Results tagged “Godliness” from Reformation21 Blog

Words Matter: Recovering Godly Speech in a Culture of Profanity

A few years ago, while on sabbatical, I attended an Edinburgh Hearts F.C. soccer match at Tynecastle Stadium with my seven year old son, Hans. We were excited to watch a live Scottish First Division fixture, and to cheer on the home side. The game was enjoyable until the Hearts' defense broke down and the visiting team scored three quick goals before halftime. The crowd suddenly became hostile towards their own team. After each goal explosions of profanity burst forth from fans both young and old. In all my years of attending professional and collegiate sporting events I've never seen or heard anything like it. An older matronly woman sitting behind us (think Aunt B from The Andy Griffith Show) used a flurry of obscene four letter words, joining a chorus of vulgarity all over the stadium.

Needless to say, I was not expecting this kind of an environment. Since then my British friends have informed me that not only are British soccer matches no place for a family outing, but also that the widespread secularization of British culture has severely poisoned the English language. These days obscene talk is as common and ubiquitous as fish-n-chips-- it's everywhere.

The use of vulgar language is not only a serious problem in the post-christian culture of the UK, however. The problem faces us right here in America. Tristan Hopper, in a 2014 National Post online article on swearing, writes that "cussing, it seems, has become very much main stream." On television, in books, and in everyday conversation foul language has become normalized. Hopper explains that the kind of boorish expletives we hear and read of today "are almost non-existent in printed books from 1820 all the way up to the mid-20th century. Then, around 1960, swear words of all kinds undergo a radical surge in popularity." Moreover, "popular music, once a no-go zone for the slightest whiff of profanity-- particularly on the radio-- has become so open to colorful language that four-letter words now grace band names."

It is interesting to note that several U.S. Presidents and Vice Presidents from the 1960's onward are known for their casual and regular use of profanity. Think of John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, for instance. And who can forget Vice President Joe Biden's use of the f-bomb (caught on the microphone) when he quietly congratulated President Barack Obama for signing into law the Affordable Healthcare Act.

The Family Safe Media website states that between 2005 and 2010 profanity on television increased almost 70%. One can only surmise how much that percentage has increased since then.

I've been astonished by the amount of profanity that I've encountered in recent months, especially from Millennials and teens. I hear and see it with greater frequency than ever before-- kids on the soccer field, workers in the neighborhood, friends and acquaintances (and their kids) on social media, and on I could go. I'm not the only one who has noticed this steep rise in profanity. A friend of mine recently changed jobs, in part, because her millennial-aged co-workers were using four-letter-words with unsettling frequency.

To be sure, the problem of unwholesome speech is not new. It's been around for ages. I remember on one occasion, while I was young, my parents washed my mouth out with soap after I had used a bad word, teaching me the valuable lesson that speaking profanity is wrong and unacceptable. No, profanity itself is not new. Corrupt speech has been around since the fall of mankind. But the extensive and wide-ranging use of profanity is a new phenomena in our culture. Even some high profile hipster pastors such as Mark Driscoll have foolishly used salty language from the pulpit, seeking to connect with their younger hearers.

As Christian believers, it is critical that we view this modern profanity epidemic through the lenses of biblical truth. Now more than ever, when it comes to our speech, Christians must be decidedly countercultural.

So what does the Bible teach about our words?

No Place for Corrupt Talk

Paul's instruction concerning speech is so relevant to our own context it could have been written last week. "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Eph. 4:29). Later he adds, "Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving" (Eph. 5:4).

The Greek word sapros (v.29) could be translated rotten, corrupt, or putrid. It is the same word that Jesus employs in Luke 6:43 when referring to "bad fruit." The point is this: The words of Christ's followers should never be marked by rottenness and obscenity. Indeed, the crude four-letter-words that have become all too common in our culture should never be found on the lips of God's children. Again, the Apostle writes, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths." "Filthiness" and "crude joking" have no place in our lives. Rather, as "beloved children" we are called to be "imitators of God", emulating our Heavenly Father's holiness in every part of our lives, not least in conversation (Eph. 5:1; I Pet. 1:14-16).

