In my previous post (found here), I addressed a number of issues related to the Christian and his speech. In this post, I want to provide some principles for the believer and his speech, as well as some points of practical application concerning our speech.
[Author’s Note: This article, as well as the previous one in this series, relies substantially on John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 487-512. While I find Frame’s presentation helpful, I do not agree with him on every point.]
Principles for the Believer and His Speech
The following principles are based on my understanding of Scripture and certain practical considerations. Some Christians will of course prefer principles that allow for more freedom in regard to speech. I acknowledge that some of my principles find clear support in Scripture while others do not.
- Believers should show reverence when employing a divine name. Inappropriate uses of a divine name include: 1) employing a divine name to deceive others of one’s true intentions, 2) using a divine name to show anger, 3) employing a divine name to display resentment, or 4) using a divine name in any manner that is shows disrespect or mockery toward the Godhead. I personally refrain from using certain substitutes (e.g., “gosh”).
- Believers should recognize that the meaning and offensiveness of some terms have changed over time. Terms that were regarded as sinful or offensive in the past are today not understood as sinful or offensive, at least among some subcultures. In my view it is wise for believers to avoid even these words because: 1) they genuinely offend people, 2) they are more like the world’s language than the spirit of Scripture’s teaching on speech, and 3) they can hinder one’s gospel witness in certain settings (1 Cor 9:19-23).
- Believers must refrain from speech that flows from a heart of contempt for others (e.g., “idiot,” “fool”; see esp. Matt 5:22), for people are made in God’s divine image (Gen 1:26-27). Furthermore, Jesus’ command for believers to love their neighbor as themselves would also forbid such speech (Matt 22:39). This would include not only terms of derision but also inappropriate sexual expressions and racial slurs.
- Believers must refrain from using sexual language (e.g., slang) when that language displays contempt for the biblical presentation of sex within marriage, namely, sex between a husband and wife who are committed to one another in a covenant relationship (Gen 2:24).
- In light of Paul’s example (Phil 3:8; Gal 5:12; see also Phil 3:2), there may be times when a believer expresses himself very forcefully. However, such instances should be rare and have a godly intent. In general, while I acknowledge that one may find some support in Scripture for this practice, I personally avoid speaking in this manner lest I am misunderstood (people conclude that I approve of such speech at all times) or offend needlessly.
- Believers should always consider whether their choice of words is more influenced by their surrounding pagan culture or Scripture’s overall teaching on speech (Genesis to Revelation, not just selected texts such as Phil 3:8 and Gal 5:12). It is Scripture, and not the world, that must guide believers in their speech (Rom 12:2).
- Believers should understand that their words are to be “wholesome” (useful, valuable, profitable) speech that builds others up (Eph 4:29; see also 5:4, 19).
- Believers should seek to show wisdom in regard to their speech. Proverbs repeatedly speaks of using wisdom in this area (e.g., Prov 10:18; 12:25; 15:28; 17:27; 21:23).
- Believers must understand the power of speech. For example, notice the power of Abigail’s words over David (1 Sam 25:23-35). David was a mighty warrior who had taken a solemn vow to kill every male associated with Nabal (1 Sam 25:13, 21-22). However, Abigail’s words were so powerful that they caused him to change his mind. Proverbs also has much to say about the power of speech (e.g., Prov 12:18, 23; 13:3; 15:1, 4; 16:24; 25:15b).
- Believers must always consider if their speech comes from a love for God and people and results in others loving God and people (Matt 22:37-40).
- A five year old watching a cartoon hears one character call another character a “stupid idiot” in anger. How might you use this as a teaching moment in the life of the child? What specific principle would you share (in a way the child would understand).
- Can you share about a time in your life when someone’s words to you were so powerful that they moved you in a significant way (positively or negatively)?
- Is there a person in your life who needs to be encouraged? What specifically do they need to hear from you? Consider specific Scripture texts you could share.
- What are some principles that should guide a Christian in regard to entertainment (e.g., movies) in light of our discussion of the Christian his speech? This is an area where Christians need to exercise wisdom, as well as freedom marked by caution. I would not necessarily reject a movie even if the language is unbiblical. I would consider various factors (e.g., historical/cultural significance, themes communicated). However, I do believe that a Christian should show discretion as to the amount of unbiblical entertainment he allows himself to be exposed to. One can become desensitized to unbiblical ideas (as expressed in unbiblical language) if exposed to them too frequently.
- Scripture teaches that one’s speech reveals what is in his heart (e.g., Matt 12:34-35; Luke 6:45). Consider your speech in recent days. What does it reveal about the spiritual condition of your heart? You might consider examining your twenty most recent posts on Facebook.
- What do you think about certain substitutes (e.g., “dang,” “darn,” “heck”) for terms traditionally regarded as cuss words?
- Consider memorizing several key Scripture passages related to the Christian and his speech referenced in this study.
Final Quote from Frame
“The Christian should always be, and be perceived as, one who, while not self-righteous and legalistic, nevertheless avoids contemptuous or irreverent attitudes and the language by which his culture or subculture expresses those attitudes.”
 In Ephesians 4:29 Paul uses the adjective sapros (“unwholesome”).
 Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 510.