Sunday, May 19, 2013

[Matt's Messages] "Bad Words"

“Bad Words”
The Tongue of the Wise - Spring 2013
May 19, 2013 :: Ephesians 5:4

I told Heather yesterday, “This will be a quick message. I’ll just say, ‘Bad Words. Don’t say them. Let’s close in prayer!”

And it will, probably be a quicker one, but I think God has a few more things for us to share today than just “Don’t say bad words!”

What do I mean by “Bad Words?”

I almost entitled this message, “Pardon My French.”

Because I think about it as sermon on all of those things people say that we know that we shouldn’t say: cursing, cussing, swearing, foul-mouthed dirty-jokes, using the Lord’s name in vain, expletives, double entendres, profanity, crudeness and so on.

Bad Words. That’s what I mean.

And it’s hard to preach on bad words this these days for a number of reasons.

First off, it’s everywhere and everyone does it.

Well, maybe not everyone, but it sometimes it seems like it, doesn’t it?

What used to be a word that no one would ever say in front of a lady, is now shouted by some woman (I won’t call her a lady) in public on a stage into a microphone on a camera broadcast to the world. And nobody blinks.

The Internet and social media have just made it worse.

It’s socially acceptable now to use bad words. And many people don’t even realize how degraded their speech has become.

And that probably includes some of you. And I apologize in advance if I step on your toes today. I don’t enjoy it, but I do it in love.

You might say, “Don’t we have bigger fish to fry than this? I mean, really, how relatively important is cussing compared to some other sins out there, including other sins of the tongue?”

And I’d say that you’re partially right. There are bigger fish to fry in the sea, but this smaller fish is still a fish that needs fried. In 15 years here, this is the first sermon I’ve preached on bad words. I wouldn’t make preaching against bad words the center of my ministry, but we’re going to see today that God has something important to say about it, and we all need to listen carefully.
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person-- such a man is an idolater-- has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 5:1-5, NIV 1984)

I was about 12 or 13 when I said my first swear word.

Now, that probably sounds really old to most of you. Many of you probably learned and used them long before me.

I was, as I’ve said before, a goody-two-shoes. I grew up much more like a Pharisee than a disciple like Peter or John and James, the sons of thunder.

And I was proud of not having said swear words until about Junior High.

[This is how I remember it, of course. There may be someone out there, my little brother for example, who might remember all of this differently and better.]

But I remember once walking home from Junior High School and deciding that I was going to say a swear word.

Out loud.

Just to see what would happen.

I had a word in my head that I had heard the other boys use, and I knew that it was a bad one.

And I was by myself, and there was no one around, and ... I said it.

And nothing happened.

The sky didn’t fall. The traffic didn’t crash. The birds didn’t stop singing. The sun didn’t go dark.

As far as I could tell, nothing happened!

But something did happen.

I had given in to something I knew I shouldn’t give in to.  I had compromised where I knew I shouldn’t have compromised. I had done something in secret that I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to know about, so I would now have to hide it.  (In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever told this to anyone until now.)

And I had set myself up to do it again. And next time, maybe something a little worse.

Remember what we’ve learned. Small words are still powerful.

And you know what? There was someone else listening.

Two people heard me use that bad word.

Myself. And my God.

Was it a small thing? Yes. And I can laugh about it today. And it’s forgiven!

But it was not a good thing.

In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul is talking about the changes that are necessary for Christians now that they have come to know Christ.

He started back in chapter 4, verse 17.

“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.”

We have been changed by Jesus!

And we need to live out that change. V.22

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

And then Paul lays out what this looks like in quick succession:

v.25 Put off falsehood and put on truth.
V. 27 Put off stealing and put on work and generosity.
V.29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it might benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God [on Pentecost Sunday!] with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
V.31 Put off bitterness, rage and anger, etc, etc, and put on forgiveness and compassion.

And then our verses:

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people.

[And our key verse...] Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”


The King James has “filthiness” in v.4.  No filthiness.

No dirty mouths.  No dirty words.

No words that stand for something shameful or disgraceful to mention.

Let me list a few obscenities for you here in the pulpit.


Don’t worry. I’m not going to do that.  God’s Word here says not to say them.

I’m glad that some of you gasped. We don’t need sermons that have to be beeped out by the censors.

Many obscenities are tied to impure sexuality.

