Taming the Tongue, Part 1
About the Guest
Does your tongue need a harness lately? Listen to today's broadcast as well-known author and speaker Dennis Rainey talks about taming the tongue.
Dennis RaineyDennis Rainey cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry of Cru®. Since the organization began in 1976 through 2017, Dennis’ leadership enabled FamilyLife to grow into a dynamic and vital ministry in more than 109 countries around the world helping families discover the joy God intended for their relationships with God, spouse, and kids. Dennis has authored or co-authored more than 35 books, including best-selling Moments Together for Couples and Staying Close and has received two Golden Medallion...more
Does your tongue need a harness lately?
Taming the Tongue, Part 1
Dennis: I heard the story the other day about a group of teenage boys who were on a subway. They were cursing and using incredible vulgarities in front of two women who were old enough to be their grandmothers. The observer said, "I watched as these two women – they were flinching as though someone was hitting them with an electric shock."
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, April 9th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Are you helping to clean up the air or are you a polluter? Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. You know, when I started in radio, talk shows used to be on a seven-second delay, and the reason for that was so that the host of the talk show could press the anytime somebody called in and used bad language on the air. That way, you'd just go quiet for a minute and come back on and apologize to your listener for the fact that a caller had attempted to use bad language.
Now, almost 20 years later, nobody uses a seven-second delay anymore, and almost anything you want to say gets on the air. In fact, now it's the host of the program who is using language that you would have pushed the "delete" button on before.
Dennis: And, in the process, Bob, I fear that we are losing our decency as a civilization, we are dumbing down what's acceptable and, for the most part, Bob, the Christian community is guilty of turning its head away and ignoring cussing and swearing and foul language when people say it.
You know, I've got to admit, as we talk about this subject, this is a bit of a soapbox issue for me, and the reason is not only talk radio, like you mentioned, but what's on television and what's occurring in the marketplace.
I don't know if you heard about the canoeist up in Michigan – a 25-year-old guy who was going downstream and evidently got a little angry and bent out of shape and let fly a number of obscenities and evidently said it in front of the wrong person, because there is a law in Michigan that goes all the way back to 1897 – an anti-cussing statute. Now, talk about something that seems out of date, huh? Maybe in-date more than ever – but he was found guilty and convicted in 1999 after cursing in front of a group of children, and the parents took him to court and won. I don't know how much he was fined, but he was definitely up a creek at that point. I knew you'd appreciate that, Bob, of all people.
But, you know, here we are in a culture today that seems to be post-Judeo-Christian in its ethic, in its standards, and I want to spend the next couple of days just talking with our listeners about what you need to do around the issue of cussing. And I'm going to start in an unlikely place. I'm going to start with the listener. I'm going to start with the individual single, mom, dad, husband, wife, grandparent, who goes to church, and who may be found guilty of, well, being a little slippery in their language.
Bob: Now, you're saying that you think, even within the Christian community, we've gotten loose on this issue?
Dennis: I know we've gotten loose with it. In fact, many times, some of the people that you'd least expect to say a coarse word are people in ministry, the clergy, and yet some of the things that continue to be said by those who you would look up to as standard-bearers, and those who are representing the holiness of God instead, they are dropping their standards at a time when we need to be lifting them.
Bob: Now, do we need to address the fact that this is a significant issue? Maybe there are some who are listening and going, "Why are you making such a big deal out of cussing?" I mean, okay, so you let a few words slip through – they're just words, after all.
Dennis: Well, let me read you Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 29. It says, "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment so that it will give grace to those who hear."
Now, what does the word "no" mean in Greek? In the original language, it meant no unwholesome word. And yet, what's happening is, Bob, is we are losing our sense of decency in the culture because – I think, first and foremost, because the Christian community is no longer upholding righteousness and holiness in our personal lives privately, so we can't take any stand.
Bob: I guess one of the issues you have to wrestle with right off the bat here is what words are okay and what words aren't. I mean, we all kind of know that there is this one group of words that shouldn't be used. I say we all know that, I wonder, in the culture today whether there is a common consensus around any group of words.
Dennis: Yes, but what you're speaking of is a group of words that probably most Christians, the vast majority of Christians, would assume that that's not an acceptable group of words or even slang words to be used in conversation.
Bob: Then there is a second group that's kind of a milder form of profanity that you'll hear used a little more liberally – folks feel a little more comfort around these words, and maybe they're gray words. Are they really bad? They don't seem as bad as the really bad words – you know what I'm talking about?
Dennis: I do know what you're talking about.
Bob: Then there's a third group that I'm thinking of, and these are the sound-alike words – this is kind of the replacement profanity that we've come up with where, instead of using the bad words, we come up with something that may be even as nonsensical, but it gives us an opportunity to say something when we hit our thumb with a hammer, you know?
So how can you decide what's okay and what's not okay?
Dennis: Well, I took a look at Scripture just around this whole area of our speech to see what Jesus said about our speech, and let's let Him answer some of your question here.
