– by Mark Moring

Yes, even Christians sometimes struggle with saying the wrong things. So what can we do about it?

The guy must have thought he owned the highway.

He came screaming by in his fancy Porsche, and then cut right in front of me, practically running me off the road.

Boy, did I have some choice words for him. And they weren’t very nice at all.

Then I started thinking: You call yourself a Christian, and you said THAT?!?

OK, I admit it. Every now and then, I’m guilty of using words I shouldn’t use. Or saying things about people I shouldn’t be saying—better known as gossip.

But God says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth” (Ephesians 4:29).

Cleaning up our language—be it cussing, gossip or lying—may be the toughest challenge of living our faith. God knew we’d have a hard time with this; the Bible says no one can “tame the tongue” (James 3:8).

Still, God wants us to try. Listen to this:

“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (James 1:26).

Strong words.

So, how do we “tame the tongue?” First, we need to look at some of the ways it gets out of control. And then we’ll look at some things we can do about it.

Actually, swearing includes several types of inappropriate language—cursing, profanities and obscenities.

A “curse,” according to my dictionary, is “an appeal … for evil or misfortune to befall someone.” Here’s what the Bible says: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14). That’s a tall order; when someone hurts us, we want to hurt back. But God obviously says that’s wrong.

“Profanity” is language showing disrespect for something sacred, such as the name of God. This breaks God’s heart in a big way. That’s why it’s one of the 10 Commandments: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:7). 

“Obscenities” include all other forms of foul language, often sexual in nature. Dirty jokes fall into this category. Again, the Bible’s clear: “Nor should there be any obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place” (Ephesians 5:4). Also: “Rid yourself of… filthy language” (Colossians 3:8).

It’s obvious that swearing is out of line for Christians. Fortunately, God gives us alternatives. Throughout the Bible, when we’re commanded not to do something wrong, we’re also told something we should be doing right.

For instance, Ephesians 4:29 tells us to avoid “any unwholesome talk.” But the verse goes on to say that our speech should be “helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

So, it’s a two-step process, but both steps should be taken at the same time. Not only are we to quit using bad language, but we’re to replace it with language that will “benefit those who listen.” Use words that are pure, kind and encouraging.

We all know what gossip is, right? It happens when we say mean stuff about people. We tell a secret. Spread a half-truth. Tell a whole truth that no one really needs to know.

Yes, even if the news is true, it can still be gossip: “Did you hear Amanda’s pregnant?” That may be true. But if you’re just spreading the news because it makes for good talk, that’s gossip.

But if you’re sharing the news with a trusted friend because you want to help the person involved, that’s a different story: “Did you hear Amanda’s pregnant? Her parents aren’t being very supportive. I wonder how we could help her. Maybe we could ask her if she’d like to visit that Christian home for unwed mothers. Maybe they could help … ”

That’s not gossip. That’s trying to find a solution to Amanda’s situation.

So your motive determines whether news becomes gossip. If your intentions are good, you can bring the gossip to a grinding halt and turn it into something positive. But if you just want to pass on the latest piece of juicy information, it’s gossip.

A note of caution: Christians frequently disguise gossip in the form of prayer requests. For instance: “Did you hear Amanda’s pregnant? We should pray for her.” Again, it depends on your motive. If you’re sincerely concerned about Amanda and you want to invite a trusted friend to pray for her, that’s not gossip. But if you’re using the “prayer request” thing as an excuse to blab about something, that’s gossip.

Often, of course, gossip is the spreading of false news, or rumors. This is clearly wrong. If you know something to be untrue, or even if you’re not sure if it’s true, don’t spread it around.

Sometimes, gossip can get downright nasty when people intend to hurt the person involved: “Did you hear Amanda’s pregnant? Hey, she asked for it. She’s always at the wildest parties, flirting with guys. She’s such a tease. She had it coming.”