Verse 3 said, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality.”

A lot of bad words come from talking about impurity in sexuality. Body parts, sexual acts, bad names for people who engage in illicit sex.

And Paul says that there shouldn’t be even a hint of that in our speech.

No obscenities.

But, what if you’re really angry?  I mean sometimes a regular word just doesn’t cut it to express how you feel. You need a really strong word!

Well, the truth is that you don’t have to express how you feel.

But you do have to obey your Lord and Master.

No obscenities.

No, “Pardon my French.” There is no excuse for “French.”

I think this includes using the Lord’s name as a swear word.

Now, using the Lord’s name in vain means a lot more than just using it as a swear word. Maybe we’ll have a whole sermon on how we can use the Lord’s name wrongly in this series.

But it’s not less than that!

When we misuse the Lord’s name, we are taking something utterly holy and turning it into a bad word!  That’s serious.

I know everyone does it.  “O my Lord!”

Or in they put OMG on their status, right?

No. That’s not the kind of talk that God wants from us.

No obscenities.

How do you know whether it’s an obscenity or not? Especially if you’re a kid.

I think this is where parents have an important role to play in their children’s lives.

We should be teaching our kids bad words. You heard it here first!

Not to use them but to not use them.

One of the dads in our church family here was telling me last week that he has invited his son to ask him about any word that he hears at school, and this dad will tell his son what that word means even if it makes him blush.

Not at the dinner table! But one-on-one that dad will teach his son what every obscenity he hears means.

I think that’s a great idea. And I am going to promise my boys the same thing.

We parents need to not be afraid of hearing those bad words so that we can train our kids to not use them.

Now, what about “substitute swear words?”

Everybody I’ve talked to this week about this sermon has asked me what do I think about words that aren’t the really bad words but we substitute in for them?

You know which words I mean.

The truth is that it’s not as bad to say those words as it is to say the words they are based upon.

But it’s not good either!

Let me give you some tamer examples: “Darn,” “heck,” and the phrase, “What the...?”

Not good.

I’m not going to give other examples today. I can’t do so in this pulpit in faith. If you need help with this, I’d be glad to talk with you further in private.

But the point is, “No Obscenities.”  And don’t try to get around it by saying something that is just you saying it without saying it. God knows.


V.4 again.

“Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”

Bible Teacher Joe Stowell says that foolish talk is “language offensive to Christian decency. This would certainly include words that are vulgar and indecent in their connotations. Speech from a foolish heart is godless. Since God is pleased with modesty (1 Timothy 2:9), talk that condones immodesty is foolish. Since God is concerned about loyalty in marriage, conversations that make light of marital fidelity are foolish as well” (The Weight of Your Words, pg. 73).

The picture I get of “foolish talk” is empty words that are spouted out in unthinking foolishness.

Proverbs 15:28 says, “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.”

I would put name-calling in this category.

And hate words.

We should never use ethnic slurs like “Chink” for Chinese or “Towel Heads” for Muslims or hateful words like “faggot” for homosexuals or “nigger” for black people.

That’s foolish talk.

And we should be especially careful with the words we use for those in authority over us.

Like the President of the United States.

The Apostle Peter said, “Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.”

Of course, our president is not a king, but he does have an office that we should respect.

And it’s foolish talking to call him bad names.


King James has “jesting.” The NASB has “coarse jesting.” One scholar translated it “degrading jesting.”

This is stories and jokes with suggestive overtones and double entendres.

And here’s the problem with them:

They can be ... really funny.

Some of the funniest jokes you’ll ever hear are a little ... coarse.

People wouldn’t tell them if they weren’t funny to someone.

But just because it’s funny, doesn’t mean it’s good.

That was something I learned back in High School. I’m not sure how I learned it, but it was a brainwave for me. A lightbulb went on.

I used to think that all kinds of things were excused because they were funny.

I was still a goody-two-shoes (for the most part) in High School.  And I was a leader in my youth group at church.

And I was juggling Christian speaker at banquets and youth events.

And I also have some favorite ribald jokes that I would tell in private.

I say this to my shame.

But at some point there in High School or shortly thereafter, I learned the lesson that just because it’s funny, doesn’t make it okay.

I’ve had to learn that more than once as I’ve strayed at times since.

No Coarse Joking!

Not to impress the boys in the locker room or the garage or the guard shack.

