Gratitude or impurity—you can have one but not both!
The language of the heart and mouth is an indication of the direction of the heart. People whose speech is dominated by a thankful spirit are often people who are grateful for the mercy extended to them by God.
However, impure, profane speech reflects just the opposite of gratitude. This kind of talk frequently indicates an angry heart and movement towards the impure and profane.
For example, the Ephesians had woven impure speech into the life of the church to the point where Paul addressed this issue specifically. Ephesians 5:4 describes the importance of gratitude:
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.
In the first part of the verse, Paul directs that there should be no obscene, foolish talk or any coarse jesting. The Linguistic Key to the New Testament provides important definitions for these terms:
- Obscene talk: shameful, filthy or obscene speech
- Foolish talk: laughing at something without wit
- Coarse jesting: using humor to turn something neutral into something off-color. In other words, the Ephesians were masters of the art of double-entendre.
The language Paul condemns is a broader category than what we generally define as swearing. God has a higher standard for our speech than simply not swearing. What does the higher standard look like?
Paul says the put on response to impure speech is gratitude. He says that gratitude should dominate your speech, not the impure talk of the world. 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 gratitude, not frustration or rebellion.
If your everyday talk is ungrateful and complaining, you reflect the ungodly culture around you. If, on the other hand, your everyday talk expresses gratitude and joyful 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 your speech is not dominated by gratitude then your words 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