I don’t know if this ever happened to any of you, but it did me. I remember my parents telling me, that if I didn’t quit saying particular things, usually mean things, then they were going to wash my mouth out with soap. I don’t remember it ever happening, but it wasn’t because I was so good. My parents were trying to teach me a lesson. The lesson being, that words are very important. Jesus said that what comes out of the mouth, comes from the heart. I was thinking about this last night. I have said some very terrible things in my life. I am very ashamed of it. By the grace of God, I think I am learning.
The words that we speak are often not thought about before we say them, or, they are considered only after they are spoken. The damage can already have been done. I remember being told that sticks and stones could break my bones, but words could never hurt me. I even said it to my own kids. But words can hurt. Words can hurt very, very much. Paul talks about this in Ephesians 4:29. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” The Greek word (sapros) is used in only one other context in the New Testament, in two places in Matthew and Luke where Jesus says, “It is not the good tree that bears bad fruit “(Luke 6:43; Matthew 7:17.; Matthew 12:33). The term for “bad” fruit here is the same word for evil, or unwholesome, or corrupt in Ephesians 4:29. This kind of rotten language must be taken off like an old garment. It is part of the old self of verse 22 that needs to be stripped away when a person becomes a Christian. The garment of a rotten mouth must be taken off and thrown into the fire, just like the Ephesians burned their old books on magic in Acts 19:19. I have 4 things in mind about this passage today.
1. Taking the Name of the Lord in Vain
First would be language that takes the name of the Lord in vain. It is a great contradiction of who we are as Christians if we say, “God!” or “My God!” or “God Almighty!” or “Christ!” or “Jesus!” just because we are mad, or surprised, or amazed. No one with a good marriage would stomp on his wedding ring to express anger. It stands for something precious and pure. And so does the name of God and Jesus Christ.
2. Trivializing Terrible Realities
The second kind of language that Paul would call rotten would be language that trivializes terrible realities—like hell and damnation. What’s wrong with saying, “What the hell!” or “Hell, no!” or “Go to hell!” or “Damn it!” or “Damn right!”?
Among other things, these expressions trivialize things of terrible seriousness. It’s simply a contradiction to believe in the horrible reality of hell, and use the word like a punctuation mark for an emphasis when talking about anything. The same is true of damnation.
3. Referencing Sex and the Body in Vulgar Ways
The third kind of language I think Paul would include in his command is, not to let any rotten talk come out of your mouth in vulgar references to sex, and the human body. With this kind of language people take good things that God has made, and use them like mud, to smear on whatever they get upset about. The whole assumption behind the use of vulgar four-letter words is that they communicate scorn, or disdain, or hate. How does this happen?
How, for example, does the act of sexual relations, created by God as something good, how does it get translated into a four letter word and carry the meaning of hate and scorn? The answer is easy: first you get God out of your mind. That’s fundamental to all vulgarity. Then you get the sanctity of His creation out of your mind. And then, in your mind, you replace the tenderness of real love with the force of rape, and you’ve got yourself a four letter word which does verbally the same thing that rape does physically. It expresses selfish, uncaring abusiveness.
4. Speaking in Mean-Spirited Ways
The final kind of language I think Paul would call rotten is mean-spirited language—like, “Shut up!” , or “I Hate You”. The words themselves are untarnished. But the usage is vicious and without love.
We’ll look at the subject again tomorrow. But, think about this. And let’s think about the words that we speak.