Potty Mouths, Unwholesome Talk, and Language for the Sake of Language

Words by Al Blanton | Image by Ryan McGill

Several months ago, my wife and I decided to check out a popular drama series centered on the practice of law. We watched several episodes and were enjoying the show immensely, getting to know the characters and becoming intrigued with the storyline and their eventual fate. The show was funny, entertaining, smartly written, and had a depth to it that I particularly liked. It checked all the boxes and moved the viewer along at a good pace. In short, it had all the makings of a great series. 

There was just one problem: the Big “Tisk-Tisk.” Characters in the show kept taking the Lord’s name in vain. 

I cringed when I first heard it but brushed it off like I’ve conditioned myself to do (unfortunately, hearing that unseemly word in today’s entertainment is not uncommon). But then it happened a second time, a third, and a fourth. Then it seemed like it was used every other word, almost like there was some contest going on to see how many times it could be used in a 50-minute episode. Eventually, it became like the tell-tale eye in an Edgar Allan Poe short story—it just kept thumping to the point that I just turned the show off. 

The sad part is that this language added no value to the story whatsoever. It didn’t make the show a better show or the writer a better writer. In fact, I felt like it demonstrated his or her lack of self-control and discipline. In my opinion, adding bad language for the sake of bad language shows a lack of confidence in the writing itself. The writing, minus the vulgarity, was good enough; I just don’t think the writer believed that. 

While the use of this word is becoming more commonplace and massaged into our everyday lexicon, let’s not forget how terribly offensive it is. It’s a blatant violation of the third commandment, which says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” – Exodus 20:7 

Yet for the Christian, the call to purity in our conversations casts a much wider net. Paul fine-tuned this notion in the book of Ephesians when he wrote, “Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but if there is any good word for edification according to the need of the moment, say that, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” – Ephesians 4:29 NASB

This encompasses the whole spectrum of unwholesomeness and could mean gossip, negativity, foul language, vulgarity, or general “locker room talk.” And it can be as simple as talking bad about someone else. 

When I look back on my life, I realize that I’m as guilty as any in this domain. I’ve said good things, edifying things, and I’ve said revolting things. Things I’m ashamed of. Now, I often catch myself saying bad words under my breath—particularly if I get frustrated—and I’m asking the Lord to help me clean up this area of my life. 

Luke 6:44-45 ESV says, “For each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” 

When I read this, I wonder how black my heart must be if foul language continues to spill out, even if it’s of the knee-jerk variety. And I wonder what the condition of my heart is if I gossip or say bad things about my brother. 

Lord, according to your word in Psalm 51:10, create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. 

While we take inventory of our lives, maybe it’s time to start turning off shows that unreservedly take the Lord’s name in vain. Better still, maybe it’s time to start turning off shows that aren’t pleasing to God (sadly, our options have become increasingly limited to the point where there is almost nothing left). 

I believe in many ways, we become what we participate in. Dabbling with the world does not lead to spiritual growth in Christ, and when you mess with Babylon, you get Babylon on you. 

This week, let’s renew our commitment to wholesomeness in what we watch and how we speak. 

And may God be pleased as we press into the words of the Psalmist:

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” WL

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