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Foul Play with Foul Language

September 26th, 2012
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Recently, I noticed an article arguing for the “fair use” of foul language, by Christians. Yes, you read that correctly. According this point of view, the use of profanity, obscenity and vulgarity is acceptable, in certain circumstances, depending on a person’s intention, and depending on the context

Apparently some are even under the mistaken impression that using foul language is part of what it takes to prove you are no pietist, as if such behavior is even some sort of evidence of your credentials as a steadfast Lutheran. What a tragic contradiction of God’s Holy Word. It is simply foul play with foul language.

God’s Word is quite plain regarding these matters:

“Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” (Matthew 10:17-20)

Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. (Ephesians 5:1-4)

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. (Colossians 3:8)

It is undeniable that foul language appears in our minds and on our tongues and in our mouths far too often. But this is not to be celebrated, excused, or explained away, nor should we be trying to find ways to “nuance” the clear texts of Sacred Scripture to somehow make ourselves feel better about it.

This is a matter of God pleasing and God-honoring behavior, to which we are called, in Christ.

Can anyone really, honestly, say as they reflect on the words here that have been proposed as being “ok” in some circumstances, that their use is faithful to God’s word given to us through St. Paul?

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Phil. 4:8

And let us also keep in mind the warning of James:

“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James 4:4

Dear Lord, guard my thoughts and my words. In your word you tell me: “The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse.” (Proverbs 10:32). Forgive me for my sinful speech and language. Cleanse and pardon me for the sake of Christ Jesus my Lord and help me always to honor you with my words. Amen.

 

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Categories: Christian Life
  1. Matt
    September 26th, 2012 at 06:40 | #1

    I word Ps. McCain

    σκύβαλα (skubala)

    • September 26th, 2012 at 08:37 | #2

      It’s interesting how hard people try to make that one word somehow form a “proof text” for Christians to use profanity, vulgarity and obscenity. I’m embarrassed for them when they do this, frankly. It’s shallow reasoning and only indicates the most superficial understanding of koine Greek and common usages of Paul’s time.

  2. September 26th, 2012 at 06:42 | #3

    Well said, Pr McCain.
    At the very least, the use of foul language by Christians under the pretext of Christian freedom can present a real stumbling block for those new or entering into the faith (I write as one raised outside the church). Generally speaking, there is a real call here for Chrsitians to be “counter -cultural”.

  3. September 26th, 2012 at 07:31 | #4

    I agree with you, Pastor. Some people seem to think that “effective” = “acceptable.” Simply because a word might have rhetorical power in a given situation does not make it desirable. That which is most utilitarian is not necessarily that which is most edifying. My life would not be any less rich if I never heard another nasty word for the rest of my days. I also think that in an age when our culture has become more and more hardened to foul language–when I can’t take my children to our neighborhood library without hearing multiple uses of the “f” word on the sidewalk–it is disheartening to see pastors defending and even promoting it on the internet. Better to encourage people to avoid it at all costs and to fill their hearts and minds with that which is pure and true and good. Thank you for this post.

  4. Jakob Valsson
    September 26th, 2012 at 09:20 | #5

    Well said Paul, but I bet these foul language using Christians feel soooooo relevant. Love the “skubala” argument too, a sure sign of shallowness and biblical illiteracy.

  5. Jonathan Trost
    September 26th, 2012 at 10:08 | #6

    Timely post, Pastor!

    For sure, “back in the day”, and in making a point, Luther’s own words were quite “colorful”! My grandmother used to call it “von der Leber zu reden”, i.e., “to speak from the liver”, which sometimes even meant to the extent of “letting the bile flow”. We might today just call it “telling it as it is”.

    That’s all far different from the crude “lingo” used by some (even clergy) for “shock value” perhaps, or in an effort to appear to be just “one of the boys”. You might know of some of those few (I like to think) weak pastors who, in going that route, often also ask their congregants to “Just call me…’Bob’ (or whatever.)