But rotten speech is more than just profanity, isn't it? It also includes blasphemy, lying, deception, manipulation, boasting, exaggeration, slander, gossip, insults, mockery, complaining, and other sinful kinds of speech. The third and ninth commandments speak directly to these and other sins of the tongue (Exodus 20:7, 16; c.f. WLC Q. 113, 145). "Therefore," John Calvin states, "let us learn to abhor and shun evil language as we shun the plague, when a man's tongue runs over with the language of the gutter" (Calvin, Sermons on Ephesians (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 1998; first published 1562), 462.

A Fountain of Life

God created our mouths to be fountains of blessing, not gutters of cursing (Prov. 10:11). He exhorts us to build up others with our words, "giving grace to those who hear" (Eph. 4:29b). How can we do this in a culture inundated with profanity and unwholesome speech?

1. Be intentional with encouragement: Ask yourself every morning during your personal devotions, "How can I be an encouragement to others with my words today? How can I refresh and build up those around me?" Let your words be a conduit of grace and encouragement, and not another means of drawing attention to yourself, your problems, or the deficiencies of others. Be purposeful with your words, so that they "fit the occasion" (Eph. 4:29), thus providing comfort to the afflicted, direction to the lost, correction to the wayward, courage to the weak, hope for the despairing, and blessing to all. Be intentional with your words.

2. Let your conversation be marked by gratitude: The inspired Apostle writes that the conversation of the new man in Christ should not be characterized by filthiness, crude joking, and foolish talk, but with thanksgiving (Eph. 5:4). As an unworthy recipient of God's sovereign grace in Christ, as an object of His extravagant mercy, as an inheritor of everlasting life, and as a cherished and adopted "son" of the living God, you should be one of the most thankful people on the planet. Keeping your focus on Christ and His glorious gospel will saturate your heart with deep gratitude-- gratitude that will evidence itself in your words to others.

3. Let your words be seasoned with Love: First Corinthians 13:4-7 teaches us something of the nature of love. If we are loving with our speech, therefore, our words will be patient and kind, not arrogant, willful, resentful, irritable, or rude. We will also verbally rejoice in all that is true, honorable, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8). Ask yourself right now, "Are my words seasoned with love?"

4. Drink deeply the means of grace: Those who faithfully attend unto the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and earnest prayer every Lord's Day in public worship will be, by grace through faith in Christ, transformed by the gospel (c.f. Acts 2:42). Of course, this includes the transformation of our speech. Indeed, the Holy Spirit sanctifies us through the diligent use of the means of grace, and conforms us more and more into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29-30; Jn 17:17; WSC #85-88). And when our hearts are changed by Christ, so are our tongues; "for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45).

Dear Christian, words matter. They have the power to build up and to tear down; to bless and to poison (c.f. James 3). Therefore, let us recover, cultivate, and model godly speech in our homes, schools, neighborhoods, communities, and churches. And may we frequently pray the solemn words of Psalm 19:14:

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer."

Rev. Dr. Jon D. Payne is senior minister of Christ Church Presbyterian (PCA), Charleston, South Carolina, visiting professor of practical theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, Convener of the Gospel Reformation Network, and co-editor of the Lectio Continua Expository Commentary Series on the New Testament (RHB).  

Shepherds and Self-Awareness

When ministers and elders gather together, it is usual for them share their ministry burdens with each other. The calling of a minister of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is high and hard; the weightiness of the calling and the sufferings experienced in it give us the need to discreetly share some criticisms we endure, oppositions we face, and brokenness we encounter. We are usually acutely aware of how these contribute to our own suffering.

It is more rare to hear ministers and elders reflect on how their congregations have suffered because of their ministries, despite the fact that this kind of self-awareness is a route to the most blessed and mature ministries. Why is it as uncommon as it is? Often because self-centeredness not only makes us shallow and blunt instruments of ministry but also blinds us to the harm done to the Lord's sheep entrusted to us. Then the sobering words of Ezekiel 34:3-4 become increasingly applicable to us: we fail to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bring back the straying, and seek the lost. We place hindrances between Christ and his sheep. Self-promotion, self-pity, apathy or harshness begin to characterize us. Evangelical writers offering counsel to pastors describe this all too common problem in varying ways. Some label it as low emotional intelligence or as narcissistic personality disorder. In the worst of cases, those who ought to be Christ-like shepherds of the sheep are self-centered abusers of the flock, and as these studies indicate, troublingly blind to themselves--and able to speak of their 'challenges in ministry' with great sincerity.

