No matter what you do or where you go, there is one thing you do every day. You talk. From the time you get up in the morning until you lay your head on your pillow at night, you talk. Your life is filled with communication. In the kitchen, the family room, the car, the classroom, the hallways of school, on the basketball court or baseball field, you talk. In our techy society, you have many ways to communicate: texting, Facebook, email, instant messaging, Twitter, etc. Yet the primary way of communicating is talking. God has given to man the unique ability to put thoughts and desires into words. What an amazing gift of God!
This amazing gift of God has been corrupted in so many ways by sinful man. One of the ways that it has been corrupted is the filthy communication of profanity. You live in a world saturated by open profanity. You can hear God’s name taken in vain and many crude four-letter words from neighbors, from co-workers, or from other young people. Profanity and blasphemy are common on the TV, in the latest rap songs, in the movies, at the mall, and even on the basketball court or ball fields. This filthy, God-dishonoring language is not something new. Since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden, profanity has existed. But today profanity is more and more common. The world laughs at it.
How much has worldly profanity influenced your speech? Do you think profanity is just words? Have you become numb to it? Do you use profanity?
I want you to understand that profanity is not neutral in God’s eyes. The world says profanity is ordinary, normal, and harmless. But this is not true. Scripture teaches that words are powerful, important, and significant. This is true because you speak every word in the presence of the God who created your ability to speak and has purchased you, body and soul, with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Profanity must not be a part of your repertoire of language as a child of God. Everything you say speaks about your relationship to God. Your choice of words is extremely important today. May God give grace to turn away from the corrupt communication of profanity.
What is profanity? Broadly defined, profanity includes much of the evil, filthy communication found in the world. Profanity certainly includes taking God’s name in vain. But profanity also includes the corrupt communication of vulgar, sexual language, and the language that refers to bodily functions and body parts in crude ways in conversation. As those who hear regular sermons on the third commandment of God’s law, you know that taking God’s name in vain is wrong. Although the third commandment is very important, I also want to examine with you the use of other vulgar language of the world. I do not need to spell out these words for you. You know what these words are. They are the words that are “bleeped” on the television. They are the words that are spelled out with the first letter and then —- in print. They are the words in the comics that are censored with symbols (##@**^!!) when the character stubs his toe.
Have you ever thought such language is not that bad? Have you ever thought that this language is ordinary and harmless, that it is just words? This is what Satan and the world want you to think. They want you to think words are harmless and have no value or real meaning. When you are angry, it is normal to use these words. The world’s psychology says that the use of these words can be a good way to vent bad feelings and frustration. Maybe some of you think, “Rev. Eriks, you are making a mountain out of a molehill. This is not a big deal. They are just words.”
Following the example of the world, some of you may be battling spiritual bilingualness—speaking two different languages. This happens when, on the one hand, you know what the Scriptures say, but on the other hand, you convince yourself that this kind of language is not so serious. The world uses this bilingual speech. Although profanity is part of this life, the culture today has some sense that such language may offend others. In the public forum, attempts are made to clean things up, while such language is used privately. We see this in sports. The athletes and coaches carefully choose the words they say when interviewed or when they are in public. But when they are on the court or in the field, profanity-laced tirades erupt from their mouths—you are able to read their lips, after all. In public they speak properly and carefully, avoiding profanity. But in the heat of battle and in everyday life, a torrent of foul words flows from their lips.
Are you bilingual in this way? Do you talk one way in front of your parents, teachers, and elders (without the profanity), and another way with your friends (with the profanity)? At home, at school, and at church you clean up your mouth, but at work or with your friends you speak the vulgar language of profanity. Are you bilingual?
What does God’s word say about this? The determining factor is not what you think about this. Don’t let Satan and the world tell you that this is harmless, because it is not. Do you see Satan’s lie? He is telling you that the sin of profanity is good and normal. How slick Satan is. If you think that profanity is not a big deal, you have bought into Satan’s lie.
Let us hear what God says in His word, because His word is our authority in life. God says something else about this evil, filthy communication. Ephesians 4:29-31forbids this kind of communication:
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.
God says in the third commandment of His law, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord Thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.” God says that profaning His name is serious. It is so serious that in the Old Testament a man who took God’s name in vain was stoned to death. The Heidelberg Catechism, in Lord’s Day 36, teaches us that “there is no sin greater or more provoking to God than the profaning of His name; and therefore He has commanded this sin to be punished with death.” This should make us pause before we would ever take profane language on our lips. James 3 (please read this chapter) exposes the great destruction of the tongue that no man can tame—”it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (v. 8); and “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (v. 10).
