Good morning Simply Insiders,
Rick Lawrence is up to bat with his latest devotional for y’all. Trust me, it’s as interesting as the title sounds! Read on and be challenged and encouraged.
Yesterday I picked up my daughter and her best friend from their first-ever Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting—they’re both high school freshmen, excited and challenged by all the “new” swirling around them. My daughter Lucy is on the cross-country team, and her friend Jess made the JV volleyball team. Once they’d piled into the car, the first thing Jess wanted to talk about was how shocking it was to find out that her volleyball coach was the FCA “co-sponsor.”
“I didn’t even think she was a Christian,” said Jess.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because, well, she kind of cusses a lot…”
I couldn’t see Jess’ face in the back seat, but I could feel her sheepish, confused look. How could an adult who uses profanity also serve in a Christian leadership capacity?
Of course, students like Jess and Lucy are immersed in a culture of cursing—the f-word is a primary social lubricant. And the rest of the profanity menu is common fare at their school. A Chicago Sun-Times poll of 10,000 students found that “more and more kids are being exposed to curse words at an early age, and ‘traditional’ curse words such as ‘hell’ and ‘damn’ have been replaced by words once considered too vulgar for adults.” But it’s very difficult to integrate the reality of profanity into students’ expectations of the Christian life. It’s wrong, right? So how can “wrong” coexist with “right”?
To further complicate things, it’s abundantly clear that Jesus used language so strong that it made those around him recoil in offense. A short run-down of the profane Jesus:
• “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good?” (Matthew 12:34).
• “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign!” (Matthew 12:39).
• “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:13).
• “Woe to you, blind guides!… You blind fools!” (Matthew 23: 16-17).
• “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean… On the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27-28).
Maybe “viper” and “adulterous” and “wicked” and “whitewashed tomb” and “blind fool” seem mild to you—hardly worth categorizing as profanity. But you’d likely have the same reaction to “jeepers” and “gee whiz,” which were considered profane references to Jesus when they first surfaced in American culture. Or what about “shucks” and “shoot”? They once were the equivalent of our current “s” word. And when the Eliza Doolittle character in Pygmalion muttered the word “bloody,” it made front-page headlines in England. “Bastard” seems universally derogatory, but it’s considered a compliment in Australia.
No matter how we label Jesus’ “sparring language” with the Pharisees in Scripture, his “targets” most certainly experienced his language as profane. In fact, it was his repeated use of profane descriptions of them that motivated the conspiratorial Pharisees to concoct a plot to kill Jesus.
And that brings us to the most awkward application of WWJD ever: If the question is “What would Jesus do?” why not curse like a sailor? The way you help your students answer this question—and the way you answer it for yourself—really matters in a culture that has smudged the boundaries of Christlike behavior beyond recognition. Two filters to consider:
• Words have power. We either build up or tear down with them. And most profanity tears down. That’s why Scripture is full of warnings against cursing, including Proverbs 13:3; Matthew 12:34-37; Romans 12:14; Ephesians 4:29 and 5:4; Colossians 3:8 and 4:6; Titus 2:7-8; and James 3:8-10. “Profane” means “to treat something sacred with abuse, irreverence, or contempt…” So when students use the f-word (for example), they treat something sacred (the act of intercourse) with contempt.
• Cursing makes others stumble. We’re warned by God that if our actions cause others to stumble, we’re violating our calling to love our neighbors as ourselves. And profanity has the power to distract and even derail “innocent bystanders.” Tell kids the truth—according to researchers, people who curse are respected less in our society and have fewer deep relationships. Challenge them with this: If they wouldn’t use the word in conversation with God, then it’s not appropriate in any other context. Now, David used some pretty strong language in his prayers, because strong language also conveys strong emotion. So the “conversation with God” standard is not a black-and-white dictum—but it does put our choice of language within the context of our intimate relationship with Jesus, whose Spirit will convict us when we’ve stepped over the line.
Swearing is not merely an issue of niceness—Jesus himself isn’t fundamentally “nice” in the way we interpret that word. He is fiercely good, and therefore often not-nice. But to the extent that we are “under obedience,” we will choose our words to serve others, not ourselves.
Thanks for loving students,
Rick (firstname.lastname@example.org and @RickSkip on Twitter) has been editor of GROUP Magazine for 25 years. He’s author of 99 Thoughts on Jesus-Centered Living, the LIVE small-group curriculum Jesus-Centered Living, and wrote the books Sifted: God’s Scandalous Response to Satan’s Outrageous Demand (www.siftedbook.com) and Shrewd: Daring to Live the Startling Command of Jesus (www.shrewdbook.com) as an excuse to immerse himself in the presence of Jesus.