In Matthew, chapter 12, verse 36 and 37, listen to what Jesus said – "But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
We're going to be held accountable for that which we say. And the accountability is not to another person. That ultimate accountability is to the Lord God of the Universe, and that should cause us to be, I think, a bit introspective about the kind of words that we use.
If you think about the Ten Commandments – Deuteronomy 5:11 commands us to not use the Lord's name in vain; to take it lightly or to use it with contempt or with any kind of blasphemy in our tone or our heart. And James, in fact, implores us to control our tongue and talks about how, from our mouth, come both the praising of God and the blessing of God and people and the cursing of God and of people who are made in the image of God.
So, Bob, I think what we've got to pull back and, rather than draw a box around a group of words that are not acceptable and begin to rationalize our way toward accepting another group of words, I think we need to pull back and go, "What kind of language do I want to season my speech?" Colossians 4:6 commands us that it might be seasoned with grace to give hope and help and encouragement to those who hear.
And I think the call of Scripture is to be above reproach and, really, a part of my motivation for wanting to talk about cussing and cursing and profanity is because I had a father who, really, never cussed. I can probably count on one hand the number of questionable words I ever heard him use or say, In fact, it was almost like – I can almost tell you the times when it occurred, because when the word came out, it was almost funny, because it was such an oxymoron against who the man really was.
My dad's integrity and life were so upright, so honest, that it was like "What's that?" And I know some can't identify with this, because they grew up in homes where bad language was used. I asked one man about his home; he said, "My dad never cussed, but my mom did." He said, "I pressed my mom to the limit, as a teenage boy, and my mom ended up using some bad words at points, getting angry at me and my siblings just because of how we pressed her to the core."
Bob: You're really calling us to a standard of being above reproach with our words. If there is a question about our language, do we err on the side of caution or on the side of liberty? And I hear you saying, "Find some other words and be cautious in this culture."
Dennis: Well, let me read one more Scripture – Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 7 – "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." What's the Scripture calling us to? To be 10 percent above average, 20 percent above average? Average doesn't count here. We're not called to be average, we are called to be followers of the King of kings and Lord of lords, and that word you used a second ago – "be above reproach" – I think begins to communicate how we need to evaluate our speech, how we talk in the marketplace.
Bob: You know, some of our listeners are going to think, "You're just not living in the real world. It must be at your ministry that things are pretty soft. Out in the real marketplace, you almost can't communicate with people unless profanity is a part of how you communicate." It's certainly an ongoing barrage in some work areas, and it's understandable to see how somebody falls into speech patterns when that's what they hear day in and day out from their co-workers.
Dennis: There is a study that's been done called "Cursing in America," by psychologist Timothy Jay, and he found that curses – that's cusswords and profanity – make up 8 percent of the leisure conversation among college students.
Bob: Kids just sitting around talking where they'll just sprinkle their speech with profanity – 8 percent of them do that?
Dennis: Right, now, if you think about the generation that's adults, the elder statesmen of a culture, would you think they would be better models and standards here or would they be worse?
Bob: Well, you'd hope that they'd grow up and that that would reduce that speech, but what I'm hearing in the culture today doesn't give evidence to that.
Dennis: Timothy Jay found that 13 percent of all leisure conversation among adults includes some form of profanity. And, frankly, Bob, people are wondering if I'm living in a dream world. That's a part of why I wanted to do this broadcast is to draw attention to the subject of cussing and to say what should be a Christian's response and responsibility concerning this subject.
Bob: You know, that study would indicate that instead of growing up, we're reverting as we get older. Instead of moving toward maturity, we're sliding back toward a new level of immaturity as adults in this particular area and, again, I want to come back to a fundamental issue – some folks are going to say, "All this is, is words."
You know, okay, so we should, according to the Scriptures, guard our tongues, watch our mouth, I need to clean up my act a little bit, but is this really that big a deal? Is it really that big a sin? If you let loose with some profanity when you're talking with the guys about a sporting event this past weekend, is it really that big a deal?
Dennis: Well, watch it trickle down all the way to our youth to such a degree that, in 1996, there was a book written called "What To Do When Your Students Talk Dirty." It was a book that was written to teachers of students and how to control kids in the classroom and at school and help them clean up their speech.
Evidently, Bob, the book did well enough, because two years later a sequel came out – "What To Do When Your Kid Talks Dirty." I think we're concerned about what's happening to civilization as we watch language unravel. And one of the tragedies is censorship has become tantamount to vulgarity itself. It's like censorship is robbing us of our great freedom to pollute the airwaves, newspapers, magazines, TV, movies, music – with whatever we deem acceptable.
Bob: You call anyone to a higher standard, and you are supposedly being a censor.
Dennis: Well, let me tell you something, the Scriptures are censors, because God calls us to a higher standard all the time, and you know what? He is censoring our speech. When I came to faith in Christ and began to follow Him seriously as a 20-year-old at the University of Arkansas, I want to tell you, my speech – a good portion of my vocabulary dried up.
