Month: January 2014

What the #%@&: A look at Profanity and the Christian Life

I began this blog in order to discuss the proclamation of the Gospel, specifically evangelism. Since the way a Christian lives directly impacts the witness that he/she has in the world, though, I feel that adding other information to this blog only adds depth.  Our actions bring credibility to our words and therefore are needed in talking about evangelism.  I am not talking about servant evangelism here, or relation evangelism.  These are topics for future posts.   I am talking about the way we live our life, and project ourselves into the world.

Recently the discussion of how the Christian uses language has come up.  Specifically in regards to profanity.  I am sure all have seen, or heard Christians using this type of language.  Since I recently researched this area of the Christian life, I thought it might be beneficial to post what I found on this subject.

Below is my paper on Profanity:

Profanity:  A Christian Ethical Analysis

According to a 2006 USA today poll, the American culture has experienced a shift in how it views profane language over the past several years (Pope).  Two-thirds of the 1,001 people polled for this article believe that they swear more today than they did 20 years ago.   Of those polled between the ages of 18-34 years old 62% admitted to swearing at least a few times a week, and approximately a quarter of those polled admitted to using the ‘F-word’ on a weekly bases.  One man defended his language by stating that “It has just become part of the culture.”  The evangelical community has not gone untouched by this trend.  A 2003 Barna Research study found that 7% of evangelical Christians believe that using profanity is “morally acceptable.”  Is it possible that they are correct?  Does Scripture speak against the use of profane language and if so, what exactly counts as profane?  Is “cussing” a sin or is it simply poor social etiquette?

In order to answer these questions one must first reach an understanding as to what exactly is considered profane.  The word is most commonly used in regards to foul language, or “cussing”, but that is only a portion of the definition.  Webster’s Dictionary gives two possible definitions of the word profane which both build around the idea to “debase by a wrong, unworthy, or vulgar use.”  The only difference is that one definition is used in a worldly way and the other is used in regards to Holy things.  This definition allows for profanity to include more than simple language or single words.  It allows for actions, intentions and a host of other possible methods of vulgarity.

In the Old Testament (NKJV) the word profane is used 45 separate times in various forms.  It is first used in Lev. 18:21 in a section dealing with a command to not honor the false god Molech.  Doing so would “profane the name of your God.” According to Timothy M. Willis in his commentary on Leviticus the actions profane God’s name for one core reason; “just as the people maintain the distinctiveness of their family units through sexual relations, so they maintain their distinctive relationship with the Lord in other aspects of their lives” (164).  Committing the sexual perversions associated with the worship of this deity allows for the name of the Lord to be dishonored by His people.  John MacArthur also points out that this practice opens a window for foreigners to blaspheme the true God (180).

This word appears again a few verses later in verse 19:8 in regards to the eating of a peace offering on the third day or later.  Doing so would cause one to have “profaned the hallowed offering of the Lord.”  Four verses down this idea is seen again, “And you shall not swear by my name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God” (v19:12).  Each instance of this word throughout the Old (and New) Testament points to a specific action which would cause the name of the Lord, or something that was seen as Holy in His eyes, to be profaned.  The Hebrew word used in each of these verses, חָלַל (chậlal), literally means to stain or to pollute.  The actions associated with this word in Scripture cause the reputation and Holy name of the Lord to be polluted on Earth.

It can be argued that these are in fact actions that profane the Name of the Lord. Of the many times that chậlal is used it is never used in regards to language.  This point will be addressed shortly by looking towards the Greek used in the NT.  Before moving to the NT though Jeremiah 23:15 should be called to attention.  It is here that a different word for profane is used in the Hebrew, חָנֵף (chậnệph), which means to corrupt, defile, or soil in a moral sense.  The prophets of Judah are accused in verse 15 of allowing “profaneness to spread throughout the land.”  There are many examples of actions that can be associated with this profaneness in the prior verses but several sins of language may be seen as well: “they prophesied by Baal” (v.13), “and led my people Israel astray” (v.13) “they…walk in lies” (v.14).  Each of these examples shows how the language was a portion of the profaneness.  Much of this language would never make it on a modern day profane language list, but in God’s eyes it was (is) profane.  Another portion of language that caused this profaneness is the lack of language from the prophets of Jerusalem.  Not only had they turned their teachings away from God, but they had also turned from the job they were called to do.  The role of the prophets in Israel and Judah was to be corrective to the people.  They were to call them into a right relationship with God.  Instead they allowed an unchecked perversion against God to rein and brought punishment upon the people.  Is it possible that Christians can profane the name of God while ignoring current issues today such as abortion, homosexuality, gossip or divorce in the Church?  John M. Bracke offers his insight in his commentary on Jeremiah 1-29:

Jeremiah accuses Judah’s prophets of being voices in support of the status quo, persons who strengthen the hands of those whose practice of social and economic exploitation has led God’s people astray.  Are there faithful prophets among us in the church today who are our conscience and memory, calling us back into relationship with God and to act as agents for God’s justice for the poor? (188)

So how does this all relate to language?  How does one move from actions that profane the name of God into lists of words in 2013 America?  Even the words found in Jeremiah 23:15 had religious connections, and for the most part Christians realize that they shouldn’t use the Lord’s name in vain or prophesy in the name of another god.  Of course Christians slip but the third commandment is very clear; “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” (KJV).  It really doesn’t get any clearer than this.  Don’t swear using God’s name as the swear word.  The question of whether Christians can use other words is where the disagreement arises.  This is the sort of argument that research fellow Jordan J. Ballor used in his article “Potty-Mouthed President”. In his article he states that not only are swear words not spoken against in the Scriptures, they are actually used in Scripture.

Mr. Ballor’s argument in this article centers on the words of Philippians 3:8; “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them dung, that I may gain Christ.”  The Greek word skubalon (skubalợn) in this case is literally translated as “dung” in the NKJV but Mr. Ballor believes that the most immediate and core sense of the word places it as a 4 letter word that begins with an s.  His argument is one of example.  If one can show Paul using profanity then the use of all profanity can be considered acceptable and useful.

John Reumann does not disagree in his commentary of Philippians about the word choice of Paul in v3.8.  John points out, though, that it’s not the word itself that is shocking (although it is shocking) but the thought itself.  It’s the thought of comparing our past life to excretion.  It is something that “once thrown away, is never touched again or even looked at” (492).  A translation handbook for Philippians also agrees with the term used by Paul to describe himself.  He was using a term to show his personal “utter worthlessness and disgust” (Loh; Nida, 100).  Mr. Ballor’s argument seems to be supported and shows that Paul does in fact use profane language in the Bible.  Through his use of the word skubalợn the Bible shows that the use of this profane word is acceptable when it is used against oneself while in comparison with the Holiness of God.  There is no indication in this passage that this can be used to make an argument for using all profane words or even this word in any other context.  Mr. Ballor can rightly compare himself with fecal matter with this verse in mind.

Do other texts allow for the use of foul language then?  Can a list be pieced together using instances such as this?  While keeping in mind the things that God finds profane from the previous study of Leviticus one may turn to other portions of Scripture that address this issue.  Ephesians 5:4 instructs Christians to “let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”  If one were to make a list of all words that are currently considered swear words in America the vast majority would fit into one of these categories.  These jokes or curse words make light of Biblical commands and many times God himself.  Many times the words and jokes laugh at, and bring humor to the very deeds that are said to profane God in Leviticus and other OT books.  In fact, for many people the allure of this shocking speech is what causes them to start using it in the first place.  These words, phrases and jokes are the same ones that Paul refers to as rotten or corrupt in v4.29.  “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that may impart grace to the hearers.”  In Ray Summers commentary on Ephesians he declares that using the foul words in this category is “so vile that they [profane words] are not even to be named as possible practices for believers” (106).  This language seems harsh but when looked at in light of the next two verses one can understand why.  Verse 5 warns that “no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God.”  Verse 6 goes on to say “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”   Dr. George Stoeckhardt points out that the admonition in v.5 speaks to the works of the flesh mention in v.3 and leaves out any possible notion that the unclean speech in v.4 is just being mentioned in passing.  The unclean speech directly links to the actions and to the punishment (228).

James 1:26 challenges Christians to bridle their tongues, 2 Timothy 2:16 commands them to shun profane and vain babblings, 1 Corinthians 15:33 shows that evil communications corrupt good manners.  These verses are not blatant commandments to not use certain language.  They do not give lists of what a Christian can or cannot say.  They do allow the reader to see a picture of what types of language should not be used and how the Christian should conduct themselves in this area.  When looked at together in the context of Scripture all of these verses show one how they should handle their speech in all areas of life.  Too often people search for a verse to directly speak against what they want to do.  When they do not find it they consider it their ‘Christian Liberty’ to do what they want.  In many cases the Bible simply isn’t silent on the subject at hand.  God has not been vague in what he wants done, but he also hasn’t given it in direct list form.   Christians are required to read and apply the principles taught to their lives.  When one does so profane language has no place.

When one takes the time to study Scripture on a subject like this they find out that God has standards that are far greater than anything they can possibly stand up to.  This comes as no surprise to Christians.  Jesus made this all too clear in his teachings in other areas.  The book of Matthew records the Sermon on the Mount which gives several instances such as this.  Jesus tells the people that not only should they not murder, but they also should not hate because God sees that as murder v5.21-22.  He shows the same standards in marriage when he points out that not only should one not commit adultery, but he also shouldn’t look with lust, which is adultery of the heart v5.27-28.    Scripture shows that language is judged in the same way by the Lord.  When this subject comes up many people simply would like a list and to be left alone.  The truth is that it’s not as simple as just having a list.  Christians are to give an account before God for every word they speak (Matt 12:36).  Every word that diminishes the name of God will be judged.  This includes more than the big hitters such as GD and JC.  Every word that diminishes the perfect Law will be judged.  This includes sexual slurs and other items.  Every word that diminishes the creation of God, causes animosity, harms marriages, corrupts children, or laughs at Scriptural truths will be judged.