Why is profanity so seriously sinful? There are two matters we must consider from Scripture. First, as with all sin, profanity is a matter of the heart. Jesus teaches the relationship between words and the heart in Luke 6:43-45:
For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.
Jesus uses the figure of a tree. There is an organic connection between the roots of a tree and the fruit it produces. Jesus says the same is true of our words. The words we speak are always connected to our hearts. With trees, if the tree is not producing good fruit, there is a problem with the tree. So also is this true with your words. Sinful words indicate a serious heart problem. The heart problem is that you are not seeking God and His glory. If you take God’s name in vain, this indicates you do not truly fear His name at that moment. Consider a man who strikes his thumb instead of the nail with his hammer on a construction site and he hops around cussing and swearing with every profanity in the book. These are not just words. These words reveal problems found in this man’s heart. They reveal that this man does not have a proper awe and reverence for God. Words are not just words. Words are windows into our hearts. When you use profanity, it reveals that you have idols in your heart. Profanity says that at that moment you are not concerned with worshiping God. The problem with profanity is that they are idol words. Profanity uses words to serve self instead of worshiping God and building up others. The world says that profanity is a way to vent our pain and bad feelings. The Scriptures say that profanity indicates that we do not have a proper view of language in relationship to God.
Second, profanity moves you away from God. Satan and the world say that profanity is neutral. In other words, it cannot hurt you. These words are just words and do not affect you spiritually. Do not believe that lie. Profanity moves you farther from God. I can demonstrate this from Ephesians 4:29, 30. When corrupt communication is used, the Holy Spirit of God is grieved. This means profanity turns you away from the Holy Spirit and His work. This does not mean that the Holy Spirit’s work is resisted. It is not. But this teaches us that profanity has an effect on our spiritual lives. Profanity does not edify or bring you or the hearer closer to God. Profanity does not keep you at the same place. Profanity actually drives you from God. Profanity keeps your heart at odds with God.
Profanity keeps our hearts at odds with God because profanity is linked to immorality, as we read in Ephesians 5:3-5:
But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, not jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
Profanity (foolish talking) is tied to immorality (uncleanness). The stern warning of the Scriptures here is that no man who continues walking in these sins has the inheritance of the kingdom of God. This shows clearly that profane words are not harmless, ordinary, and normal. They do nothing to help our relationship with God. In fact, they only hurt that relationship by turning us away from God. “Let it not be once named among you.”
I am not going to tell you which words you may or may not use. Of course, all taking of God’s name in vain is forbidden by Scripture. We must not use the euphemisms for God’s names, like golly and gee. But I am talking about the other vulgar words found in the world. I could form a list and command you not to use these words. But this still would not change the heart. The heart is the issue here. God alone changes the heart to seek after Him. God calls us who have regenerated hearts to use words to serve Him and to build each other up. Profane words do neither of these things.
The truth that guides us in the use of language is God’s sovereignty. God is Lord! He is the Lord of your tongue! God created speech. In fact, He was the first to speak after Adam was created. How amazing that must have been for Adam to hear God speak to Him. How amazing that God still speaks to His people in human language so that He can be known. Through words we know Him in truth. Because God created speech and spoke first, God determines how we must speak. So often when I talk, I want to do it my way. But when we understand that God is Lord, then we see that we must speak in the way that God has designed. Profanity is the distortion of sin, and is not the way God sovereignly designed for communication. As one of His children, saved by grace, I want to serve my sovereign God with my words. May this be the great desire in all of our language.
The only hope we have to be free from the sin of profanity is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is hope for our speech. We need this hope because, as James 3 makes clear, no man can tame that little tongue. Men have been able to tame the king of the beasts, elephants, tigers, and even killer whales. But no man can tame his tongue. This does not leave us hopeless. Our hope is found in Jesus Christ. This is the hope found in II Corinthians 5:14, 15:
For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.
The cross of Jesus Christ frees us from self-serving bilingualness
to serve Him. In the cross of Jesus Christ alone is the hope of forgiveness and the power to conquer profanity.
The words we speak are not just words. They are the words we must use to serve our Lord.