Now, I never took the name of the Lord in vain, even in my most rebellious ways, there was something about the fear of God that was built within my soul by my mom and dad, but, you know, when I went my own way, I would have to say I was a part of the locker room generation, and locker room talk. And yet when I did give Christ lordship over all my life, my vocabulary took a substantial hit. I lost use of a lot of words that I had been using.
Bob: When we started the program today, I thought you're going to help us, as parents, deal with this issue with our children because, certainly, that's where the problem is – it's with our children. We haven't talked much about teenagers today. In fact, as you pointed out, if the issue is bad with our children, it's worse with us, and that's really where we start, isn't it?
Dennis: It really is where we begin, and what I want to talk about on tomorrow's broadcast is, really, how we go about instructing the next generation to handle profanity. Because if what we've seen in our lifetime is any indication, I believe one of two things is going to occur – we're either going to see a transformational reformation occur in culture where we move back toward a – well, how else can I refer to it – a Victorian standard, one that's of purity, nobility, dignity, decency, or we're going to move to more and more of a barbaric state where our children are going to need skills from the Scripture, they're going to need wisdom to know how to live their lives and raise their families, as this thing comes unraveled.
Bob: So how would you counsel a guy, a mom, a dad, who says, "Okay, I know this is an area I need to get under control, but it's hard and with where I work and with the people I work with, I just don't know if I can do it." What would you suggest?
Dennis: Well, I have one verse for you to memorize and to meditate on and, I promise you, if you memorize this verse that your language will begin to change. It's 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."
Do you hear what the Scripture is calling us to there? "Let the words of my mouth" – that's what I say – "and the meditation of my heart" – what I think about and what I allow my mind to feast upon and to think about – "may my words and my thoughts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord" – one who is sovereign, one who is Master – "my rock and my redeemer" – my salvation. I like this verse because it not only has the standard, but it also has the grace and the redemption that every one of us needs.
Bob: For those of our listeners who may have wrestled personally with getting their language under control, it is good to know that God's grace is there for us, but the standard is still a holy standard to which we're called, and I know we've got listeners, Dennis, who – maybe they don't have a problem with profanity, but maybe they need to be reminded to extend grace to others while we still call them to a high and holy standard. You know, that's what speaking the truth in love is all about.
You and your wife, Barbara, address the subject of profanity, bad language, with teenagers in the book that you wrote, "Parenting Today's Adolescent." There is a chapter in this book that helps you deal with your teenager and his or her speech, taming the tongue. I think that's one of the 14 traps that the two of you identified as one of the traps facing adolescents today.
We have this book available in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and we'd be happy to send you a copy. You can go to our website at FamilyLife.com and click the red button that says "Go," that you'll find right in the middle of the screen. That will take you to an area of the site where you can get more information about the book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent."
If, perhaps the problem is not with an adolescent, but it's with you, let me also recommend a book by Dr. Joe Stowell called "The Weight of Your Words, Measuring the Impact of What You Say." You know, the Bible has a lot to say about the power of words, and we are to be careful with our words.
So we've got the book for parents of teens, and we've got the book, "The Weight of our Words," and they're available, again, on our website at FamilyLife.com. Go to the home page and click the red button in the middle of the screen that says "Go." That will take you to the area of the site where there is information about both of these books, and you can order online, if you'd like.
If you do order both books, we'll send along at no additional cost, the CD audio of our conversation on this subject so that you can review it or pass it along to someone who may benefit from listening to these programs.
Again, the website is FamilyLife.com. You can also call to request these resources – 1-800-FLTODAY is the toll-free number – 1-800-368-6329. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.
You know, ultimately, issues like this center on issues of character – are we being conformed to the image of Christ? Are we speaking as Christ would speak? Are we thinking as Christ would think? If we ultimately want to become like Christ, then what we need to do is meditate on Him, on the attributes of God.
Just a few years before his death, Dr. Bill Bright wrote a powerful book that is a meditation on the attributes of God. The book is called "The Joy of Trusting God," and this month we wanted to make a copy of this book available to any of our listeners who can help with a donation of any amount to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
Included with the book there is an audio version of the book in the back read by John Tesch. So you have both the book and the audio book that come together, and we're happy to send this to you as our way of saying thank you for your financial support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today. If you can help with a donation of any amount during the month of April, we'll get this in the mail to you.
You can make a donation online at FamilyLife.com. If you do that, as you fill out the donation form, you'll come to a keycode box, type the word "joy" in that box so that we'll know you'd like a copy of this book by Dr. Bright, or if you're calling to make a donation at 1-800-FLTODAY just mention you'd like Dr. Bright's book and, again, we'll send it out to you. And let us say thanks in advance for your financial support of this ministry. We appreciate your support, and we appreciate your partnership with us in the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
Tomorrow we want to talk more about our tongues and about watching our words and about how we ought to function in a culture where profanity is as prevalent as it is and be a witness for Christ. I hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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