So how do we cultivate a healthy self-awareness in gospel ministry? How do we cultivate a humble and fruitful love for the flock?

Ordinary Means

First, we need to be engaged in communion with God, using the ordinary means of grace. We need to be in the Word for ourselves and in prayer for ourselves. As we come to him, the Lord uses his Word and Spirit to remove simple and overly high views of self, making us wise; his pure commands will enlighten us, including to ourselves. (Psalm 19:7-8) He will prune us for greater fruitfulness. (John 15:2) As we grow in knowing and communing with the Lord, we begin to see ourselves with far greater clarity, and realize with renewed depth how difficult it is to discern our own errors. (Psalm 19:12) We more deeply realize our need of our Lord Jesus Christ, and His perfect sufficiency for all. (Romans 7:24-25) United to Christ, and living in him, we become more like him. Through this, our ministry grows.

Communion with the People of God

Second, we need the communion of the saints for our own sanctification. We need to see ourselves as worshipping the King of kings and Lord of lords alongside them, with them. We need their love, encouragement, their concerns and wisdom. We need to be ready to listen to and heed our wives, elders, and fellow ministers. We also need to be ready to hear from our congregants. They see us, hear us, and know us from week to week. They enjoy the blessing of our ministries; they also suffer under the weaknesses and sin in our ministries. As ministers, when we receive concerns from church members, we need to guard against "circling the wagons" with sympathetic fellow ministers who don't see us day in and day out. It is all too easy to self-justify and commiserate with them rather than listening with a servant's heart to those living with our ministry. Our congregants may well see with uncomfortable accuracy that our ministry is going poorly; or they may have a gut sense that something is off, or missing in us, though they struggle to articulate it. If you want to grow in God-exalting ministry listen, reflect, and pray. Heart-searching counsel of past ministers is also a help; Charles Spurgeon's essay, "The Minister's Self-Watch", is a good place to begin.

Strict Judgment and our All-Sufficient Savior

Those who minister will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1). We need to proceed in ministry with great care and humility. We are not sufficient for our calling, but our Lord is more than sufficient for us in it. We bear the treasure of God's good news in jars of clay, so that it would be evident that God is the one who saves and sanctifies. (2 Cor. 4:7) He provides for and enables growth in faithful, fruitful ministry--including the painful blessing of coming to a more accurate self-awareness.

William VanDoodewaard has served as a church planter and is Professor of Church History at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. This article is expanded from an earlier version published in the PRTS Update.

Faithfulness and Fruitlessness in Ministry?

A couple of weeks ago a friend asked a question: "How would you encourage a faithful brother who had been pastoring for several years and has not, in that season, seen a conversion directly from his preaching, though the church is growing and health with saints being built up and believers joining the church?" 

It is a good question, and one which many faithful men might face. In itself, the question makes a number of what are good and proper assumptions, as well as wrestling with some significant issues that cannot be avoided. Here are some thoughts for pastors and preachers in such a position: 

1. Do not underestimate the work of building and equipping, for this is fruit, and it can be - as well as an end in itself - a means to the end of reaching others with the gospel. 

2. Do not presume that what you are preaching is not the gospel, but do not presume that you are preaching that gospel as clearly and pointedly as you might. Go back to your Bible to ensure that you are preaching truths rooted in the person and work of Christ, but also preaching the person and work of Christ in themselves - preach Christ, not just about him! 

3. Are you preparing the way by a thorough and plain explanation of the problem of personal sin and impending judgement? Are you preaching the law in the good old-fashioned sense? 

4. All your preaching should be evangelical, but consider whether regular and specific evangelistic sermons might be an extra avenue of pursuing this end. 

5. Is the church actively and specifically praying for conversions in its public meetings (Lord's days and prayer meetings) and its private occasions (personal and family worship)? 

