Foul Language And The Shelter of God’s Holiness
Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths,
but only what is helpful for building others up
I won’t be so ridiculous as to claim that foul language will cause America’s collapse. But I will claim that public use of foul language is symptomatic of a society that has abandoned the virtue of self-control. And without that, a society cannot co-exist peacefully. Picture our public schools, especially our inner-city schools, and you’ll see what I mean.
There are other symptoms of our lack of self-control, such as the legalization of recreational marijuana (emphasis on recreational). Don’t you just love how people who can’t get through the day without chemical coping can now impose their stench on the rest of us? Another symptom is the proliferation of legalized gambling, which undermines hard work and frugality as the means for generating wealth. And we can’t fail to mention America’s most celebrated loss of self-control, the one involving lust. That one is everywhere.
I know, I know: saying this makes me a prude in some people’s eyes. I’ll get over that somehow….
There are some positive examples of public self-control. The “Me Too” movement, I think, has made a needed statement that women’s bodies must be safeguarded from men’s disrespect. There was a time when men would stand when a lady came into the room, and though some now consider that sexist, it at least signaled public respect for women. Similarly, respect for people’s race, while often merely superficial and fear-based, at least shows remorse for America’s racist past.
But the surrender of self-control in other ways, such as toleration of truly foul language, pollutes our public life. Recently I traveled by bus to the Buffalo Bills game with my daughter and her co-workers in a company-sponsored outing. These are people with masters degrees and responsible positions in the financial world. But as the game went on the f-word colored the air more and more. That’s just how Americans talk now, even in the presence of children.
As usual, pop media began the trend. The first use of the f-word on TV was in 2000 when the movie Schindler’s List aired. The TV network allowed the profanity because, apparently, it had artistic value; it was spoken by a despicable Nazi character as a sign of his depravity. But f-the word is now widely used even by “good” characters on TV. That’s unsurprising; once the loss of self-control is tolerated, it accelerates. The floodgate opens and it’s awfully hard to close that door again.
The day after Schindler’s List aired I happened to meet with a group of pastors. An older pastor – who incidentally was very theologically and politically progressive – said soberly, “If that word was used on TV, then the America I knew has come to an end”.
Indeed it has.
We’ve devolved to a social situation similar to the Apostle Paul’s. Paul evangelized in a pagan Greco-Roman culture, and the newbie Christians he oversaw often needed basic moral teaching. To the church in Ephesus he wrote Let no foul talk come out of your mouths. To them, God’s holiness was mostly an abstract concept; they could not yet see how foulness in one’s speech removed him from the presence of a holy God. They were too accustomed to it.
Maybe you too may see Paul’s teaching as mere morality policing – as though he were a librarian sternly whispering “Hush!” to chatty children. No, something much more precious is at stake here. It’s the ability to actually experience God’s presence.
Do you know the experience of God’s presence? The peace is unutterable. The holiness is indelible. It draws us out of our self-absorption and brings our attention to the majesty and awe of someone so beautiful that the ugliness of our sin is beyond embarrassing – it’s simply incompatible. It can’t remain.
Jesus says Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. The impure cannot see God. Even if they seek him, they can’t perceive him because they are too accustomed to their impurity. To them, they are not the ones who are strange; it’s God who is strange. But the pure of heart can indeed begin to experience God’s holy presence. The Lord’s holiness is a shelter for them, a place where foul language and indeed all human baseness is cast off like rags on one’s wedding day.
Do you feel yourself attracted to the holiness I’m describing? Or does it remain dull theory to you? If you are attracted, God’s Spirit is at work in your mind and heart; you are being drawn to him. If on the other hand this makes no sense to you, and you perceive Paul’s teaching as mere moral rectitude, then you are missing something vital. Try to repent of your blindness. Aim higher. You will be fantastically rewarded – but in ways you cannot yet fathom. You are a child who craves sugar and has not yet developed a taste for tastier things.