This month, as we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost, we will hear a great deal about praise, prayer and language. We hear again that lips everywhere should proclaim ‘the name of Jesus which is above every name’. The lips and tongue can express so much truth and beauty, and yet it can be a source of darkness and despair. I have noticed recently that I hear much more ‘bad language’ about than previously in contexts that I would never have heard it before. This judgment may be more subjective than objective, but on reflection I also notice that thirty years ago ‘bad language’ would often come up in confessions, but now it is not such a noticeable sin!
It is worth reminding ourselves from time to time that, whatever the fashion may be at middle class dinner parties, the Christian is called to be careful and exemplary in the language he or she uses. Here are a few verses from Scripture (which is rich in teaching on this matter). Proverbs 18:21 ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue.’ James 1: 26: ‘If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.’ James 3:5-8 includes this warning: ‘The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.’ St James compares the tongue to a rudder which is a small object that can alter the course of the whole ship.
There are two different ways in which the tongue offends God and jeopardises our spiritual health. The first, and the easiest to deal with, is bad language. First, each person must come to a clear understanding of what is acceptable. Language is so much conditioned by context that it is easy (in certain contexts) to become insensitive to what is offensive to God. On the Fish Dock every other word may have a colloquial Anglo- Saxon origin and conversing in that language would be seen as normal. Christians should not allow themselves to go native in these circumstances. To refrain from the use of bad language in contexts where it is normal can be a powerful witness. Each person who is challenged in this should ask the Lord to give him or her grace both to be aware of his or her use of bad language and to have the self-control to refrain from using in it. This discipline will then become a blessing – raising an awareness of God’s presence and call in daily life.
The second sinful use of the tongue is lying. To be a Christian means to live in the Truth. If we live in the Truth then we will be drawn close to Jesus who is The Truth. Conversely, not to live in the truth means that a person lives in a different reality to Jesus. If this is something you struggle with, reflect on the origin of your inability to live in the world as it is. If the cause lies in guilt or fear then simply ask the Lord to give you grace to know his love more fully, for it his love that can banish all fear and enable a new beginning in the world as it is.
Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House