6. I think it is worth considering whether or not there is any sin in your life or the life of the church that might be a reason for God to withhold a blessing. I say this not to cripple you in conscience, but because it is worth taking into account. 

7. Do not fall into the mentality that 'the nation is under judgement' and that therefore, in effect, your labours are doomed to failure - the gospel remains the power of God to salvation for those who believe. Preach it in that confidence. You must cultivate this confidence actively. 

8. Consider whether and to what extent these growing members are personally engaged in making Christ known in their families and among their friends and neighbours and colleagues. 

9. Consider whether there are specific evangelistic avenues that could be pursued e.g. home and personal (1-2-1) bible studies, door to door, open air preaching. As we engage in such, the Lord sometimes sends blessing by another route. 

10. Are you setting a personal example of evangelistic endeavor (not merely pastoral-professional duty)? 

11. Are you equipping the saints for this work in your public ministry? Is this one of the areas in which they are being built up? 

12. Are you giving the impression that the church is a place for those believers to come and rest (it is) but not also to work (that too)? Some believers who seek out a faithful ministry do so because of weariness. They need, under God, to be healed, equipped, stirred up and sent out.

13. Are you yourself given to prayer for God's blessing upon your ministry in all these respects? 

14. Consider that Satan will particularly assault the church and ministers who particularly pursue this. Expect it to be hard, and to bring hardships. 

15. Are you prepared to accept that this could be a testing time in which the Lord is challenging your faith as to whether you believe God's promises, and so will go on relying upon God's means to accomplish God's ends in God's time? Such patient persistence is one of the hardest things to maintain. 

In offering such counsels, I convict myself over again. None of them are accusations, but examples of the kind of questions I would ask and continue to ask myself. When you do so, preach in the prayerful expectation that God will bless his gospel.

A Godly Life

Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:11-12)

At the core of Peter's exhortation is the principle that a godly life--honorable conduct--provides a measure of defense to strangers and pilgrims in this hostile environment. The saints are given instructions that have to do more with the inward life: "abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul." There follows the evidence of those working principles in the outward life: "having your conduct honourable among the Gentiles." The saints, conscious of the eye of the world upon them, ought to cultivate attractive and blameless lives. Our interactions with those around us ought to be truly righteous. This is so that when our religious convictions bring a measure of reproach or persecution, those who speak evil of the children of God will be obliged to acknowledge the practical and generally beneficial godliness of the saints.

As they see your righteous living they will be caught between their rejection of the Christ whom you follow and the undeniable difference that your following of Christ makes in your treatment of those around you. They must acknowledge that your life is exemplary; that your Christian convictions raise you above the aggressive and bestial living that increasingly characterizes our societies; that our fundamental neighborliness is on open but unostentatious display (Luke 10:36). Such good works of the church will ultimately lead these critics to "glorify God in the day of visitation." This is a difficult phrase that some suggest refers to a personal and searching encounter with the Lord, perhaps prompted by or certainly driven home by the testimony of the believers in the world. There may come a day when God deals with the souls of our friends, neighbors, and colleagues who may presently pour scorn on our convictions, dismiss our religion, or deride us as mere do-gooders. In that day the honorable conduct of the saints may be one of the means that the Lord uses to press home the realities of His salvation in Jesus Christ. The following verses spell out what this looks like with regard to the state:

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men--as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

You will notice that Peter establishes absolutes that are similar to those which Paul makes clear in Romans 13. Peter explains that if the saints are to suffer, at least it ought to be for the right reasons and not because of their rebellion against God's appointed authorities. What is particularly interesting is the way in which Peter connects lawlessness and rebellion in relation both to God and to men. As with Paul, rebellion against the authority that the Lord has appointed is de facto rebellion against the Lord who appointed it. Rebellion against one authority often reflects an ill disposition to authority in general, including divine authority. It is no surprise that a generation in which sinners very willingly and eagerly enthrone themselves as the only authority worth heeding tend to disregard both the laws of men and the laws of God. Verse 17 provides a potent summary of what Peter has been addressing: "Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king" (1 Peter 2:17).

Excerpted from the book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness ( or or Westminster Bookstore or RHB).