Most Christians understand that their hope in Christ is secure.  When they are sealed by the power of the Holy Spirit, nothing can separate them from His hands.  They can “cuss” and curse and swear without ceasing and never fear the loss of their Salvation.  Would a saved person directed by the Holy Spirit do so though?  Could someone live for Christ and openly enjoy his sin?  One can never know another heart, but Biblical teachings would give reason for concern.

With all of this under consideration the Christian must also consider those around him.  Romans 14:13 teaches “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.”  C.E.B. Cranfield describes this situation as one where the strong’s actions may cause the weak to follow along and fall into sin in the process (344).  This is something that should be avoided at almost all costs.  When a Christian swears others around them hear this.  They may fall into sin because of this, or, they may not understand the glory of God because of our stains.  A Christian’s sole purpose is to reach the world for Christ and profane language only hinders that cause.  Christians ought not to speak in this manner.  When profane language is used the image of God is profaned.

Works Cited

Ballor, Jordan J. “Potty-Mouthed President.” Action Institute Power Blog.  25 July 2006. Web. 5 Nov. 2013.

The Barna Group. “Morality Continues to Decay” The Barna Group. 3 Nov. 2003 Web 5 Nov. 2013.

Bracke, John M. Jeremiah 1-29. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press,    2000. Print.

Cranfield, C.E.B. Romans: A Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Erdmans Publishing Co., 1985.

Loh, I-Jin and Eugene A. Nida, A Translators Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. London, New York: United Bible Societies, 1983. Print.

MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1997. Print.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 10th edition.  “Profane”. Print.

Pope, Steve. “Americans living in Age of Profantiy?”, USA Today, 28 March 2006. Web. 5 Nov. 2013.

Reumann, John. Philippians. London, England: Yale University, 2008. Print.

Stoeckhardt, Dr. George. Kommentar über den Brief Pauli an die Epheser. St. Louis, Missouri: Concodria Publishing House, 1910. trans. Martin S. Sommer, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1952. Print.

Summers, Ray. Ephesians: Pattern for Christian Living. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1960. Print.

Willis, Timothy M. Leviticus. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries, 2009. Print.

The Penny Bible

I attend classes at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City.  As a given the Bible is a standard text in all classes, and yet somehow this past week arrived on campus minus my copy.  I was going to study the Word of God, without bringing the Word of God with me.  As you can probably guess, that wouldn’t work so well.

It just so happens that our campus has a LifeWay store in the same building my class is in, so I grabbed some change out of the cup holder in my van and ran in to buy myself a copy.  After quickly searching through the 800 available copies I grabbed the cheapest one I could find and checked out.  My total:  $2.15.  I bought the Word of God, for the change in my car.

The cheapness isn’t what caught my attention though.

I realized, I forgot my Bible and I just ran in and grabbed a copy like no big deal.  For a few pennies I bought another copy without evening batting an eye.  On top of that, I will probably give it to my kids to use, not even thinking too much if they misplace it, or tear it up.

How blessed are we in America to be able to do this.  I own roughly 50 copies of the Bible.  I have almost every single modern English translation.  I have the Bible in Dutch, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin.  I have study bibles, and regular Bibles.  I have decorative Bibles and I have cheap ‘throw away’ Bibles.  Even with all of that I just ran in and grabbed another.

I have this, while people all over the world have no ability to even get a single copy.  Because of persecution Bibles are taken from people.  2,000 years after the Cross entire groups live without a translation in their language.  People die in order to attempt to get a single Bible, or even a small section of one.

This excess, while others have none made me realize how blessed I am to be an American.  With as much as there is wrong with this country, we are still so blessed to be able to have access to Scripture without fear.  We are blessed to be able to share the Gospel without suffering.

The problem with this is, I don’t like I should.  Many have died so I can read my Bible openly, and yet many times it sits unread.  Men and women have lost their life so that I might have the freedom to share the Gospel, and yet I am afraid to knock on the door across the street.

I realized this week, while shelling out the $2.15 for my Bible, that I have an obligation to those who have died for my freedoms, to use them.  I must be a good steward of what they have gained for me.

People all across this world would give anything to have a Bible, I can’t help them get one in many cases, but I can read mine.  I can share my faith.  It is my obligation.  Why squander what was given to me at such great cost?  I will read my Bible.  I will share the Gospel.  Will you join me?

