Sins of Speech!

Sins of Speech


Sins of Speech

Richard Hollerman

Why is speech such an important topic?

Why is God so interested in our speech?

What sinful speech is in your own life?

You and I carry a weapon with us that has deadly power and effects!  The Bible says, “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword” (Proverbs 12:18a).  Our words can wound and kill another person.  James also tells us of the devastating effects of an unbridled mouth: “The tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity [sin]; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. . . . No one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison” (3:6, 8).  Our speech can be a destructive sword, a defiling influence, a restless evil!

On the other hand, the words we speak can be used to offer healing, comfort, and life to others.  We can express love and communicate the truth of God.  We can ask forgiveness, bless those who harm us, comfort the broken-hearted, instruct others in the way of righteousness, and proclaim the good news of Christ.  We can pray and praise and worship our God in heaven.  The tongue is the means of great blessing—and tremendous evil.  Proverbs says, “Pleasant words are pure” (15:26), and “How delightful is a timely word!” (15:23). These are the kinds of words that God wants to have flowing from our mouth.

Do we really realize how crucial it is that we have pure and good words in contrast to wrong and evil words?  “The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart,” Jesus declared.  “The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil” (Matthew 12:34-35).  He then uttered a warning that should cause us to take not: “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” (vv. 36-37).  You and I will be held accountable on the great Day of Judgment for every good and every evil word we speak.  We will be “justified” (declared righteous) or “condemned” (judged) by those words.  How true it is that “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21a).

Although we could discuss the words of blessing we are to utter, in this little pamphlet we wish to emphasize the wrong, sinful, and perverse speech that should never come from our mouths.  Please take note of these many sins of speech that we must avoid:


Lying is a way of life for some people, and surveys indicate that most people do lie sometimes.  Often these are called “white lies,” but they yet are lies.  Lying has devastating effects on human relationships.  Gothard has said, “One lie which is not confessed can cause a person to mistrust you for the rest of your life.”  Since God is a God of truth and Christ is called “the truth” (John 14:6) and the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17), we can see that everything that is not of the truth is sinful.  Satan “does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him” (John 8:44).  When you lie, you are following the lead of Satan, the arch-enemy of God!  The Bible says, “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who deal faithfully are His delight” (Proverbs 12:22).  God says that we are to speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), and “laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor” (v. 25).  The Bible says that “all liars” will have their part in Hell (Revelation 21:8), and will not enter the eternal City of God (v. 27).  Let us renounce all dishonesty and always speak the truth, in all circumstances, to everyone!

Profanity: Taking God’s name in vain

“Profanity” means “irreverent or blasphemous speech.”  The Lord says, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).  God’s name is holy and must not be used in a careless, superficial, or irreverent manner.  When one uses words such as “God,” “Jesus Christ,” “Lord,” “Jesus,” “Lord Almighty,” and the like, he shows that he doesn’t regard God as holy as he should.  In fact, the psalmist prays to God, “Your enemies take Your name in vain” (Psalm 139:20b).  God’s enemies take His name in a careless and vain way!  Shockingly, we’ve heard preachers and teachers carelessly use God’s name as an exclamation.  When being surprised, they may say, “God!” or “Lord!”  They aren’t praying to God as they use His name, but they simply use it for emphasis, to make a verbal point.

Some people today may avoid using the name of God Himself, but they freely use “minced oaths” that refer to God in some way; these should also be avoided by anyone who wishes to hold God in reverence.  Some of these would be “Jeeze” (Jesus), “Gosh” (God), and the like.  Our Lord said that we should pray, “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name” (Matthew 6:9).  We “hallow” (regard as holy) God’s name when we treat His name with respect and fear.  Other terms that people use pertain to Biblical concepts   and these should be shunned: “damn” (referring to being eternally condemned), “darn” (for “damn”), and similar terms would thus be condemned.

Angry speech

Anger is a common form of sinful speech.  James tells us that “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (1:20).  Paul warns us: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31).  He says that anger and wrath must be “put aside (Colossians 3:8).  While it is true that Jesus manifested a Godly anger toward the hard-hearted Pharisees and Sadducees (cf. Mark 3:5; 11:15-18), most of our anger is aroused from selfish attitudes, such as when we feel that we have been slighted, treated unkindly, or have been offended.  Paul is plain that uncontrolled anger will keep us from God’s coming Kingdom: “The deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: . . . outbursts of anger . . . those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).  This is sinful speech that we must not take lightly!


