I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my speech and my words of late. Those who know me know I never swear. I don’t even come close. I was taught a long time ago that swearing wasn’t proper. That was my mom’s influence, and a very strong one it was considering I grew up a Marine dependent. Some would say that if you can’t say something without swearing, then you don’t have a good grasp of the English language. I don’t think that’s the case. I know some pretty smart, articulate people who swear. So I go back to the swearing isn’t proper. Foul language isn’t necessary. There are other ways to say things. And if this applies to profanity, what else does it apply to? That’s been something the Holy Spirit has been prompting me on, whether we’re talking about face-to-face conversation or email/twitter.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. – Ephesians 5:1-4, NASB
One of the ways I’ve been challenged is in “playful picking.” This is where you make fun of friends, but in jest. Guys do it all the time. Guys from the military do it even more. Guys from the military who happened to graduate from a military college don’t even realize when they do it because it happens so often. There has been a lot of talk about how this is all part of the male bonding experience. And the same thing goes on with the female side. I see it all the time as a youth pastor. And before I wouldn’t have thought much of it. But that was before. Then I re-read Ephesians 5 very closely.
Be imitators of God. No filthiness and silly talk. No coarse jesting. That goes beyond swearing. That goes to the playful picking a lot of us do. That’s silly talk, isn’t it? And that got me to thinking about why Paul would have included this. First, even among friends, sometimes we go too far and feelings get hurt. We don’t mean it that way, but it happens. That’s not exactly walking in love, is it? And what about others who may be observing us. Oh, now that can be a problem. Because sometimes our jokes could be seen to imply immorality or impurity, or greed. Actually, when we are picking on someone, we’re usually putting them down in some way, meaning we’re typically centering on a fault, whether real or imagined. So for the observer, immorality or impurity or greed just got “named” among us, even if it’s a joke. The observer may not see it as a joke. Or if they do see it as a joke, they may wonder if there is still some truth underneath. That’s not good.
And that’s what what God has been convicting me with. Every time I have started to write a joke along those lines lately, I have felt the very strong desire to reconsider. The potential audience is always larger than the one I’m intending. And a bad day, misreading or mishearing my words, or just not realizing it’s a joke could lead to it being taken the wrong way. And let’s go a step further. Even when it is understood that something is in jest, it still can potentially hurt. Just because the person laughs along doesn’t mean it was nothing. And if I’m hurting my brother, I’m not loving my brother, am I? So to say I’m walking in love wouldn’t be accurate.
And it’s these sorts of thoughts that have hit home with me lately. I want to be an imitator of God. I know that’s a calling far better than anything I can hope to achieve. Yet still I must try. And that includes applying a higher standard to my words. It’s not just avoiding profanity and off-color jokes. It’s about ensuring my words are said in love, that they are edifying, and that if I do tell a joke, it’s not one at the expense of another. That’s avoids hurting another or giving the impression of immorality or impurity or greed.