Should Christians Swear 2

Recently I stated to some friends that ‘Jesus had balls’. I used this statement as an analogy for the courage he displayed, not as a Christological reference to the fact that he was one hundred percent human male as well as being divine. I then added that I should be able to say so on Sundays as well. Am I right? Was it okay for me to say that Jesus had balls and should I be able to say so in church?

In my last post I postulated that the measuring stick for a Christian’s speech is the heart that it comes from and the results that it brings. When we speak, do we do so out of a heart that is submitted to Christ? Does our language build people up or tear them down? Language is by definition an expression of thoughts that is shared with others so our speech’s impact on our hearers is central in determining its appropriateness.

The Liberty We Have

This is in essence a question of how we use the liberty that we have. This is an issue that Paul addresses on several different occasions in scripture, most often in reference to the eating of meat sacrificed to idols but I believe the principles in these passages can be applied generally.

Paul says that ‘All things are lawful but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbour.’ (1 Corinthians 10:23-24). Our driving motivation behind what we do is not to be our own good but that of our neighbour. It is not defensible for me to use a liberty that I have according to my own conscience at the expense of my neighbour’s.

Paul advises that if someone brings an issue of conscience to your attention (in this case the eating of meat sacrificed to idols) then ‘do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s…’ (1 Corinthians 10:26b-29).

In regards to our speech, this means that when someone is listening to us whose conscience we know will be offended by certain words or phrases then we are to withhold from using such language.

For the Gospel’s Sake

The problem with this is that we can often create a culture where an issue of liberty can quickly be turned into a religious ordinance that we culturally enforce. If I don’t use a word or phrase so as not to possibly offend, and others take the same approach, then eventually no one knows why we don’t use the word or phrase to begin with and the original issue of liberty is forgotten and a taboo is created. This only serves to promote immaturity by suppressing liberty and endorsing man made religious ordinances.

Ultimately we are to lay down liberty for the sake of the work of the gospel and to glorify God. Paul says that ‘Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offence to either Jews or Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but that of the many, so that they may be saved.’ (1 Corinthians 31-33).

In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul speaks of how he had the right to take a salary from the people that he had ministered to in Corinth but instead worked another job so that he did not make his boast in the gospel an empty one. He did not want any one to accuse him of preaching the gospel only for a profit. He laid down a liberty for the sake of the gospel.

Taking Up Our Liberty

What do we do though when laying down our liberty actually works against the gospel by creating a culture where immaturity prospers, such as when we create man made taboos because we don’t want to risk offending anyone?

The answer is in the recognition of context in our application of scriptures principles. If I am chatting with an individual or group who I know is sensitive about language then I should respect that and avoid offense. If however I am preaching to a general assembly, where I am seeking to teach the liberty of Christ through the gospel then things change. If I am firm in my conviction about the acceptable use of a word or phrase, then I work against the liberty of the gospel and the maturity of the congregation if I refrain from using said word or phrase. I am encouraging ‘the weak in faith’ as Paul calls them in Romans 14:1 in their weakness (Paul is again addressing the issue of food in Romans 14 but I again believe the principle to be a general one).

What Do You Think?

I am not here trying to advocate the use of foul language or indeed ‘an opportunity for the flesh’ (Galatians 5:13) and I believe that my arguments above attest to that. What I am trying to argue for is a refusal to allow a religious culture to develop around the laying down of liberties in the name of ‘not risking offense’. Man made ordinances work against the maturity of Christian disciples and puts off unbelievers because the last thing they want to become is ‘religious’ in the negative sense of the word.

Undoubtedly this leads us to a situation where we risk certain individuals going too far in their language but that is why we are to constantly point them to the cross and the work of Christ and allow him to minister to their hearts rather than trying to change their behaviour through our own man made religious rules enforced by cultural pressure.

I’m sure there are many who will disagree with this but if you do, lets hear your reasoning from the scriptures.

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5 responses to “Should Christians Swear 2

  1. Hi James –

    Thanks for the post.

    I’d say we can make ‘man made taboos’ – we have the tendency as mere men to make these up willy nilly. All different types; legalistic and utterly of the flesh.

    Regarding speech I do believe we can do this also – the overly pious man or woman who prays in KJV English as to appear ‘spiritual’ [if you are not familair with this, I assure you many folk in the more strict/brethren world are], is one example of speech corrupted by sinful man.

    However, if we are talking about vulagrity in speech then I do not believe oppostion to this is a man made taboo but rather a genuine seeking after Christ likeness & a seperation from the profane unto the holy….

