Monday, May 14, 2012

Language and Legalism

This is not a hugely important issue—nothing to make waves over—but it does illustrate the way believers make a triviality out of holiness. Oh, and if you stop reading this short post half the way through, you might get a wrong impression of what is being said…

The language we use and the things that we say are important. They say a lot about who we are and they impact our communication which affects the most important aspect of life: relationships. The Bible has quite a bit to say about how we use our tongues and the things that we teach. We are to build people up and if we are not careful we can do just the opposite with an ill chosen word.

Now: based on that one truth, the simplistic legalist creates a list of words that should not be uttered. A list. And it is merely a list of words, not concepts or ideas or intentions. A few specific examples:

The Bible says that the people of God should not take His name in vain. Believers take the name of God upon themselves when they begin to walk in faith. They are called by His name. If they live in a manner that brings dishonor upon God, if they present a false picture of His love and desires to the world, they are doing far more to make the name of God a vanity than merely using it as an exclamation. Yet many Christians are far more offended when a non-believer uses God’s name cheaply, than they are when a “Christian” lives in a way that isn’t any different from the world around them.

Some words have been codified as sins, independent of any meaning they carry. There are people who will jump through ridiculous hoops to avoid using valid words in the right context. Some will refuse to call a female dog a bitch, because that word in other contexts could be offensive, so they expunge it from their vocabulary altogether. People will talk about poop, or crap even in crude contexts but have a conniption fit if the word shit is uttered in their presence.

And as far as exclamations go, is there a huge difference in the spirit of things if one is shouting “darn rather than “damn,” “shoot” rather than “shit,” or “gosh” rather than “God”?

Words and language evolve, and our culture certainly is becoming less refined in the eye of the standards of generations that have come before. But believers are not tasked with being guardians of some language standard. They are called to communicate the love of God effectively to those around them. We need to be stricter about the ideas we communicate. To spout hatred, gossip, or lies is far worse on the scale than uttering a word that used to or may still be taboo in culture.

All of this is not an effort to promote the use of words that some find offensive. In the end there is still an argument to be made against many words, but not on the basis of them being a sin. The ability to communicate well in all contexts is more a matter of maturity, education and intellect than spirituality.

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