Repeatedly, the Scriptures condemn slanderous speech. Bill Gothard has defined slander as “telling the truth with the intent of hurting another.” Notice several passages.  We read, “He who spreads slander is a fool” (Proverbs 10:18). Paul says that slander must be “put away from you” (Ephesians 4:31) or “put aside” (Colossians 3:8).  And Peter says that slander must be put aside (1 Peter 2:1). Paul says that slanderers or “revilers” are “unrighteous” and “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).  So serious is this sin that the believing community is “not to associate with . . . a reviler” (5:11).  Reviling or slander is a characteristic of “the last days” in which we live, and such people should be “avoided” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).  Significantly, the devil is called “Satan,” a word that means slanderer!  We can see why Paul would warn that those who slander are “worthy of death” (Romans 1:30, 32).

Gossip and Talebearing

A person who gossips is one “who repeats idle talk or rumors about others” (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible).  Someone has said something like, “Gossip is sharing private information about someone with another who is not part of the problem or part of the solution to the problem.”  Often someone just likes the delight of sharing personal information with another because it makes him feel important.  This sin of the speech is often connected with slander: “He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a gossip” (Proverbs 20:19).

Gossiping is related to talebearing: “He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets” (11:13).  Paul was concerned that he might find believers in Corinth who were both slanderers and gossips (2 Corinthians 12:20).  He says that certain women in Ephesus were “gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention” (1 Timothy 5:13), and he warns older women in particular not to be “malicious gossips” (Titus 1:3).  “Malicious gossips” are characteristic of the last days and should be avoided (2 Timothy 3:1, 3, 5). The apostle tells us that this is a serious sin of the speech for “gossips” are “worthy of death” (Romans 1:29, 32).

Speaking too much

Not only is it possible to sin with our tongue through certain kinds of speaking and certain kinds of content, but we can just speak too much!  Have you ever heard a man or woman who incessantly talked and talked and talked?  Scripture says, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19).  “He who restrains his words has knowledge” (17:27a).  Solomon said, “Let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2).  Since our mouth can bring us to sin so easily, we can see why this admonition is given.  “It is impossible to avoid sinning in an abundance of words—sooner or later one is bound to say something wrong” (NET Bible at Proverbs 10:19).  “He who restrains his words has knowledge” (Proverbs 17:27a).

Boisterous speaking

It is definitely important that the Christian speaks good and right words, but he must do so in the right way.  We know that it is possible to speak boisterously.  We’ve probably all known a person who can be heard from a distance because they are nearly screaming as they talk.  Boisterous is defined as “rough and stormy; violent” speech, or “loud, noisy, and lacking in restraint or discipline” (The American Heritage Dictionary). In Proverbs, it is the harlot who is “boisterous and rebellious” (7:11) and the writer reminds us that “the woman of folly is boisterous” (9:13).  Let all boisterous, loud, clamorous talking and behavior be absent from brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Paul says that we are to avoid “clamor” (NASB, ESV). This is “the outcry of strife out of control” (MacArthur Study Bible).  Clamor is a term seldom used in every day speech, but it means “a loud and sustained noise” or “a vehement expression of discontent or protest; public outcry” (The American Heritage Dictionary).  This is the opposite of what the Christian should be like.  For example, a Christian woman is to “quietly” receive instruction “with entire submissiveness” (1 Timothy 2:11).  In the public gatherings of Christians, “women are to keep silent in the assemblies; for they are not permitted to speak” (1 Corinthians 14:34).  God looks at “the hidden peson of the heart” of the woman, “with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet [not loud] spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:4).  Even though a woman need not keep silent in general (as they are commanded to do in the public meetings), they yet are to be quiet in demeanor.  The brothers too are commanded, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life” (1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:12) Obviously, there are times when both the brother and the sister must speak loudly in order to be heard, but let us use wisdom when this is to be done.

Speaking rashly and unthinkingly

The Christian is to be deliberate in his speaking.  To speak with rashness is to speak with “ill-considered haste or boldness; impetuous” (The American Heritage Dictionary).  Scripture says: “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 29:20).  We should think before we speak.  We also read of one who “speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword” (12:18).  James reminds us, “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” (1:19).  If we are “slow to speak” we will avoid many words that we wish we had not said!  “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things” (Proverbs 15:28).  If we “ponder” how we will answer, we will be able to choose our words carefully and wisely.  “The lips of the righteous bring forth what is acceptable” (10:32a), and we can speak acceptably if we think before we speak!

Useless or Idle words

Have you ever been in the presence of someone who talked and continued to talk, all the while speaking of nonsensical, useless, and worthless conversation?  We don’t refer here to superficial talk that sometimes is in order, such as asking someone about the weather or health.  But we are referring to talking that has no real benefit or productive result.  Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 12:36-37).

