I remember my parents threatening to wash my mouth out with soap when I was young because I used a bad word in my anger when I was speaking to one of my sisters. My dad took me to the sink and told me to look at all the dirty dishes and asked me what was needed to make them clean. “Soap” I said. “That is right”. I will wash your mouth out with soap if you ever use bad words again. My dad is a loving man, but he is very serious. If he said he would do something, you had to pay attention because he would do it. That was enough to make me stop every time a bad word was about to slip out of my lips, at least, when my dad was in the house.
Some people today, might think how barbaric, that a parent would even consider washing their child’s mouth out with soap, but my parents were concerned with the state of my heart more than they were with the words that made my mouth dirty. My mouth was using bad language because my heart is full of sin.
Jesus said in Matthew 15 verse 11:
“What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
This was his teaching to the crowd after the Pharisees questioned him about his disciples and the fact they were not obeying certain traditions and were “defiling” things. Jesus points out to them that their problem is with their hearts. That is true of each one of us too. When we use rotten language, bad words, we are just showing what is coming out of our hearts.
Sin is a serious business. We have become so used to hearing unwholesome talk that it does not offend us anymore. It has become a normal thing. Something that everybody does and it has crept into our homes and churches too. Maybe not in the formal gatherings for worship on Sundays, but when we meet socially and informally.
When teaching the Ephesians to live their lives in a Christian way, pursuing holiness the apostle Paul wrote:
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (NIV)
The RSV translates it as “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths”, the ESV translates it as “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths”. It seems very clear to me that there is no room in the instructions given for getting used to the kind of language we hear in our day to day lives. It is all around us, at work, on TV, on the radio and in all the social media platforms. It is so common that it has become acceptable. There is no filter anymore. Well, at least that is what we think.
If we go back to Ephesians 4 and read verses 22 to 24 we see we need to put off the old self and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
We must live each day of our lives using the filter of God’s word. Sin has no dominion over us anymore. When Jesus redeemed us, by His blood shed on the cross, He freed us from the bondage of sin and death. He gave us the Holy Spirit to help us as we journey through life, bearing God’s image and becoming more like Jesus. How can we forget so easily that our choices and our actions grieve the Holy Spirit? We must stop using the excuse that this is just the way it is.
It is extremely important that we do not take God’s name in vain. We shouldn’t say “God!” or “My God!” or “God Almighty!” or “Christ!” or “Jesus!” just because we are surprised, amazed or even angry. More so than not using this language, we shouldn’t tolerate it either. We hear it all the time. We might feel uncomfortable about it but we seldom challenge the people taking God’s name in vain. Sadly our silence might appear to others as if we don’t mind it. We should also avoid saying things like “What the hell” or “Hell, no!” or “Go to hell!” or “Damn it!” or “Damn right!” or “Holy cow!” or “Holy Mary and Joseph!”. We might ask ourselves, what is the harm in saying these things? Well, the tragic reality of hell and damnation should not be trivialized and what to say of using the word holy… Our mighty God is said to be holy, holy, holy. We should not misuse the word. Of course we should not use any kind of language that is mean and designed to hurt others. We should not use excuses such as “I was joking”, “I didn’t mean it that way”, or “I wasn’t thinking!”. We are not to let anything bad, evil, poisonous come out of our lips.
If this was the end of my post it would be quite discouraging, wouldn’t it? I want to finish by looking back at verse 29. Let’s shift our focus to the second half of Paul’s instructions to the church in Ephesus: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Our language, what comes out of our mouths, what comes out of our hearts needs to be an instrument of grace, used to help and build others. It should meet the need of others. How extraordinary that this is the way we should speak! We are to reflect God’s character. We are image bearers. A friend once told me she uses a traffic light system: red light – stop and think “is what I am about to say helpful? Is it edifying? “Is it going to meet the needs of others?. Yellow – search the depths of our hearts, ask the Holy Spirit to change our attitude, take time to let Him work in us. Green – only say what will be helpful and ultimately bring glory to God. This might seem like a child like exercise but I thought it was a good suggestion.
We must live our lives in a way that will show those around us that we are different, separated by God and for God. Looking after the way we speak to one another is important. Searching what is in our hearts with the help of the Holy Spirit should be a daily exercise. Let us put on our new selves each day by God’s grace and for His glory.