The Bible’s Viewpoint
Avoid Speech That Injures
“Out of the same mouth come forth blessing and cursing. It is not proper, my brothers, for these things to go on occurring this way.”—JAMES 3:10.
THE ability to speak is one unique trait that separates us from the animals. Sadly, some people misuse this privilege. Insults, cursing, profanity, blasphemy, vulgarities, and obscene language can hurt—sometimes more than physical injuries. “There exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword,” says the Bible.—Proverbs 12:18.
More and more people swear and curse routinely. Schools are reporting an increase in the use of foul language by children. Some people claim, though, that hurtful speech can be beneficial when used for emotional release. A student of political science wrote: “Using foul language should be a powerful act, when normal vocabulary just doesn’t convey the richness of our feelings.” Should Christians have such a casual attitude toward hurtful speech? How does God feel about it?
Abhor Obscene Jesting
Obscene language is not a modern phenomenon. Would it surprise you to learn that people used obscene speech in the days of the apostles, nearly 2,000 years ago? For example, it appears that some in the Colossian congregation used obscenities when angered. They may have done so to attack or hurt others intentionally, perhaps in retaliation. Likewise, many people today use obscene speech in outbursts of anger. Hence, Paul’s letter to the Colossians is relevant in our day. Paul wrote: “Put them all away from you, wrath, anger, badness, abusive speech, and obscene talk out of your mouth.” (Colossians 3:8) Clearly, Christians are admonished to avoid outbursts of anger and the obscene language that so often go hand in hand with anger.
Granted, many use obscenities with no intention of attacking or injuring others. Likely, obscene language is most often used in a casual manner. Vile expressions thus become deeply entrenched in everyday speech. Some even find it hard to communicate without the use of expletives. Oftentimes, obscene language is even used to elicit laughter. But should such obscene jesting be viewed as a lesser, more tolerable offense? Consider the following.
Obscene jesting is shocking language intended to amuse others. Today obscene jesting is mostly sex-oriented. And many who consider themselves decent people find such language entertaining. (Romans 1:28-32) It is not surprising, then, that both natural and unnatural sexual behaviors are the subject matter of many professional comedians. Obscene jesting is featured in many movies as well as in television and radio programs.
The Bible is not silent on the subject of obscene jesting. The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus: “Let fornication and uncleanness of every sort or greediness not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people; neither shameful conduct nor foolish talking nor obscene jesting, things which are not becoming.” (Ephesians 5:3, 4) Clearly, obscene language, regardless of its intent, is offensive to God. It is bad. It is speech that injures.
Harsh Words That Displease God
Injurious speech certainly encompasses much more than obscene language. Insults, sarcasm, mockery, and harsh criticism can hurt deeply. Admittedly, we all sin with our tongue, especially in the environment of sarcasm and backbiting that prevails around us. (James 3:2) Still, true Christians should never adopt a casual attitude toward abusive speech. The Bible establishes clearly that Jehovah God disapproves of all speech that injures.
For instance, in the Bible book of Second Kings, we learn of a group of boys who verbally harassed the prophet Elisha. The account says that they “began to jeer him” and “kept saying to him: ‘Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!’” Jehovah, who could read the hearts of these young ones and see their malicious intent, took their verbal abuse very seriously. The account says that God put 42 boys to death because of their abusive speech.—2 Kings 2:23, 24.
The people of Israel “were continually making jest at the messengers of the true God and despising his words and mocking at his prophets, until the rage of Jehovah came up against his people, until there was no healing.” (2 Chronicles 36:16) Although God’s rage was principally incited by his people’s idolatrous and disobedient course, it is noteworthy that the Bible specifically mentions the verbal abuse directed at God’s prophets. This highlights God’s outright disapproval of such conduct.
Accordingly, the Bible admonishes Christians: “Do not severely criticize an older man.” (1 Timothy 5:1) This principle could be applied to our dealings with everyone. The Bible encourages us “to speak injuriously of no one, not to be belligerent, to be reasonable, exhibiting all mildness toward all men.”—Titus 3:2.
Keeping Our Lips in Check
At times, the urge to attack someone verbally could be hard to resist. When wronged, a person might feel justified in punishing the offender with cruel, harsh words—either to his face or behind his back. Still, Christians resist such an urge. Proverbs 10:19 states: “In the abundance of words there does not fail to be transgression, but the one keeping his lips in check is acting discreetly.”
God’s angels set a good example. They are aware of all the wrong that is done by humankind. Although the angels are greater than man in strength and power, they do not bring against humans an accusation in abusive terms, “not doing so out of respect for Jehovah.” (2 Peter 2:11) Knowing that God is fully aware of everyone’s wrongdoing and is fully capable of correcting matters, the angels keep their lips in check. Michael, the chief of all angels, refrained from using abusive terms, even against the Devil.—Jude 9.
Christians strive to imitate the angels. They follow the Bible admonition: “Return evil for evil to no one. Provide fine things in the sight of all men. If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men. Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.’”—Romans 12:17-19.
Interestingly, even the tone and volume of our voice can add a hurtful edge to what we say. It is not uncommon for husbands and wives to hurt each other in shouting matches. Many parents often scream at their children. However, there is no need for us to scream when expressing our feelings. The Bible urges: “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you.” (Ephesians 4:31) The Bible also says that “a slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all.”—2 Timothy 2:24.
Words That Heal
Because of the prevalence of abusive and obscene speech today, Christians should have a strategy to resist this harmful influence. The Bible provides a good strategy, namely, to love our neighbor. (Matthew 7:12; Luke 10:27) Genuine concern and love for neighbor will motivate us always to use words that heal. The Bible says: “Let a rotten saying not proceed out of your mouth, but whatever saying is good for building up as the need may be, that it may impart what is favorable to the hearers.”—Ephesians 4:29.
Also, the implanting of the Word of God in our minds helps us to avoid speech that injures. Reading and meditating on the Holy Scriptures can help us to “put away all filthiness.” (James 1:21) Yes, the Word of God can heal our minds.