Every morning, when we wake up, what are some of the first things we do? Some eat breakfast, some exercise, and some read the newspaper. Eventually, we take a shower, brush our teeth and get dressed. When getting dressed, we choose what clothes we will wear considering the season, the weather outside, what we wore yesterday or the day before and how to coordinate our shirt, pants, dress, top, socks, shoes, etc.
As we’re doing all these morning rituals with physical, material things in our life, especially dressing ourselves, do we realize there is a corresponding spiritual ritual of dressing ourselves? The Apostle Paul, in today’s Epistle reading from the 29th Sunday (Colossians 3:4-11) speaks to this when he tells us to put off the old man and put on the new (vv.9-10). What he means is to put off our old fallen human nature and to put on our new human nature in Jesus Christ, given in baptism and chrismation. Putting off the old spiritually might be equated to a physical shower with hot water and soap. Cleaning ourselves spiritually is not a one time event that occurred when we were baptized, rather it is a necessary daily ritual.
St. Paul gives a list of things that need to be scrubbed off like fornication (porneian), uncleanness (akatharsis) and passion (pathos) (v.5). A deep cleanser is necessary to rid us of evil desire (epithemia kakia), covetousness (pleonexian), idolatry and disobedience (apeitheias) (v.5-6). Actually, St. Paul’s language for these is much stronger than mere washing. He says they must be put them to death (nekrosate, v.5). A soothing bath with therapeutic salts will put-off (apothesthe) anger (orgen), wrath (thymon), and malice (kakian) (v.8). Toothpaste and mouthwash will dispel blasphemy, filthy language (aischrologian) and lies (me pseudesthe).
The filthy language (aischrologian) is what I would like to address today. I was recently watching on Netflix a very well-done documentary titled “Hip Hop Evolution” that traces the origins and development of rap music from the 1970s to the 1990s. It is meaningful to me because this music was emerging on the Billboard charts when I was in high school and college. But one thing struck me about the numerous interviews of the rappers who were instrumental in popularizing this type of music. Even though most of them are around my age, many of them still swore like they were teenagers, especially those known as the Gangsta rappers of their time. They were still cussing and using filthy language like they did 20, 30, 40 years ago.
But these guys are not the only ones who use filthy language. We hear it from the actors in many major motion pictures and cable television shows, especially comedies for some reason. And it’s not only teenagers and college students who use dirty words. You can encounter just about everywhere in society. Some people use filthy language very casually, like its just part of their regular vocabulary. Many of us might use it occasionally when we’re angry or really mad. But why is filthy language even considered wrong in the first place? I mean what difference does it make if someone cusses, swears and uses dirty words? Is it really that big of a deal?
The way I explain it from a practical perspective is that filthy language is a very inarticulate way of expressing ourselves. People often use swear words in what I call a lazy manner, not wanting to put forth an effort to find a more appropriate and expressive word that reflects our true feelings. Therefore, to some degree, swearing is not truly cathartic and our anger remains within us, ready to boil over again and again. In fact, one could argue that repeated and regular use of filthy language might indicate that someone has anger issues.
From another perspective, the language that we use reflects our attitude towards other people and towards ourselves. So, in some very real sense, filthy language reveals a debased attitude of others that objectifies and degrades them. And this disposition is ultimately reflective of how we see ourselves, as debased objects.
This leads to the ultimate reason why St. Paul says we should put off, and even put to death, filthy language in our life; because it’s what God commands. The third of the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God says,
7"You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. (Exodus 20:7). Some might say that this only applies to using God’s name but that interpretation strictly limits the understanding of the commandment. We must remember that we are created in God’s image and likeness and we were created to know our Creator. And the way we come to know God is by glorifying and praising Him, not by cursing Him. But to know and to love God is to know and love our fellow human being including ourselves. Jesus says the greatest commandment is:
37Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40)
God created us including our mouth, our tongue, our lips, our larynx and our lungs—everything that involves speech. All of these components are wonderfully designed to emit beautiful sounds, not vulgar noises.
How important is our speech in our salvation? Aren’t our actions much more important? Listen to Jesus again:
33"Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. 34Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 36But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:33-37)
10When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "Hear and understand: 11Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man." (Matthew 15:10-11)
St. Paul further expounds on the matter in three separate verses.
29Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. (Ephesians 4:29)
1Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. 2And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. 3But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; 4neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. (Ephesians 5:1-4)
16But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. (2Timothy 2:16)
Let us conclude today with a most appropriate and relevant passage from the Apostle James/Iakovos, the Brother of the Lord, who says,
1My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. 2For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. 3Indeed, we put bits in horses' mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. 4Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. 5Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. 7For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. 11Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? 12Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh. (James 3:1-12). Amen!