by Mike Ratliff
But 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. (Matthew 15:18-19 ESV)
I never thought I would see the day when professing Christians and their pastors would be offended by a teaching that is a call to repentance from the use of profanity or coarse language. Their response is that we are being legalistic for teaching this because it is culture that defines what profanity or coarse language is. Since the Bible doesn’t list certain words as bad words to use then it is judgmental and hypocritical to teach that it is wrong to use that form of language by Christians, especially preachers in the pulpit.
However, the Bible most definitely teaches that Christians are called to be holy and pure. They are to deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow Jesus. They are to not be legalistic about following rules, but instead are to become Spirit-filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit. They are to not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. They have freedom from legalism, but are challenged to not take lightly the shedding of Christ’s blood.
I find that the Phony “Tolerance” of the New Evangelicalism and of the Emerging Church, which demands that they not be called sinful for using profanity and coarse language, is actually an attempt to cling to a favorite sin while demanding that that what is evil be called good and any rebuke coming their way calling for repentance be called evil. Is there any teaching in the Bible concerning the tongue and word usage? Yes! Here is one from the book of James.
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. (James 3:1-13 ESV)
The two loudest complainers in my last post that was a call for repentance from using foul language, profanity, and coarse language by Christians are both in the Emergent or New Evangelism camp. One is Nathan Neighbors who has claimed that his pastor is Erwin McManus. The other is Tim Reed who is a pastor. He is well known for using profanity in his sermons for effect. They have called me arrogant and ignorant. If I have been arrogant then show me where and when so I can confess it and repent of it. I may be ignorant of these men’s motives, but I am not ignorant of what Christian’s are called to be by the grace of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
These are both so-called Christian leaders. What does James tell us in this passage about that? Not many of us should become teachers. Why? There is a greater judgment coming for teachers and preachers. Why is it that we must be very strict and careful about what we teach? First, we are supposedly prophesying from God’s Word. Second, we are fallible if we become self-focused and fleshly. We may stumble in this area in many ways. James tells us that it is by what we speak that will either be make us stumble or not. What would not make us stumble? If we teach what the Word says in the power of the Holy Spirit for God’s glory and the edification of those hearing or reading what we say then we will not stumble. However, any other motive will cause us to stumble because what comes from the mouth in the name of preaching or teaching will be defiled and it will defile us. Why? It will be of the flesh not of the Spirit.
James says that it is the tongue that defiles or stains the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. That’s pretty strong language. The Greek word that James used for stain or defile here means to pollute. What sort of things can we speak that would cause us to become polluted? James says that the tongue is full of deadly poison. From the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. Then he makes a statement that the mouth is like a spring. Good springs bring forth good water, but bad springs bring forth bad water. Fig trees bear figs not olives. Grapevines bear grapes not figs. Neither can a regenerate heart spew forth cursings and profanity and coarse language and call it preaching or teaching. Instead, a regenerate heart will bring forth the fruit of its new nature and show good works in meekness of wisdom. James told us at the beginning of this passage that in many things we offend so he isn’t teaching perfectionism. The believer is in process and will eventually, by God’s Grace through their sanctification learn to be Spirit-filled and not flesh driven.
Lastly, I would like to make an observation. This controversy or disagreement or whatever it is, is an indictment against how fleshly the Church has become. When a call to be holy and pure through godly sorrow that leads to repentance is labeled as legalism, ignorance, and arrogance by leaders in the Church then we must take a long hard look at our spiritual bankruptcy. Isn’t this a parallel of the apostasy of Israel that caused God to destroy their nation and send the people into captivity? Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel prophesied against their apostasy and rebellion and they were all persecuted. If this erosion of God’s Truth in the heart of the Church continues then can judgment be far behind?
Soli Deo Gloria