No Coarse Joking.

And that goes double for what you post online. Some of the things I see Christians sharing online make both of the hairs on my head stand on end.

When you share a poster or a story or a graphic or an image or a status that is coarse joking, you are disobeying Ephesians 5:4.

And why is that bad?

V.4, Paul says these things are “out of place.”

They don’t belong for Christians.


The King James says they are “not convenient” but he doesn’t mean that they come at a bad time. Convenient used to mean “what was fitting.”

These bad words don’t fit.

What don’t they fit?

They don’t fit Christians and they don’t fit the Kingdom. V.5

“For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person–such a man is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”

That’s how high the stakes are. And it’s no laughing matter.

Bad words don’t fit. They are impure, and they are out of place for Christians.

Like in verse 3 where it says, “these are improper for God’s holy people.”

They don’t belong.

Obscenities, foolish talk, or coarse joking in the mouth of a Christ-following believer is like putting Ghandi in charge of the U.S. Marines. They just don’t fit together!


Because of who we are.  Look back at verse 1 again.

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Bad words are not loving words.

And they are not being like God. Imaging God.

Now, notice that it doesn’t say “become God’s holy children by stopping your bad words.” It doesn’t say to don’t do these things to earn your salvation. It says to do them because you ARE God’s holy people, God’s dearly loved children.

This is a call to live by grace. Not a call to do this on your own.

You are already pure because of Jesus, so purify your mouth.

Does that make sense?

If you don’t have a purified and purifying mouth, then you might not know Jesus, and you might not have a share in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Because all saved people are being sanctified.

Don’t think that you can clean up your mouth to impress God so that He’ll let you into His family.

You only get into the family of God by faith in Christ and what He did on the Cross.

But if you are in that family, then you need to talk like it.

And that means no obscenities, no foolish talk, no coarse joking. Because they are “out of place.”

This is not about being nice. It’s about being holy!

Now, let me say this about when people are using bad words AROUND YOU.

What do you do when people around you are swearing, for example.

For the most part, you don’t do anything. You probably try to change the subject.

Most of the time, you just overlook it. Because we are not the word police. Especially around non-Christians. We must remember that we are not trying to win people to cleaned-up mouths. We’re trying to win them to Jesus!

I know Christians who feel like they are witnessing when they require the unbelievers around them to change their language when they are near.  They think they are witnessing when they chastise unbelievers for bad words.

But witnessing is about winning people to Christ, not to cleaned up mouths. After they come to Christ, then we can talk about their mouths.

But there are some situations when we might want to confront.

- When we are parents or authorities with kids.
- When there are ladies or kids present, to protect their ears.
- When the language is so over the top that you simply cannot overlook it.
- Or when you are alone with another Christian who is slipping and you have the kind of relationship where you can speak into their life.

In those kind of situations, we should speak up about bad words, but with unbelievers, we shouldn’t make a big deal of it.

We shouldn’t be crude, but we should be prudes either.

We can let the Holy Spirit do the convicting.

Because Bad Words are out of place.

Is there ever a time for bad words?

Maybe. There are a few places in scripture where someone like Paul himself uses high octane language.

But he always does it in holiness and in love, for some good and godly reason.

So, if you can say that strong thing in holiness and love for a good and godly reason, more power to you.

But most of the time, we use bad words to build, not Christ’s kingdom, but our own.

And those kingdoms are out of place.

What should you do if you have fallen in this area?

The same thing as any other sin.

Confess it.
Turn from it.
And change by faith in the promises of God.

I didn’t do it that day when I was 12 or 13, but a few years later, I did. I asked God to forgive me for blurting out that expletive.

And He has been changing my heart and my tongue ever since.

Is this a big deal?

Are bad words a big deal?

Jesus Christ died on the cross for bad words.

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

If He did that, then we can use our tongues for Him.

“Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”


That’s what we should do instead.

Christians, those bought by the blood of Christ, have everything to be thankful for.

And thanksgiving will push away the allure of obscenity, foolish talk, and coarse joking.

Because bad words are out of place.

But for those of us who belong to Christ Jesus, it’s always appropriate to give thanks.


Messages in this Series:

1. The Fearsome Tongue
2. Sweet Words
3. Grumbling (Part One)
4. Grumbling (Part Two)
5. Praising Mom
6. Bad Words