What’s in your heart? Listen to your mouth for awhile and you will find out! Jesus put it this way: “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.” Luke 6:45
In today’s cultural landscape, it seems we are surrounded by heart problems and they are coming out in the prevalence of two types of language: profanity and vulgarity. Understanding these two concepts should help us think through what we are expressing and exposing about our hearts by our speech.
In the case of profanity, one takes that which is holy and treats it as common. This is taking the names of deity in an empty manner as well as demeaning what God has called holy—like the marriage bed (Heb. 13:4) or children who are made in the image of God (by calling someone a “bastard” for example).
Vulgarity is taking that which is beneath you and brining it into public conversation in a way that revels in it. It takes what can and should be private and makes a public spectacle of it. Generally these words are used to abuse a person made in the image of God.
The basic result is very telling: in the end we treat them both the same. That which is holy is used in the same way as that which is vulgar; what is above us is treated the same way as that which is beneath us as image bearers of God. This displays a heart that is lacking in reverence and dignity.
A passage which touches in this is Ephesians 5:3-14, most directly in Ephesians 5:4 “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”
Three forms of speech are proscribed: filthiness, foolish talk and crude joking.
“Filthiness” is that which is vile, disgusting, revolting or shameful. This is classic vulgarity, evidenced by a cognate term later in the passage:
Ephesians 5:12 “For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.” Colossians 3:8 uses a similar term to tell us to put away obscene speech.
“Foolish talk” is literally “stupid word” – the frivolous, senseless talk you might hear from a drunk. Our speech should spread grace, not absurdity (see Eph. 4:29). Empty words reveal deceptive motives and incite the judgment of God (Eph. 5:6).
“Crude joking” means, “that which is easily turned.” While in the general culture of the day this could be used for someone with a quick wit, in this context it is hardly a compliment! In this passage it is pointing to that which can be easily turned to sensuality, a double entendre. Commentator John Stott says, ““All three refer to a dirty mind expressing itself in dirty conversation.”
In place of these practices, Paul commend giving thanks. How are they related? For one thing, all sin springs from a lack of thankfulness. As it says in Romans 1:21a “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, …” So sin will always reflect an unthankful heart.
When we speak of God, we are talking about the One Who is the source of all good in our lives (Jas. 1:17) and has redeemed us in spite of what we are (2 Cor. 6:9-11). Using titles that represent Him in a frivolous and empty manner or in ways which do not reflect His character (He does not damn people for annoying you) reveals an unthankful and irreverent heart.
When we speak crudely in public, we are not thankful for the grace of God which should motivate us to spread grace with our words. A heart that can only be expressed with vulgar words for excrement or sinful sexual practice is a heart that has not discovered the dignity we should always have as those created in the image of God!
The late George Carlin was known for a routine where he made fun of seven words that you could not say on television (at that time). His assertion was that they are just words, combinations of letters, and that only context made them objectionable. The one context he missed was the heart condition of the speaker. It is indeed not that certain letters put together are automatically rejected, but the irreverent and undignified heart expressed needs to be radically changed by God’s grace.
Let’s be careful of what is in our heart and then express it by grace!