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Within Christian circles, there has been a long and great debate over how we believers should talk. Whether that be with others in social settings, before a congregation at a church, or even by ourselves. There are many sides to this discussion and I think for the sake of brevity, I will outline the more popular sides before giving my two cents on the situation.
Some say that according to such passages of Scripture as Ephesians 4:29-32 and Colossians 3:8, we should not swear or say anything remotely close to “those” words. This is because Paul the Apostle, the author of both Ephesians and of Colossians, follows up both passages with a contrast between the old sinful self and the new sanctified self (2). His frequent mention of this spiritual duality puts a special emphasis of importance on outward distinction from how the rest of the world operates. This should presumably include the way we speak.
On the flip side, there are other believers who insist that because the Bible itself and some of its most famous historical figures used swear words (3), like Paul, that we should have the freedom to use them too. Many on this side refer to such passages as 1 Samuel 20:30 and Luke 13:31-32 where people like Jesus seem to use curses towards others as a way of describing them or of telling the truth of a certain situation. They argue that because these heroes of the faith use these sorts of words, that we too should have the freedom to use them as well in the proper context.
Several months ago, I was apart of a great community group at Peace Mennonite Community Church called Thrive and the discussion for one night revolved around “unwholesome” speech. At the time, we were going through the book of Ephesians and this particular night was focused on the latter half of chapter 4. We all gave great and thought-out answers, but today I’ll just share with you my input with the group that night.
There are many passages in the Bible that to me are more profound than other passages because they give insight to who Jesus was during his quieter moments in His 3-year ministry. Moments like that in Mark 10:13-16 where Jesus explains the Kingdom of Heaven to both His disciples and the children that wanted to be there with Him. But the moment that I referenced in this small group was from Matthew 14:13-14.
In this passage of Scripture, Jesus has just received news that one of His dear friends, John the Baptist, has been killed by King Herod. After hearing the awful news, Jesus goes away to a secluded place in Bethsaida (4) and travels there by boat. The disciples and apostles went with Him, in order to rest and eat. Not long after arriving there, the crowds showed up and this is the beginning of a more famous part of His ministry where He feeds the 5,000 with loaves of bread and fish.
Now what interests me most about this passage is how Jesus responds to the death of a friend during a very busy and exhausting portion of His ministry. He removes Himself, along with His disciples and John’s closest followers to seek rest. When thinking about how the followers of John the Baptist must have felt during this horrible tragedy, I then turned my focus to what Jesus must have been thinking and/or saying about His good friend. That friend being the very one who baptized Jesus and was there at the very beginning of His ministry.
To be more precise, how did Jesus talk to others, to Himself, or even to His Father in Heaven about His deceased friend while He was on that boat headed to Bethsaida? Was He angry and because of that, spoke curses concerning the situation or towards King Herod? What was His attitude and response? How did He handle the situation?
Branching out even further, how does Jesus speak about you when talking to the Father? How would He talk about you? We should talk, whether in social settings or by ourselves like Jesus would talk in social settings or just by Himself. We should talk to one another and when talking to ourselves like Jesus talked when He was on Earth.
It would appear that the thread that links the way Jesus spoke about anything was that it had to be necessarily true. Necessary in that it needed to be said in that moment of time for that specific situation about those certain persons, places, or things (i.e. the Pharisees). It also had to be true because Christ Himself claims to be the truth (5), so He cannot do otherwise then speak the truth. In more simpler terms, he said it as it is and/or said what needed to be said.
In fact, this seems to be the pattern with every single word Jesus has ever said that we know of as is written in the Christian Scriptures. He always only said what was necessary and true. Nothing more and nothing less. Sometimes, it would be blessings onto His most faithful followers and other times it would be curses onto those who knew better than the way they lived. Everything that has ever been said by Christ had to be said the way that it was said.
But can the same be said of us when we speak? Do we say what is necessary and true or do we find ourselves saying a bit too much and a bit too little? I think we can all agree that we are the latter. We seem to always say too much or too little, but we never seem to tell the truth enough. We never seem to say what needs to be said. So before you ever ask yourself if you should say this or that word and this or that phrase, ask yourself if it is necessarily true.
Just as the tongue has the power to build up and destroy the subject that stands before it, so too do you have the ability to speak the truth or a lie. To speak life or death and praises or curses. Nevertheless, whatever encounter you find yourself in next, pause and ask yourself this question: is what I am about to say necessary and true? With that said, Godspeed and Jesus bless.
- Colossians 3:9-11, Ephesians 4:22-24
- Mark 6:14-32, Luke 9:7-11
- John 14:6