A Stern Warning
Paul just finished telling us to imitate God and now, in the next 3 verses, he is telling us what not to do. Ephesians 5:3-5 says, “3 Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. 4 Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. 5 You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.”
Look at the sins he lists here and the order in which he lists them: Sexual Immorality, Impurity, Greed. Then, after he tells us that we have no business doing these things, he continues the list with Obscene Stories, Foolish Talk, and Coarse Jokes. There are a lot of Christians out there today who believe that it is okay to cuss and use foul language. They say the Bible never says not to cuss, it just says not to take the Lord’s name in vain. Well, those Christians have obviously not read much of the Bible.
In this passage, it lumps dirty stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes with sexual immorality, impurity, and greed so I would say it is pretty important. The Greek word used here that has been translated as foolish talk isn’t used anywhere else in the Bible in this form, but the root words are. The root word translated as foolish is the Greek word μωρός mōrós, mo-ros’, which means, “Foolish, equivalent to impious, godless.” According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon. So, this word could be translated as foolish, disrespectful to God, or godless talk, that opens the playing field quite a bit.
There are verses all throughout the Bible that warn about the tongue. Jesus Himself talked a lot about it. Remember the story when the religious leaders were trying to trip Him up and asked why His disciples didn’t observe the tradition of washing the outside of their cup before drinking from it? Let’s look at the last part of Jesus’ answer in Matthew 15:16-20, “16 ‘Don’t you understand yet?’ Jesus asked. 17 ‘Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. 18 But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. 19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. 20 These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.’” Jesus told them straight up that what you put into your body doesn’t defile you. He is actually giving a little anatomy lesson here. You see, medically speaking, the digestive tract is outside the body. It is a hole that starts at your mouth and ends at your…well you get the picture. So, anything you eat is technically outside your body. Nutrients are absorbed into the body during the process of digestion, but the food itself is never inside the body. Therefore, what you put into your mouth could never defile you, it might make you sick, but it won’t defile you. Conversely, what comes out of your mouth can definitely defile you. I mean, look at the list, evil thoughts, murder, adultery, ALL sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. I know some are asking, how can I murder with my words? Well, what did Christ say about that? Look at Matthew 5:21-22, “21 ‘You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment] 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.’” In fact, we see this all throughout the Bible. What did John say in 1 John 3:15? “15 Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.” You see, what you say can and does defile you.
As Christ followers, we must watch what we say. The apostle Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:10-12, “10 For the Scriptures say, “If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies. 11 Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. 12 The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil.” Notice he starts out by saying, “For the Scriptures say,” this is because Peter is quoting from Psalms 34:12-16. In both of these passages the Word of God tells us that if we want to live a long and prosperous life on this earth, we need to guard our tongues.
James also had a lot to say about watching your mouth, as my mom always said. Look at James 3:2-12, “2 Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way. 3 We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. 4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. 5 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. 6 And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. 7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! 11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? 12 Does a fig tree produce olives or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.” He makes it pretty clear, doesn’t he?
The Pastor I grew up underused to always say something that sums this up so nicely. He would say, “Your life may be the only Bible that some people will ever open.” The simple fact is, why do you use foul language? Is it because you don’t want your friends to think you are different? We are called to be a peculiar people in 1 Peter 2:9. That doesn’t mean we should be so weird that people don’t want anything to do with us, we can’t win them if they don’t want what we have, but we also can’t be conformed to this world, Romans 12:2.