The term careless here (NASB, ESV, NIV) could be translated “useless” (NASB, margin), “idle” (NKJV), or “worthless” (NET Bible).  The Greek term argos means “inactive, idle, unfruitful, barren” (Vine, Expository Dictionary).  Vine points out the that Greek comes from two words, a, negative, and ergon, “work”—therefore, inactive and idle.  One authority writes: “The most seemingly insignificant sin—even a slip of the tongue—carries the full potential of all hell’s evil (cf. James 3:6).  No infraction against God’s holiness is therefore a trifling thing and each person will ultimately give account of every such indiscretion. . . . Every person is judged by his words, because they reveal the state of his heart” (MacArthur Study Bible).

Complaining and murmuring

Paul commands, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Philippians 2:14, NASB), “do all things without grumbling or questioning” (ESV), “do everything without complaining or arguing” (NIV), “do everything without grumbling or arguing” (NET Bible).  The first term “is much like muttering or grumbling in a low tone of voice. It is an emotional rejection of God’s providence, will, and circumstances for one’s life.”  The second word is “more intellectual and her means ‘questionings,’ or ‘criticisms’ directed negatively toward God” (MacArthur Study Bible).  This attitude was one that the Israelites constantly had after they were delivered from Egypt.  Paul comments on this by saying, “Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer” (1 Corinthians 10:10).  Instead of grumbling or complaining about God’s will for us as found in Scripture, let us obey that Word with a willing heart and eager disposition.  The result, according to Paul, is that “you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).

Another aspect to complaining is what we might do in relationship to other people.  James writes, “Do not complain, brethren, against one another” (5:9).  Another rendering could be, “Do not grumble against one another” (NET Bible).  Earlier, James wrote, “Do not speak against one another, brethren” (4:11).  One writer states that “grumble” or “complaining” here “sums up the divisive complaining behind 3:1-4:12.  It can be particularly painful in times of suffering when people explode in frustration and turn upon each other” (ESV Study Bible).  Another writer explains 4:11: “This means slander or defame.  James does not forbid confronting those in sin, which is elsewhere commanded in Scripture (Matthew 18:15-17; Acts 20:31; 1 Corinthians 4:14; Colossians 1:28; Titus 1:13; 2:15; 3:10).  Rather he condemns careless, derogatory, critical, slanderous accusations against others. . . . Those who speak evil of other believers set themselves up as judges and condemn them (c. 2:4).  They thereby defame and disregard God’s law, which expressly forbids such slanderous condemnation” (MacArthur Study Bible).

We know that Paul often spoke of the sinful conduct and speech of certain ones (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; Galatians 2:11-14; 5:7-8, 12; Philippians 4:2-3; 1 Timothy 1:19-20; 2 Timothy 1:15; 2:16-18; 4:14-15, 16; Titus 1:10-16), sometimes even naming them.  Peter (2 Peter 2:1-21; 3:1ff), John (2 John 7-11; 3 John 9-10), Jude (vv. 3-19), and the book of Revelation (chaps 2-3), also make public condemnation of various sinners, some of whom may be unfaithful Christians.  But what we must avoid is the “complaining” and “speaking against”  another—especially a brother or sister—when there is no righteous, godly, and loving reason for it. Let our words not be filled with complaining or grumbling, but with a cheerful compliance with God’s perfect will.


In the category above, we referred to James 4:11, which says, “Do not speak against one another, brethren.  He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judged the law” (4:11a; cf. 5:9).  Paul also warns, “The one who does not eat [certain meats] is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him” (Romans 14:3).  He then commands, “Let us not judge one another anymore.”  In this context, the person who has scruples is not to “judge” the one who doesn’t have the same scruples.  The Lord Jesus also says, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1).  He then gives one reason to avoid this judging: “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (v. 2).  We are not to “judge” a brother by condemning him for trifles and in an unloving and merciless way.

On the other hand, the Lord commands us to “judge” under certain circumstances.  In the same context as the above restriction, Jesus tells us to remove the sin from our own life before we condemn another person: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5; cf. vv. 3-4; cf. Luke 6:37).  What Jesus condemns is hypocritical judgment—accusing another of sin when that same sin or something worse is in our own life.  As Paul points out, “You have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Romans 2:1).  We must never “judge” a person of sin—especially a brother or sister—without cleansing ourselves of all known sin.  Jesus said that we must judge: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).  Paul likewise acknowledged that Christians are to judge within the community of saints: “Do you not judge those who are within the church?” (1 Corinthians 5:12b).  Therefore, judging is a delicate matter that requires a careful balance.  We are forbidden to judge in a hasty, careless, hypocritical, condemning, and merciless way.  We are commanded to judge with righteousness, with sincerity and mercy, with Biblical discernment, and with a desire to help the other.


