In the fourth chapter of Paul’s first letter to Timothy, Paul is giving guidance to this young Christian leader as to how he should live to be a better representative of the Savior.  In verse 12 he begins by telling Timothy not to be intimidated because of his age (“let no one despise you for your youth…”) and next calls upon Timothy to instead set an example in four areas of conduct – “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity…”  The first of these has to do with the way we talk – with our speech.

The Bible treats speech as a particularly powerful action.  In Genesis God speaks and causes creation to take place (God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good… Genesis 1:3-4).  In Genesis 3 Satan’s words deceive Eve, Eve’s words deceive Adam, and then Adam’s words cast blame on his wife instead of acknowledging his own fault.  All through the Bible we see the power of words used properly, words used carelessly, words used foolishly, words used with harmful intent.  No wonder Paul calls upon Timothy to set an example with his speech.

Over the years one of the more interesting aspects of the discussions about how one should live as a Christian has to do with the way we talk.  In recent years it has become almost “cool” to be a Christian who swears or uses crude/rude language.  Often people will point to the arbitrary way that words seem to end up in the “don’t talk like that” category.  What parent hasn’t had the conversation with their children like the one I read about?  The teenage girl who was having a discussion with her mother about this matter asked, “What if table was a swear word?  Or elbow?”  The truth is that most “swear words” have earned their distinction through a pattern of logic.  As one author, Carolyn Arends, put it, “Other than words associated with deity, most profanity involves associations with biological function in the areas of sexuality and waste elimination.” 

 I spent some time with my dictionary to look up the definitions of words used to describe what we “shouldn’t be saying.”  I started with the word “swear” which the dictionary told me was 1.  to make a solemn declaration or affirmation by some sacred being or object, as a deity or the Bible; 2.  to bind oneself by such an oath. That was helpful – it is related to the commandment not to take the LORD’s name in vain.

What about “cuss”?  What does it mean to “cuss”?  The dictionary says that to cuss is to use profanity; to curse.  But what does it mean to “curse”?  A curse word is a:   1. a profane or obscene word, especially as used in anger or for emphasis or 2. any term conceived of as offensive.

Ok, but what then is the meaning of “profanity”?  It is the quality of being profane – profane is an adjective that is characterized by irreverence or contempt for God or sacred principles or things.  And “obscene” – this is language or action that has to do with the quality of indecency or lewdness – the obsolete meaning of obscene is listed as words or actions that are low, ignorant or vulgar; base, vile or wicked.

I guess this explains why words like table and elbow never make the “do not talk like this” list – it seems that the list isn’t as arbitrary as we sometimes think.  Erik Raymond has written an interesting article, Christians Need to Stop Cussing, in which he adds a couple of other words to the “do not talk like this” list – the words “luck” and “fate.”  Why?

These words and their concepts are unbiblical and atheistic. Luck communicates randomness while fate describes a inevitability of something happening without a purpose. Both are blind and impersonal.   I say they are Christian cuss words because they undermine the key biblical doctrine of God’s providence. This word providence may be a new word for you, but it is an important word. It is a word that we as Christians need to know and delight in. We are often so quick to simplify and redefine words, but in doing so we can be losing something of our identity as Christians. At one time this word was so prevalent that people named cities and churches after it! This is a very important word.  What does it mean? Providence is God’s infinite power that upholds and governs all things that come to pass.

 As the Heidelberg Catechism says, “God’s providence is his almighty and ever present power, whereby as with his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures and so governs them so that: leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed all things, come to us not by change but by his fatherly hand.”

The main things you need to know about this is that God is not disconnected from what is happening in the world today. There is no such thing as chance or luck or fate or karma. Rather, God is upholding, governing, and ordering all things as with his very hand.

  •  “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.” (Psalm 135:6
  • “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Hebrews 1:3
  • “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” (Ephesians 1:11
  • “But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Matthew 10:30)

As Charles Spurgeon observed, “There is just this difference between fate and providence. Fate is blind; providence has eyes. Fate is blind, a thing that must be; it is just an arrow shot from a bow, that must fly onward, but hath no target. Not so, providence; providence is full of eyes. There is a design in everything, and an end to be answered; all things are working together, and working together for good. They are not done because they must be done, but they are done because there is some reason for it. It is not only that the thing is, because it must be; but the thing is, because it is right it should be. God hath not arbitrarily marked out the world’s history; he had an eye to the great architecture of perfection, when he marked all the aisles of history, and placed all the pillars of events in the building of time.”

Am I Splitting Hairs?  Some might say, “Why are you nitpicking? Why squabble about these things?”  The answer is simple, we serve a precise God. He is to get glory in all that we do. And this includes how we think and speak about him. If we are saying things attack, undermine, blur or otherwise detract from a truth that God means to get glory from—shouldn’t we stop? Don’t you want to stop these things?

 If you get a new job, is this God’s providence or a lucky break? Do you think the God who orders and upholds all things means to get glory from the new job? What about when someone’s disease clears up or is healed? Is this luck? No! It is God who smiled upon them.

 God Actually Counts Hairs.   God is involved in the details of life. He is the God who said that he numbers every hair on your head (Mt. 10:30). As Spurgeon noted, even the most committed of earthly moms can’t pull this off. He’s right. Go ahead and walk to the nursery this Sunday at church. Ask the Moms about how many teeth their children have. Ask them if they are crawling or trying to walk. They will give you a quick and clear answer. Then ask them how many hairs are on their heads. They will laugh. No one knows this. But friends, God does. Even the hairs on your head are numbered. He is the God who upholds and governs all things; he orders the cosmos and knows the number of hairs on your head. God is intricately involved with the affairs of your life.

We mustn’t dare to carelessly speak in terms of fate or luck. These are offensive and insulting terms that Christians should cast into the sea along with other inappropriate speech that characterizes our immaturity. And as we throw them overboard, remember to delight in the truth of God’s providence and the God who upholds and governs as with his very hand.

It seems there is much more than we might have thought when it comes to setting an example with our speech…