    Titus 2:8 tells us to; “be sound in speech which is beyond reproach”.

    This command comes right in the midst of very specific instrcutions to both the young and old of the church.

    I find it very interesting that this command regarding our speech is to the young men. The young man is most prone to both failing in this area and also comprimising his speech.

    The word sound in Titus 2:8 is “hugiés” and it means to be wholesome and healthy. It is also used in the NT for words such as; good health , healed , normal , restored , sound, well .

    Rergardless of anything [culturally relevancy – reactionary thoughts to man made rules – uses of and abuses of our liberty in Christ] our speech must be 100% water tight beyond reproach and wholesome.

    There is no way I would stand in a pulpit and say, ‘Jesus had balls’ nor would I say it in fellowship with others – particularly unbelievers. We do not talk about the King if kings like that.

    I really enjoy the fact that you are searching and thororughly investigating things so important as speech and godly conduct – it shows that you do indeed care about both the glory of God and the precious gospel we are called to proclaim.

    Look forward to catching up with you soon!

    • Hi Matt,
      Thanks for your great response. I know this is probably one of those areas where we’ll end up agreeing to disagree and ultimately thats ok because I don’t believe this is an issue that goes to our doctrinal core.

      I believe that saying ‘Jesus has balls’ is appropriate in certain circumstances. I think its actually God honouring to speak of his courage and its helpful to express it to non-believers in a language that isn’t religious and which they can relate to. Obviously we must hold the King of Kings in the highest regard and I believe that its entirely possible to say that he had balls in a way that does this. There are times when we emphasise Jesus’ humanity and there are times that we emphasise his divinity, the same way scripture does but we must always teach that he was 100% both to ensure we maintain sound doctrine.

      I also appreciate your reference to Paul’s statement in Titus and I think that goes right along with my last post where I say that no specific words are listed as being unwell, unhealthy, and unsound and that ultimately we must consider the heart condition which we are speaking out of and the results that our words have in learning what is appropriate or not.

      I’ll just add that I can’t remember the last time I dropped an F-bomb or anything similar and that this is such a topic of interest to me because I think it highlights how a ‘religious’ culture can undermine the gospel.

      Thanks for the comments!

  2. James: Just thought I’d chime in as I was wondering what Titus 2:8 was referring to after Matthew quoted it. Specifically I was asking myself was Paul actually saying that young men were to have “wholesome” speech as we would understand “wholesome”, ie. not swearing, etc.? Not having done a study in Titus I’m not expert, but the word does mean “whole” as Matthew pointed out when taken in a literal sense. All other examples of it in the NT refer to physical restoration or a person being made whole. However, Titus is the only use of it in a figurative sense. Looking at a couple of lexicons they give the figurative meaning as not “wholeness” but “doctrinal correctness” or something of that affect. If that is correct, then it would seem that Paul is speaking as to the content / teaching of young men’s speech (being doctrinally sound) and not in regards to the use of individual words that may or may not be culturally offensive.

    Interesting discussion going on here and one that I’ve not given much thought to as I don’t swear. However, that is subjective and to some listening to me maybe I do?? Anyway, I’ll check back later and see what others contribute as you nut this one out.

    • Hi Nathan,

      Wow, fantastic work looking into Titus 2:8. After having a look at a couple lexicons myself I’d say that you’re interpretation that Paul is referring to ‘doctrinal correctness’ is a solid one. Its reinforced by the fact that Paul says to have purity in doctrine and sound speech so that ‘the opponent’ will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. The opponent here is undoubtedly those that Paul speaks of in Titus 1:10-16, rebellious Jews who are teaching things they should not teach. Doctrine was clearly an issue in Crete where Titus was.

      Then again, gossip and slander were issues in Crete according to 2:3 as well and perhaps Paul was using the literal meaning here of ‘hygies’ and meant wholeness of speech in the same way as he did in Ephesians 4:29 where our speech is to be edifying and not rotten (as gossip and slander are).

      Either way, I think my point remains that we cannot say from a biblical perspective that certain words or phrases are unfit in themselves and that we have to use the standard of measure given to us in scripture – the condition of our heart and the response we illicit from our hearers to judge our speech and others.

  3. Nathan – You are 100% exactly correct here! Thanks for pointing that fact out.

    Having preached on the very text a number of months ago – I touched on that very point, yet failed to recall it as I was so focussed on actual audible speech.

    Could it have dual application? – I’m not sure……but I dont think so.

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