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.