Since the time sin entered the world, I seriously doubt it took more than a few generations before profane language became part of man’s speech. There is no way we can know for certain, or know for certain how common it was at various stages of history.
Jesus said, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil. And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgement. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned” (Matthew 12:34-37). Whoa. Think about that.
Let’s do a quick word study. The word used here for “careless” (translated “idle” in the KJV) is argos. It literally means “not working, doing nothing, idle.” So, in reference to words it would carry the idea of useless, meaningless, accomplishing nothing. Can you imagine having to give account for every such word that comes out of your mouth? How long would it take for some people to give account for each and every obscene, vulgar, crude and profane word they’ve spoken? That’s a scary thought, huh?
It is significant, too, that the Greek word used here for “word” is “rhema,” meaning simply “that which is spoken.” However, when Jesus goes on to say you will be justified or condemned by your “words” He uses the plural of the word “logos“—which means “the word as the embodiment and outward expression of the invisible thought.” Logos is the thought that is being conveyed or communicated through our words. It is why the good man’s words reflect the good treasure in his heart. And, it is why “bad language” is a reflection of a heart filled with garbage.
Let me just say it: “Cussing” doesn’t make you cool. Cussing just proves there is a noisome pile of garbage in your heart.
Paul sheds some insight on proper language in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 with his choice of words. In Colossians 3, Paul describes what a life focused on “things above” looks like, and contrasts it to those things we should lay aside as part of the old life. Among the things to “put off” is “filthy communication out of your mouth” (Colossians 3:8, KJV). It refers to an ungoverned tongue and means deformed or ugly words, or obscene language. In Ephesians 5:4, he puts it this way: “no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting ….” Here, again, he uses the idea of words conveying filthiness—deformity, ugliness, obscenity, offensiveness—like a putrid, foul odor of something rotting. He adds “silly talk” and “coarse jesting” to the list.
Paul’s word for silly is “moros.” It means fool. It comes from the Sanskrit word “muhera,” meaning fool, from the root word “muh,” which means silly. Now, Paul, and even Jesus, used some humor, irony, and maybe even a little satire from time to time to make a point (sometimes you have to think about the culture into which they were speaking to really “get it”). There is nothing wrong with humor and a good laugh now and again. (You know, I don’t think Jesus was frowning and pious-looking when He invited the little children into His arms). Rather, this seems to refer to constantly “playing the fool,” cutting up and acting silly. It might apply to those who use silliness as a passive-aggressive way to express anger, get attention, and disrupt.
“Jesting” translates the Greek word eutrapelia—meaning “wit, playful wit, liveliness, turning or changing.” Aristotle postulated, in his discourse on communication, that eutrapelia was the virtue found in conversation. It’s the idea of lively, engaging conversation, wittiness, fresh perspective, turning a phrase. If you ever had the privilege of hearing Jack Taylor preach, you heard a master of this skill. Paul used it some in his own writing.* However, there is a negative side to “eutrapelia.” It can go too far. Rather than being a fun, witty turn of phrase to make a point, it can become coarse and crude in order to tear someone down. It can become mean, vulgar and obscene. It can be a twisting of someone’s words to humiliate them or embarrass them. Paul says this type of jesting is not pertinent and does not come up to any standard appropriate for followers of Christ.
He then adds an alternative—“giving of thanks.”
Imagine. Imagine a world where the first thing out of your mouth when something goes right is “Thank You, Lord.” Oh. And imagine further. Imagine a world in which the first thing out of your mouth when something goes wrong is not a crude or vulgar epithet or a curse, but rather, “Thank You, Lord.” Let me restate that: Imagine a world in which the first thing out of your mouth when something goes wrong is “Thank You, Lord.”
Why?!? Why would you do that? Because you have faith in God. You know that He is going to use this to grow you and teach you. Teach you what? In part, that depends on what specific lessons you need to learn. But, on a broader scale, simply, He will use it to teach you that He is faithful, and that you can trust Him even when things go wrong. He will use it to build Christ’s character in you so that Christ can be comfortably at home in your heart, without having to step around those piles of garbage mentioned above. And, He will use it to bring glory to Himself as you reflect His light and glory and grace and forgiveness—which He has lavished on you—back into the world around you.
Yes. It includes that. He will use that [oops, did I just call that person an idiot] person who just cut me off in traffic. He will use that hammer blow to my thumb. He will use that accident. That injury. That illness. That hay-fever. That cancer. That year lost to Covid and its resultant side-effects. That bump on the head from the open cabinet door. That death of a loved one. That unfaithful spouse. That divorce. All things (see Ephesians 5:20).
No. None of those are easy things to be thankful for. If you haven’t read some of my other posts that explain it more fully, or my book Extreme Gratitude, you probably think I’m crazy for even suggesting it. Trust me on this: thankfulness is the language of the Kingdom. It opens our heart to receive God’s grace for whatever trial, test or temptation we are facing. It expresses our faith, and at the same time opens our heart for the building up of our faith. In doing so, it enables us to avoid doubt, anxiety, and fear. It helps us avoid falling into sin. Being thankful enables us to see and understand what God is doing and seeking to accomplish in our lives.
*One example of Paul’s use of wit and “turning a phrase” was his response to those who were trying to force Gentile Christians to follow Jewish law. Since Jesus was “the Christ”—the anointed one, the Messiah of Judaism, many of the early Jewish Christians thought that in order to be a Christian, you also had to be a Jew. They missed the idea of grace and continued to not only live under the Law, but tried to force others to do so as well. They believed that for men, that included being circumcised. It became such a point of contention that Paul dealt with it in Galatians 5:1-18. Circumcision literally means to “cut around” (cision – cut; circum – around). In verse 12, Paul turns a phrase saying, basically, “I wish those who are trying to force you to ‘cut around’ were ‘cut off.'” He’s using wit to make a point. He doesn’t truly wish physical harm on them. It’s hyperbole, wit, humor.