Have you known of anyone who constantly boasts of his achievements, his talents, his awards, his grades, his travel exploits, or his possessions?  It is hard to endure such prideful bragging.  In contrast, we as Christians are to have a humble heart that is manifested in humility of speech and action.  “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (1 Peter 5:5-6).  We are to be humble rather than proud or arrogant, and we are to avoid the boastfulness, bragging, that pride stimulates.  The psalmist refers to the proud and wicked in these words: “They pour forth words, they speak arrogantly; all who do wickedness vaunt themselves” (Psalm 94:4).  Paul says that the “boastful” are “worthy of death” (Romans 1:30, 32).  He says that true love “does not brag and is not arrogant” (1 Corinthians 13:4; cf. 4:6-7).  Paul goes on to say that people will become “boastful” and we should “avoid such men as these” (2 Timothy 3:1-2, 5).  He warns, “Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:26).

Bitter speech

Maybe you have known a person who was so bitter at life or resentful of others that his speech revealed this inner attitude—maybe regularly.  Paul warns us: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31).  The apostle lists many sins here but he begins the list with “bitterness.”  One writer observes, “’Bitterness’ may head the list because it so often leads to the others ins that Paul names.  Bitterness comes from a heart that is not right before God (Acts 8:21-23); it is a primary characteristic of an unregenerate person (Rom. 3:10-14); and it causes destruction and defilement (Heb. 12:15).  Bitterness and resentment are thus incompatible with Christian character and must be put away” (ESV Study Bible).

Foolish speech

Foolishness has various shades of meaning in the Bible.  Hebrew terms denote badness, stupidity, emptiness, thickheadedness, insipidity.  Greek terms mean senselessness or heedlessness (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible).  It means the opposite of wisdom.  Some people can only be seen as fools and their speech is foolish.  “The heart of fools proclaims folly” (Proverbs 12:23b), and “the mouth of fools spouts folly” (15:2b).   Jesus said that foolishness and other sins “proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:22-23).  Paul writes, “Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17).  Let us seek to think and speak with wisdom rather than speaking foolishly.

Cruel and Harsh words

The Christian’s speech should be characterized by love, kindness, gentleness, patience, and all of the fruit of the Spirit.  But some in the world have mouths that are filled with cruel, harsh, unkind, and hateful speech.  When someone speaks harshly to you, how do you respond?  Do you react in a fleshly way, or do you respond thoughtfully and in a godly manner?  Scripture declares, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).  We have all been subject to “harsh words” spoken by degenerate unbelievers.  Even professing “Christians” may sometimes use cruel, callous, harsh, unkind, and inconsiderate words in communicating.  Paul says that we are to “put aside” all sinful speech, including “abusive speech from your mouth” (Colossians 3:8).

Sexually Suggestive speech

Some people have a heart that is corrupt, filled with sexually immoral thoughts.  Their speech reflects this heart of corruption.  “The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:34).  We’ve probably occasionally been around someone who tells “dirty” jokes and has conversation filled with sexual innuendoes.  This seems to be what Paul had in mind when he says, “There must be no filthiness and silly talk, or course jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Ephesians 5:4).  What is this “filthiness” and “silly talk” and “course jesting” to which Paul refers?  This must be a reference to obscenity, that which is “offensive to morality or decency, indecent,” and “intended to stimulate sexual appetite or lust; lewd” (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary).  These terms include “any speech that is obscene and degrading or foolish and dirty as well as suggestive and immoral wit.  All such are destructive of holy living and godly testimony and should be confessed, forsaken, and replaced by open expressions of thankfulness” (MacArthur Study Bible).

Contentious speech

Some people seem always to be looking for a fight.  If they are not interested in a physical altercation, they enjoy a verbal conflict!  They delight in oral combat, always seeking to win an argument and beat the other with their wit and faulty knowledge.  Gossip or whispering is often connected to contention: “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down” (Proverbs 26:20).  A contentious spirit results in great harm: “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a citadel” (Proverbs 18:19).

Proverbs often refers to the propensity that some women have to be contentious, touchy, and filled with argument. Notice his observations: “The contentions of a wife are a constant dripping” (19:13b).  “It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman” (21:9; 25:24).  “It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and vexing woman” (21:19).  “A constant dripping on a day of steady rain and a contentious woman are alike; he who would restrain hre restrains the wind” (27:15-16a).