    Clergy who like to shock in this way respect neither God, the office, their flock, nor themselves. I get the impression that they respect the concepts of neither the Third Use of the Law nor sanctification. They speak as if God, in His gracious love, ignores everything, condones anything, and condemns nothing. Although they’re “big” on forgiveness, they’re weak on repentance.

    No wonder such go out there to “sin and sin bravely”.

  6. September 26th, 2012 at 10:14 | #7

    Pastor, as I just posted over on the original “Fair use” site, the arguments used were indeed rank rationalizations.

    However (and I did not post this over there, because encouraging those who are rationalizing is not a good idea), I wonder if there might be a vocational case for foul language–similar to how a soldier may kill, or a doctor can examine private areas, or a officer of the state may punish wrongdoing.

    Doctors need to talk about things that are often referenced by vulgarity, and so they come up with a parallel clinical language they can use. But doctors can create such a language because they only need to reference brute physicality. If a writer, in contrast, needs to speak of vulgarity and capture the more subjective meanings of it in prose, clinical language isn’t usually an option. This wouldn’t justify any foul language in any circumstances (anymore than being a soldier justifies any killing, a doctor any examination, or an official any punishment), but it may allow or enjoin some degree of it in certain circumstances.

    I’m not looking for a license to sin by any means, but because we do occasionally come across foul language that at least seems appropriate, it would be helpful to have a sound understanding by which we can put those experiences under proper Biblical scrutiny.

    • September 26th, 2012 at 10:17 | #8

      Frankly, I think if we would expend even half the amount of effort it requires to rationalize, excuse, justify and find other ways to wriggle out from under or around the clear text of Scripture, we might be amazed at the good that would come.

  7. Jakob Valsson
    September 26th, 2012 at 15:02 | #9

    “Vocational case for foul language.” This is just pure gold (and here I thought I’d heard it all). I am speaking next week at a Church Workers Conference on the Psalms and Christian Character development and I will be sure use to this one there. Like I said, pure gold. Thanks again Paul for your faithfulness to the pure and plain truths of Scripture.

  8. Tim Ponstingle
    September 26th, 2012 at 20:46 | #10

    Thank you for writing this. I am working on improving my own choice of words. It is a struggle especially for me.

  9. Chuck
    September 26th, 2012 at 21:09 | #11

    Next time I strike my thumb with a hammer I will exclaim, “Oh, marshmallow rainbows!”

    When I hit my next personal record in powerlifting and squat 800lbs, I can look at my training partner and declare, “that was some doughnut sprinkles of a lift.”

  10. Rev. Robert Fischer
    September 27th, 2012 at 08:46 | #12

    @Matt Cochran

    Matt, I would be interested (or more specifically, “morbidly curious”) in an example of what you consider to be the “vocational use of foul language.” Hopefully Paul will allow this to be posted for educational purposes in light of the subject of this particular blog.

  11. Rev. Robert Fischer
    September 27th, 2012 at 08:53 | #13

    @Chuck

    Chuck, you wrote, “Next time I strike my thumb with a hammer I will exclaim, ‘Oh, marshmallow rainbows!’” The use of profanity is a habit, one which I was fortunate (blessed!) to not acquire. When I strike my thumb with a hammer I exclaim “Ouch!”, and I have had church members who will testify to that having witnessed my participation in a Laborers for Christ project.

    The habit of using profanity, like any habit, can be changed through desire and diligence.

  12. September 27th, 2012 at 09:02 | #14

    Well, I was hoping for a critique from someone with a better grasp of the doctrine of vocation than mine, but I guess that’s not in the cards.

    Just remember, gentlemen, that a brief look at history shows us that many of the errors we dismiss with a laugh and a shrug have a tendency to catch us flat-footed later on.

    • September 27th, 2012 at 09:06 | #15

      Matt, God’s Word is very clear. Christians are not to use filthy language. Don’t overthink it.

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