J.W. Willard

Naked in the Cold

This morning I woke up and began to prepare to take the kids to the bus stop for school.  I looked at the thermometer and noticed that it was a brisk 16 degrees, and the wind was blowing strong.  According to the news the wind-chill was in the single digits.  Needless to say, it was cold.

In order to go out to the bus stop, even for just a few minutes I put on my thickest coat, my hat with ear flaps and my gloves.  I took every effort to remain warm.  I had my children do the same.  We prepared for the weather that was outside the door.

I never would have thought to go into the cold world naked.  I may not be the smartest man in the world, but I know that going naked into the cold would never work.  If I had, though, I would have rushed back inside almost instantaneously and it would be a long time before I went out again.

You may find this entire line of thought silly, but for most of us this is exactly how we approach Evangelism.  We do little to prepare ourselves during our day to day life, and in a moment of conviction we venture into the cold world to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are unprepared for the weather outside the door.

We of course know a couple of verses, and maybe (or maybe not) we say a short prayer before going out, and we can stumble our way though the Gospel message.  If anything deeper than that is required we do not have the tools to engage.  In many ways this is like going into a driving snow storm in shorts and a T-Shirt.  We have some clothes on, but we have not taken the time to fully dress for the weather.

It is little wonder that most Christians share the Gospel quickly and run back inside, regretting going out in the first place.  The cold was so great, and they were so unprepared, it will take them a long time to get the guts to go back out.  If they go back out at all.

Who can blame them though?  If I ran outside naked I wouldn’t go back out either.  In fact, I have to applaud the effort since I know the guts it took to do so were great.  Very few Christians even make it that far.

What would happen though if the Christian daily spent time in deep Bible intake (not just skim reading for mileage), and prayer?   The Christian would then venture into the cold world with a far greater covering.  The depth of the Christians spiritual growth would be the coat, pants, hat, and gloves.  They would be better prepared for the cold world that awaits them.

This doesn’t happen quickly or easily though.  Unlike bundling up for the cold these must be put on over time and they grow in thickness and effectiveness as the Christian grows in the Lord.  The longer the Christian truly practices Scripture intake and deep prayer the better prepared he/she will be for evangelism.  It may still be cold outside, and it probably will still be uncomfortable, but unlike for the naked Christian the job will be possible.

When evangelism is hard, and seems like an impossible task perhaps the Christian should not think that evangelism is too hard.  Perhaps they should consider their devotional life to see if they are practicing it as they should, or even practicing it at all.

We have been commanded to venture into the cold.  We better make sure we are prepared to do so…

J.W. Willard

A Fool for Christ’s sake

As I was going about my errands today I crossed the path of a familiar sight on the streets of many cities this time of year.  People dressed cheaply as the Statue of Liberty, dancing upon street corners, twirling signs, and waving manicly at passing cars hoping to entice others to enter the Liberty Tax office and have their taxes done.  A better way to describe this might be, people being paid almost nothing to dance on street corners in the freezing cold looking like fools. 

As I watched this young man twirl and wave I wondered to myself who would do such a thing.  Who would put aside all pride in order to act in such a way?  Who would do it on a street corner for all to see?  Who would be willing to act this foolish?

Image

It was at this point that the words of the Apostle Paul come to mind in 1 Corinthians 4:10 when he tells the church that “we are fools for Christ’s sake”.  We are to be so different from the world around us that it would appear as foolishness.

Lest we think that this is an isolated idea the apostle makes several other mentions of the foolishness of not only who we as Christians should be but of the message we preach as perceived by the world around us.

  • “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
  • “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 1:21)

As I look into the church today I see very little of this foolishness.  The Gospel is of course the same in true Bible preaching churches and it is still foolishness to the world around us.  The Christians who have entrusted this message though appear far from foolish.  In fact, most Christians I know, myself included, are hard to distinguish from the world.  We are ‘good’, moral people in appearance but no different than the ‘good’ lost people around us.  We, as individuals, are no longer boldly proclaiming the message and doing whatever it takes to see others saved.

My prayer is that we would no longer be chameleons to the world, but instead our words and our actions would make us stand out.  I pray that we would boldly proclaim the Gospel to the world in every way possible.  That we would truly be fools for Christ’s sake.

Of course, a note must be inserted here that we are not to be ridiculous simply for the sake of being so.  We should not do foolish things simply to look foolish.  We should instead focus on being unashamedly, and boldly proclaiming Christ’s message to the world, despite what people may think of us for doing so.  We should not worry what the neighbors, or the family, or the friends will think.  We just do our job to be faithful to the Great Commission.

The church needs to stop blending in as pedestrians walking along the street of life.  Instead we need to take our cue from the Liberty Tax man and do whatever we can to entice as many people to safety inside.  There is no hope apart from the Gospel, and we have been entrusted with that message.  Let’s get foolish and proclaim it!

J.W. Willard