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Shameful Even to Speak

There could be little argument that our dialogue in the modern world has become much more casual, and that the use of words which were formerly considered profane has become acceptable and celebrated. Where dirty words and profane language were once reserved for certain kinds of people, certain places, or certain situations, there is no limit anymore to who will cuss, when, or where. Political leaders of both parties have been caught on unexpectedly live microphones using vile language and the Supreme Court has tamed the Federal Communications Commission’s pursuit of broadcasters who permit entertainers and athletes to spew profanity on the airwaves. Social media are filled with everyday people employing the ugliest four-letter words, and it is not shocking to find that many otherwise religious people have lost any scruples about profaning sexuality, excretion, and the eternal fate of their fellow men. 



I. A General Warning

A. Old Self, Old Language

1. a fairly new convert, giving his first midweek talk once apologized for his lack of speaking ability in advance, adding that when he obeyed the gospel, he had to give up about half the words he knew as it was

2. for many of us, being confronted with the gospel requires an examination of how we speak and the words we use – words that are unkind, that express hateful concepts, that use God’s name disrespectfully, or words that are vulgar

3. obeying the gospel does not magically cleanse your habits, but it does empower you with a serious motivation to make major changes – changes sufficiently great to be described as transformational (Ephesians 4:17-24)

a. the following verses describe some of the attitudes behind these words and the actions that result – lying, anger, deception, clamor, slander

b. the key to transformation is there, too: “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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:29-30 ESV).

4. those corrupting words – the ones that demonstrate callous impurity, sensuality, and greed – comprise verbal evidence of an old person of sin, clinging to relevance


B. Imitating God

1. Paul calls us to a higher plain of behavior, being imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1)

2. although we will surely fall short, it must never be due to a lack of effort or concern, or that we have convinced ourselves that words do not matter, because just as the word of God is the sword of the Spirit, the words of men can be rapiers, bludgeons, and darts

3. imitating God begins with a dedicated effort at clearing out of the mind and heart the attitudes and language which belong to the tempter and his realm (First Peter 1:13-19)


C. Unfruitful Works of Darkness

1. back in the Ephesian letter, Paul gets more specific, and his words have application to us even though he never heard the English language, and although he does not offer a list of specifically forbidden words

2. that lack of a list allows the letter to be applicable across cultures, languages and eras, but it also requires softhearted, faithful people to assess their language and avoid words – vulgar, prejudicial, incendiary – that tend to promote sensuality, impurity, and greed

3. and that is especially true when we are using them with the added elements of anger, enticement, or vanity (Ephesians 5:2-12)

4. his parallel letter to Colossae, written about the same time, describes the elimination of obscene talk (Colossians 3:5-8)

5. obscene talk has to mean something, and it includes filthy words, foolish talk, and crude joking


II. A Specific Problem

A. Obscene Speech

1. lewdness verbalized (talk of sexuality and reproductive organs that is crude or enticing)

2. excretory exclamations (talk of excretory functions, using vulgar terms or as hyperbole)

3. damnable curses (damning enemies or objects to hell, although those words have uses)

4. double entendre (being sexually suggestive through double meanings)

5. vain address (speaking of God in a disrespectful manner)


B. Concealing Faith

1. there might be times when we are tempted to use coarse language, bigoted terms, or crude jokes to fit in or balance our reputation for religion

2. Peter cursed and swore that he was not a disciple of Jesus, not necessarily using profanity, but using words to conceal his faith when it was out of season

3. his Lord had warned about such willful efforts to hide faith in those moments of peril, saying, “whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33).

4. throwing around crude jokes, vulgar words, and offensive terms just to fit in with people who are really like that, or who hold the key to your safety, acceptance, or advancement is a compromise from which it is not so easy to recover

5. purity of mind and conscience are being sacrificed for something else and the effect is usually more than superficial (Titus 1:15-16)


C. Demonstrating Corruption

1. there are defenses for this kind of language – some of the words are biblical, and uses biblically, they are fine; and the lack of a definitive list opens us up to an evolving set of proscribed terms

a. this is just another example of the way the new covenant is assembled for universal use, where the old covenant was consumed with Hebrew language and custom

b. we will refrain from doing what Paul did not, but we must also police ourselves, and avoid language that drops into the categories he described as coarse and vile – sensuality, impurity, greed

2. to use the same tongue to produce praises and vulgarity is to demonstrate a polluted font, one that probably will see its blessings diluted more and more over time (James 3:7-10)

3. obscene talk is evidence that argues against the completeness of conversion and the singleness of purpose; Jesus explained, “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person …” (Matthew 15:18-20 ESV).

4. it takes effort to change your habits, to clean up your speech, but there really is no reason to use obscenities when our language offers plenty of acceptable terms for everything



I realize there is no authoritative list of proscribed words, but Paul describes broad categories that apply in any language. Some words are dubious and others become acceptable only after many years of use. Most of the words in these categories, however, – the ones that are designed to embarrass God, do his job of judgment, make light of private matters, or provoke hatred – they are plain enough to avoid if the new person of faith is in charge of the tongue.


Questions for Review

  1. What are some categories of shameful speech?
  2. Describe the transformation of the old person to the new one.
  3. How does one change long established speech patterns?
  4. How can we know which words should be avoided?
  5. When do some Christians decide to use bad language?
  6. What is the effect of making room for a little crude jesting?
  7. What should characterize our use of God’s name?

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