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Words Matter: Recovering Godly Speech in a Culture of Profanity

But rotten speech is more than just profanity, isn’t it? It also includes blasphemy, lying, deception, manipulation, boasting, exaggeration, slander, gossip, insults, mockery, complaining and other sinful kinds of speech. The third and ninth commandments speak directly to these and other sins of the tongue (Exodus 20:7, 16; c.f. WLC Q. 113, 145).

“Therefore,” John Calvin states, “let us learn to abhor and shun evil language as we shun the plague, when a man’s tongue runs over with the language of the gutter” (Calvin, Sermons on Ephesians (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 1998; first published 1562), 462.

A Fountain of Life

God created our mouths to be fountains of blessing, not gutters of cursing (Prov. 10:11). He exhorts us to build up others with godly words, “giving grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29b). How can we do this in a culture inundated with profanity and unwholesome speech?

1. Be intentional with encouragement: Ask yourself every morning during your personal devotions, “How can I be an encouragement to others with my words today? How can I refresh and build up those around me?” Let your words be a conduit of grace and encouragement, and not another means of drawing attention to yourself, your problems or the deficiencies of others. Be purposeful with your words, so that they “fit the occasion” (Eph. 4:29), thus providing comfort to the afflicted, direction to the lost, correction to the wayward, courage to the weak, hope for the despairing and blessing to all. Be intentional with your words.

2. Let your conversation be marked by gratitude: The inspired Apostle writes that the conversation of the new man in Christ should not be characterized by filthiness, crude joking and foolish talk, but with thanksgiving (Eph. 5:4). As an unworthy recipient of God’s sovereign grace in Christ, as an object of His extravagant mercy, as an inheritor of everlasting life, and as a cherished and adopted “son” of the living God, you should be one of the most thankful people on the planet. Keeping your focus on Christ and His glorious gospel will saturate your heart with deep gratitude—gratitude that will evidence itself in your words to others.

3. Let your words be seasoned with Love: First Corinthians 13:4-7 teaches us something of the nature of love. If we are loving with our speech, therefore, our words will be patient and kind, not arrogant, willful, resentful, irritable or rude. We will also verbally rejoice in all that is true, honorable, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8). Ask yourself right now, “Are my words seasoned with love?”

4. Drink deeply the means of grace: Those who faithfully attend unto the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and earnest prayer every Lord’s Day in public worship will be, by grace through faith in Christ, transformed by the gospel (c.f. Acts 2:42). Of course, this includes the transformation of our speech. Indeed, the Holy Spirit sanctifies us through the diligent use of the means of grace, and conforms us more and more into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29-30; Jn 17:17; WSC #85-88). And when our hearts are changed by Christ, so are our tongues; “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

Dear Christian, words matter. They have the power to build up and to tear down; to bless and to poison (c.f. James 3). Therefore, let us recover, cultivate and model godly words in our homes, schools, neighborhoods, communities and churches. And may we frequently pray the solemn words of Psalm 19:14:

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

This article originally appeared on Reformation21.org.

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Rev. Dr. Jon D. Payne is senior minister of Christ Church Presbyterian (PCA), Charleston, South Carolina, visiting professor of practical theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, Convener of the Gospel Reformation Network, and co-editor of the Lectio Continua Expository Commentary Series on the New Testament (RHB).