. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross so that all sin might be atoned for, might be forgiven, and that those who believe in Jesus Christ are clean before God.

No matter what sort of filthy language has come out of our mouths, all of God’s people, all those who have trusted in Jesus Christ are clean, absolutely clean before God. When we are tempted to speak in an unclean way we are encouraged, according to scripture, to find something to be thankful about. We are all saved by grace. We deny our inclinations, our desire to speak badly about people or to use filthy language. We deny our inclinations in response to God’s grace. As we deny our worldly inclinations, our want to speak badly or to use filthy language, Christ’s righteousness is made evident in us. We were created (Genesis 1) to be God’s image. If God Himself does not slander, if God Himself is clean and holy, then when we choose to use language that is clean and holy, we actually represent the very righteousness of God. This is not the same as sharing the gospel. Sharing the gospel is a verbal action and we need that, but when we use clean language we actually are the image of God to those around us. This, then, is one of the most important things, one of the most basic things, that we can do now.

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