Ephesus was a cosmopolitan city, like many of our modern, major cities. Its people considered themselves sophisticated. Just like today, the more sophisticated people became the more their speech became profane. The speech of the Ephesians had woven itself into the life of the church to the point where Paul addressed the issue specifically. Ephesians 5:4 contains an interesting put off/put on comparison.
“Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” Ephesians 5:4
In the first part of the verse Paul directs that there should be no obscene, foolish talk. Again, he specifically states that there should not be any coarse jesting. The Linguistic Key to the New Testament provides key definitions for these terms:
• Obscene talk—shameful, filthy or obscene speech
• Foolish talk—laughing at something without wit
• Coarse jesting—the word implies dexterity of turning a discourse to wit or humor, and deceptive speech, that allowed the speaker to wriggle of out its meaning. In other words, the Ephesians were masters of the double entendre.
The language Paul condemns is a broader category than what we generally define as swearing. The truth is, God has a higher standard for our speech than simply “not swearing.” What does He want from us?
Paul says the “put on” response to profane speech is gratitude. Notice the end of Ephesians 5:4. Paul says that gratitude should punctuate your speech, not profanity. This contrast is striking. It is not simply replacing one set of words with another set of words. God wants your grateful heart. He wants your faithful, trusting heart. He wants your submissive, humble heart. When He has these things from you, profanity and even lust will not be an issue.
If your talk acknowledges that God has sovereign control over your life, and that He is working all things together for your good, you will express your gratitude, not your frustration or rebellion.
If your everyday talk is ungrateful and complaining, you are, in effect, swearing, even if you don’t use swear words. The impact on your children will be the same. If, on the other hand, your everyday talk expresses gratitude and acceptance for God’s Providence, you will have no need for the kind of language described in Ephesians 5:4. Both your words and your attitudes will honor God, not defy Him.
The point is that if you are not dominated by gratitude as Paul says you should be, then your attitude will mimic the world around you. You will unwittingly prepare your children to fall prey to the temptation of profanity, lust and lack of gratitude. Without gratitude, there is no real defense against the ungrateful, self-pitying attitude that profanity represents. This is the message that Paul gave to the Ephesians. This is the message God wants you to give to your children.
Adapted from Everyday Talk, Chapter 12