This is no longer gossip, but slander, which could be described as gossip with a mean streak, with the sole purpose of ripping apart someone’s reputation.

The Bible has plenty to say about gossip and slander. Some examples:

—”A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much” (Proverbs 20:19).

—”Do not go about spreading slander among your people” (Leviticus 19:16).

—”Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (Ephesians 4:31).

Again, the Bible doesn’t stop with the negative commands. It suggests positive alternatives.

Ephesians 4:31 is immediately followed by these words in verse 32: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

So, tell a friend, a youth leader, a teacher or your parents how much you appreciate them. Send someone an encouraging note. Tell somebody you’re thinking about them. If you’re praying for someone, tell them. There are all kinds of ways to “be kind and compassionate to one another.” 

We all know it’s wrong. Still, lying is alive and well.

Check out these survey results:

—57 percent of American teenagers believe that “lying is sometimes necessary.” Note: 45 percent of Christian teens surveyed believe this, too.

—In the past three months alone, 66 percent of American teens who attend church have lied to a parent, teacher or other adult; 59 percent have lied to a friend or peer.

If we know lying is wrong, why do we do it? A few reasons:

—We fear the consequences of telling the truth. (See Genesis 18:10-15.)

—Lying can be more convenient than telling the truth.

—Lying can make us look good to our friends: Yeah, I got an A on the test, too.

But telling the truth is always the best option. Yes, you might get grounded. And true, you may not look as good in front of your friends. But those are short-term consequences. Our long-term integrity is at stake every time we choose between telling a lie and telling the truth: “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment” (Proverbs 12:19).

Here’s another way to look at it: If you lie about something to your parents, and they find out the truth, you might get grounded for a week. But it’ll probably take them a lot longer than a week to fully trust you again.

It’s a long, hard process to restore your integrity once you’ve lost it. It’s much better to keep your integrity all along.

The Bible has much to say about lying and integrity, too:

—”Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:9-10).

—”The Lord detests lying lips” (Proverbs 12:22).

And yet again, the Bible offers positive alternatives. Proverbs 12:22 goes on to tell us that God “delights in men who are truthful.”

A Better Way
Obviously, our words can do big-time harm. But they also have the power to do incredible good.

You’ve probably heard the old campfire song that goes, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

It’s true, you know. And one of the best ways to show our love is through our words.

So I’m gonna try harder to use my words carefully. And to use ’em right.

“Encourage one another,” the Bible tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “and build each other up.”

Let the building begin.

Cleaning It Up
We all know that our words and our conversations should be clean (Ephesians 4:29). So how can we go about cleaning up our act? Some suggestions:

Don’t hang around with people who use bad language.
Yes, God wants us to be witnesses to our non-believing friends, and we certainly shouldn’t avoid them altogether. But if we’re always hanging around people who swear, their language is bound to rub off on us, no matter how strong our faith is. (See Romans 12:2.)

Find a trusted friend to hold you accountable for your language.
This should be someone who will pray for you, someone willing to confront you when you use bad language, someone who will ask you frequently, “Well, how’s it going with the language thing?” Be honest with this person; when you mess up, ‘fess up.

Consider setting up some sort of penalty system.
The most effective way might be to fine yourself every time you catch yourself using bad language. And make it hurt; fining yourself a nickel each time you use a bad word probably won’t hurt much. Think about fining yourself at least a dollar each time. Then, at the end of the week or month, put that money in the offering plate at church.

Memorize Scripture.
God tells us that his Word is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Learn some of the verses quoted in the main article on these pages. Start with Ephesians 4:29, and go from there.

Ask your youth pastor for suggestions.
He or she may have struggled with this same problem at some time, and probably will have some good ideas to help get you on the right track. Suggest that it might be a good topic to cover at youth group some time.

Simple as that. Confess the times you’ve messed up, and ask God to help you keep your speech clean and pure. Prayer works. (See John 14:14.)

Article source: www.christianitytoday.org.

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