By Bruce Edwards, Jr.
It is sometimes surprising to witness the behavior of some who profess to be among the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. The claim of discipleship is a claim to Jesus as Lord-Lord of everything in the disciple’s life. It is thus somewhat conspicuous behavior when professing Christians utter profane language. There is perhaps no more telling evidence of one’s infidelity than his improper use of the tongue.
The concept of profanity certainly encompasses more than uttering several naughty words. Profanity is the practice of taking that which is holy, set apart for sacred use and making it common and ordinary. It involves irreverence and indolence, insolence and flippancy. It is the product of both ignorance and rebellion. We have come to associate profanity with filthy speech because it is perhaps the most graphic manifestation of disrespect that we encounter. However, such things as tampering with God’s word, using His funds unscripturally or corrupting His worship are no less instances of profanity-taking the holy and making it common.
For the Christian, the concepts of the sacred and the profane have their roots in the Old Testament. God’s word is said to be holy-an expression of His Holy Character. And when His people obey His word, they in turn become “holy” (Lev. 20:7, 8; Ezek. 22:26). The Book of Exodus particularly deals with the idea of a holiness manifested in God’s people, one that is founded upon their personal sanctification to the Lord. In Ex. 20:7, Jehovah says, “Thou shall not take the name of Jehovah thy God in vain; for Jehovah will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.” Here perhaps the Lord has in view the entire life-style of a people dedicated to Him. The thought encompasses more than, though it includes, the mouthing of some nasty words. Using the Lord’s name, His word, His authority, in a frivolous or irreverent manner is despicable and incompatible with the claim of discipleship. One who only in pretense is set apart unto the Lord is living a vain and profane life . . . and the Lord “will not hold Him guiltless.”
In the New Testament, James has a lot to say about the use of the tongue. In the third chapter (vss. 3-12) he points out the folly and danger of a loose tongue. He illustrates the fundamental inconsistency of one who uses his tongue to bless God and then turns and curses those made in the image of God. The theme of the holy versus the profane life is echoed in the New Testament in such discourses as Eph. 4-6; Col. 3, 4; and Gal. 4, 5. Particularly in Eph. 5:3, 4 does a New Testament writer register a stinging rebuke for those with a nasty tongue. Paul argues, “But fornication and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as becometh saints; nor filthiness, nor foolish talking, or jesting, which are not befitting; but rather giving of thanks.”
Though the mores and morals of a society may change and thus its concepts of obscenity and profanity, the Law of God does not change. There is no place for Ale filthy, the suggestive or the obscene in the vocabulary of the Christian; but there is much less place in the behavior of a Christian for the vulgar tongue which uses the name of God in a vain manner. Frivolous and flippant exclamations of “Lord,” “God,” “Jesus Christ,” and the subtle euphemistic forms (“Gosh,” “Golly”, “Gee,” etc.) are inexcusable and should be eliminated from one’s speech.
Profane language begins as a subtle habit absorbed from thoughtless parents and social peer groups, but soon if progresses into a life-style difficult to reform. Let the professing Christian consider his speech and deilermine if it is in keeping with his claim to discipleship (2 Pet. 1:1-8). Profane speech is an indica[ion of immaturity and total lack of self-control. It is neither “masculine” (or for that matter “feminine”) nor (as some seem to think) the only way to command attention, to motivate desired behavior or to fortify an argument. May we seek to sidestep profane behavior in every aspect of our lives. To do less is to deny the Master who bought us with His own blood.
Truth Magazine XX: 50, pp. 797-798
December 16, 1976