During the fall of my freshman year of college, I made up my mind to delete all of my rap music. At the time, I was listening to pretty much any kind of rap because I liked the beats even though I was indifferent about the lyrics. But eventually the lyrics got to be too much for me. I didn’t appreciate how by their lyrics, the rappers would defile the good beats, but more than anything else, I hated how I was allowing myself to be influenced by their lyrics. Not only did I swear more often, but I also spoke of crude things. I was able to hide it well; hardly anyone at church could tell I was a potty-mouth in the dorms. But eventually I decided that I didn’t want to have to hide it. And so my rap music was gone.
This summer I’ve been gradually studying the gospel of Matthew. Without a job and taking only one class each summer session, my ADD tends to take over and whatever I might have wanted to study unfortunately gets put to the back burners. But miraculously, I read a few chapters today. In chapter 12 of Matthew, Jesus has some seemingly harsh words for the language we use:
“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” – vv. 36-37
Does this mean if we constantly use foul or crude language that we won’t be “saved”? I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant. I looked at my ESV footnote and it says something I think is very important to understand what Jesus meant, “‘By your words you will be justified’ means a person’s words will be outward evidence of their inward character.” Or, as Jesus said earlier in the passage, “‘For the tree is known by its fruit,’” (12:33). The words we use reflect our character quality. And honestly, I think they also reflect our maturity.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:11; “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Now granted, he was speaking of how things will be vastly different when Jesus returns, but I think his words’ wisdom is plain and simple: There is a moment in life when you just grow up. I find letting go of crude humor and foul words to be something you let go of in the process of growing up. That being said, I will be the first to tell you that simply deleting a bunch of rap music that has a negative influence is not enough. My life post-rap music is a testament to that fact.
Nearly every time I’m on the golf course, I let a few words slip. You may not be able to hear them if you golf with me, but God knows I say them. At the very least, God knows I think them. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” Jesus says in Matthew 12:34b. That means what comes out of our mouths reveals what we put into it. And not only that, but it also reveals our inability – or our lack of talent – to filter and restrain our tongues from saying stuff we shouldn’t say. The issue isn’t an outward one, Jesus says; the problem is within us.
I’ve stopped watching movies that are rated “R” for their crude humor and foul language. Yes, some of these movies are hilarious, but for me, they’re also a very bad influence. Case in point, the other night I was hanging out with one of my friends from high school and after she said something, I said the common “That’s what she said” line and immediately after saying it, I realized that in combination with what she said, it was extremely crude and very inappropriate. She told me that she had never heard me saying something that perverted and “dirty.” That night I really couldn’t come to forgive myself because it was a “careless word” like Jesus was talking about. Now you might think that I’m kicking myself a little too hard for this because it might seem like a small blunder in your eyes. But for me, reflecting God’s character – especially around those who may not know Jesus – is one of the most important things to me. And when I slip in doing so, it’s very humiliating.
What can be done about this kind of problem with language? Well, remembering the old adage, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all” might help. But I think what has even a greater impact is prayer and meditation over Romans 12:2; “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Learning what it means to have a renewed mind can’t be done just by reading a book; it takes actual life experience. It means wrestling with these challenges, these temptations to use foul or crude language, and overcoming them with the wisdom of God, which is the action upon the knowledge we receive from Him and His word.
It may not mean deleting all your music that has bad words or crude humor, or stopping yourself from watching movies with similar stuff. That’s one approach that I’ve chosen to take and it’s been working out fairly well so far. But you may find a better route for yourself. Maybe it’s merely not saying the words that first come to your mind, maybe it’s just stopping them from coming out of your mouth and actually practicing on taming your tongue. Whatever route you may choose, make sure it bears fruit. Make sure that it reflects self-control, restraint, and maturity in the Lord. Because ultimately, we’re called by Jesus to be the light of the earth; we’re called to reflect Him in all that we do.