My small group is reading through the extremely convicting and difficult book of James. These days we are reflecting, as a group, on the fire from Hell that is our tongue and the reality that the one who can tame the tongue is perfect: meaning that no one is capable of taming the tongue.
But at times, the application of such deep, gripping truths is difficult. For example, let’s observe the elementary question that is prevalent today: Should Christians curse? Traditional upbringing and church life says, “Of course not!” We do everything in our power to not use any profanity, any four letter words, and anything that is foul. Children of Christian parents get their mouths washed out with soap for using four letter words, and Christians in [traditional] church judge one another harshly for their choice of words. The other end of the spectrum says, “I am relevant, and this is not directly taking the Lord’s name in vain, so this vocabulary is fine”. Such an argument and mindset is from the fatalist Christian who believes that “we are all sinners”, so why even try to stop? Just enjoy it. God will forgive me.
Both positions are wicked from the core. To clean up vocabulary and enforce regulations alone is moralism. To give in to weakness or use filthy language to be relate-able or because it is a loosing battle is a lack of faith and dishonoring to God – cheapening grace and putting Jesus back on the cross.
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”
– Eph 4.29
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth. What is unwholesome? The Greek word here most literally translates as rotten or spoiled – as in a fruit. This helps clarify the imagery that James gives us:
With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.
– James 3.9-12
And Jesus explains it without mincing words:
“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.”
– Luke 6.45
From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Whatever is filling up your heart is what comes out of your mouth. This is why Jesus said,
“It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.”
– Matt 15.11
If our hearts are filled up with wickedness and rottenness, that is what will flow out of it. If we are rotten trees, we will produce rotten fruit. And thus we prove ourselves to be defiled (and not saved). Rotten trees do not produce good fruit. It is bad from the core. Christians should not produce wicked, rotten, or unedifying talk. Period.
But Paul’s instruction is not to focus on the rotten fruit and to purge it. Paul teaches us to only let “such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” proceed from our mouths. So in short, do not replace a profanity with a word that resembles it. Do not refrain from taking the Lord’s name in vain by saying, “Oh my gosh”. Do not use words like “damn” which hold unspeakable terrors, and do not replace “damn it” with “dang it”. Instead, fill up your speech with words that edify the listener and glorify God. When you enter a crisis, instead of ringing out an expletive, cry out to God for help. Instead of cursing a bad situation, humbly turn to God and ask Him what His intention and purpose is in the situation. Instead of wicked conversation like gossip and slander, build people up and praise God.
Morality is not Christian. Building people up and glorifying God is Christian. Giving up on the battle to fight sin is not Christian. Replacing bad habits and tendencies with God-honoring ones is Christian. God is not concerned primarily with what does not come out of our mouths and hearts, but with what does. If we are able to clean up our speech in such a way that no questionable words come out of our mouths, but we never glorify God with our hearts or words, we are still as sick and hopeless as the one who curses like a sailor.
“Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.”
– James 3.4-6
Our mouths pour out what fills our hearts. And thus James paints this vivid picture that our mouths set the entire direction of our bodies and our lives. It is how we communicate and let other people know what fills us up. So to train them to morality simply set us on the course to Hell, with gold plating. We must be filled with Jesus and holiness, and our mouths pour out Jesus and holiness. All of the time. Making the most of every moment.
Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
– Col 4.6