What’s in a word?

“Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving”. (Ephesians 5:4)

I love to laugh and hear good jokes, as well as tell them (although they may not always be as funny as I intend them to be). Most people like to laugh, right? But…is there a line when it comes to what we should or should not say? When does a joke become “out of place” and when is it “foolish talk” or “coarse jesting”?

It’s amazing to me that my family and I have been learning relatively similar things throughout the week, each in a different way and through a different set of circumstances. My mom and I discussed Romans 12 this week as she was preparing a lesson for a women’s group. We discussed the first two verses mainly. I had already heard a number of messages about what it means to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice and to be transformed in our mind. But I never gave serious thought about the practical applications…until this week. So what does it mean “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1)?

It is clear we need to give God control of our bodies and many examples can be given for what we should not do, such as: we should not do drugs or get drunk or have relations out of marriage. Inasmuch as these are true, there is so much more to these verses. I have been thinking about the application of this verse to a part of our bodies that we use a lot, sometimes more than we should…our mouths.

There are quite a few verses that talk about the tongue (for example James 1:26, 3:5) and the words we say (Mattew 12:36). The verse at the opening of this post talks about what we should and should not say. Some may interpret this to mean that no jokes or even laughter are allowed. Yet, from what I understand, that is not the case. God created laughter and humor and, therefore, there is nothing wrong with them, by themselves. On the contrary, God wants us to laugh and sing and take pleasure in many things. So then, what is this verse telling us?

I looked up the Greek word for obscenity. It means filthiness, things which are shameful or deformed. The word for foolish talking means that which is senseless, foolish, which is not suited to edify or profit. Coarse joking (or coarse jesting) means using words that can easily be turned to other meanings,double meaning, words that can convey an obscene or offensive meaning, depending upon the context in which they are used. All three of these words in Greek appear only here in the New Testament. In short, we are instructed not to speak words which “are out of place” and, therefore, improper and inappropriate for us as believers.

This verse should be understood not only in the context of all of chapter 5, but the whole book of Ephesians. The first three chapters talk about what The Messiah Yeshua has done for us and our position in Him, being being seated together with The Lord in the heavenly places. Chapter 4 starts the practical part of the epistle: how we should live, walking in unity and walking in purity. The begininig in chapter 5 encourages us to be “followers of God, as dear children”, in that we should continually be imitators of God. We are told to “walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling smell” (verse 2). Christ gave Himself in our place and took the punishment we deserved. This is the kind of love we should be showing, a sacrificial type of love, as The Lord Yeshua did for us. Verse 3 starts the contrast of what we should not do. It talks about things that should not be mentioned among those who are saints – all who have been born again and profess their faith in The Lord Yeshua. Things such as fornication, uncleanness, and covetousness are viewed by the world as acceptable, even appropriate, in certain political, social or business settings. Yet, the exhortation here is that things such as these should not exist among us!

The opening verse to this post appears is in the context of things that are unbecoming to believers. Foul words or joking in a manner which can offend or have a double meaning, is dishonoring to God. It is not only improper for us to do, but we should also encourage one another not to be involved with such speech. There is nothing wrong with asking others not to joke improperly in our presence. At first, they may think us strange, but with time, others may come to honor our request.

Am I exaggerating? I don’t think so. It all goes back to the opening verse, being imitators of God. How then should we be speaking? We should be expressly thanks. The idea is to get together for praising God, giving Him thanks for all that He is and all that He has done, is doing and still will do. We should be using our words to edify and build up, rather than for coarse joking, which more often than not results in putting someone else down, rather than building up.

As I thought of the passage in Romans 12:1-2, I realized how often we compromise by what we say. May The Lord, the Holy One of Israel, help us to truly be imitators of God and be a sweet smelling savor to Him, not only by what we do, but also in our speech. “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in season” (Proverbs 25:11).
© Hannah Kramer

7 thoughts on “What’s in a word?

  1. Amen! Thank you for sharing this! I have been thinking a lot about how I can make my language more dignified in order to better represent the Lord. This was perfect! So glad I came across your blog 🙂

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