Lest the male readers assume that this is a problem that only some women have, note also Proverbs 26:21: “Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife.”  Make sure that you beware of speech that stirs up strife, contention, and bitter attitudes:  “Drive out the scoffer, and contention will go out, even strife and dishonor will cease” (Proverbs 22:10).  Paul says that a false teacher may have “a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth” (1 Timothy 6:3-5).  Instead, the man of God “must not be quarrelsome” as he relates to those who are captivated by Satan and His evil ways (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

Flattering speech

Flattery has been defined as “excessive or insincere praise” and to flatter means “to try to please by complimentary remarks or attention. . . . to praise or compliment insincerely, effusively, or excessively” (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary).  Scripture says, “A flattering mouth works ruin” (Proverbs 26:28).  God wants us to be sincere and truthful in our praise of others, for their virtues and Christian character.  Flattery is insincere praise that seeks something from the other person.  David speaks of certain ones who “speak falsehood to one another; with flattering lips and with a double heart they speak.  May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that speaks great things” (Psalm 12:2-3).  This shows that flattery involves false words and a double heart—the very opposite from the attitude God wantsSometimes flattery can bring our own ruin: “A man who flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his steps” (29:5).  It seems like false teachers are particularly prone to speak with flattery.  Jude refers to certain false teachers who “speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage” (v. 16).  Paul also refers to certain pretenders who, “be their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (Romans 16:18). In contrast, Paul affirmed, “We never came with flattering speech” (! Thessalonians 2:5).  Sincere praise is good; insincere flattery is dishonest and wrong. Let’s be sincere in our compliments!

Evil speech

If someone is an evil person, this will be reflected in his speech.  He will have speech characterized by evil.  The Lord Jesus gives this principle: “The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man bring out of his evil treasure what is evil” (Matthew 12:35; cf. Luke 6:45).  Is our speech evil or good, impure or pure, unholy or holy?  The psalmist rightly says, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit” (Psalm 34:13).  Proverbs 15:28 states, “The mouth of the wicked pours out evil things” (Proverbs 15:28b).  Do you remember the depraved condition of the human race before God brought the judgment of the flood on the world?  The record says, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).  If the thoughts of man were only evil continually, surely his daily conversation was also continually evil.  Today, in some circles, we also find wickedness, evil, and depravity rampant, revealed in their speech!

False witnessing

One of the ten commandments related to this sin: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).  How was this manifested in Israel?  “The Lord’s righteousness and justice were to be reflected in Israel’s life as a nation, which was thus to exclude speaking falsely, especially for the sake of gaining something at the expense of another person and perverting justice” (ESV Study Bible).  But not only was it sinful for the people of God under the First Covenant to bear false witness, this is also condemned today, under the covenant of Christ.  Jesus false witness came from a defiled heart (Matthew 15:19-20) and He told the rich man that he should not bear false witness (19:18).  Although there is little said in the New Testament about being a false witness, per se, the principle is condemned in the prohibition of lying, which we noticed earlier.  Paul says, “Do not lie to one another” (Colossians 3:9a; cf. Acts 5:4; Revelation 21:8, 27).

Insult and ridicule

One of the cruelest forms of speaking is that of insulting or ridiculing another person.  To insult someone is “to treat or speak to insolently or with contemptuous rudeness.”  Ridicule is “speech or action intended to cause contemptuous laughter,” “derision” (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary).  Think of how hurtful it would be for people to call you “Big Foot,” or “Big Ears,” or “Big Nose,” or “Skinny Sam,” or “Fat Flora,” or “Tiny Tim” or “Stupid Stan.”  Yet children are adept at insulting their classmates if they are different in some way or even disabled.  Jesus condemned language that would insult another person, such as “good-for-nothing” and similar terms of derision (Matthew 5:22).

Jesus Himself was ridiculed by his enemies, but He responded graciously, “while being reviled, He did  not revile in return” (1 Peter 2:23).  Jesus experienced the mocking of His enemies (Matthew 20:19; 27:29, 31; Mark 10:34; 15:20; Luke 23:36), but He did not become angry or resentful.  But what about you?  Do you ever “make fun” of those who are not intelligent, those who don’t do well in school, those who are awkward in their movements and actions?  Do you ever insult someone of a different ethnic background?  Do you ever ridicule someone who is ugly or deformed or incapable of doing what you can do?  Are you ever rude to other people or insult another?  Paul says that true love “does not act unbecomingly” (1 Corinthians 13:5) or is not “rude” (ESV, NET Bible; cf. NKJV).  If we have a genuine love for people, we will want to bless them rather than make them feel small and inadequate through our thoughtless, unkind, and rude remarks and innuendos.


We have earlier noticed profanity but what about those wrong words that don’t specifically refer to God, Christ, or spiritual things?  We have also discussed suggestive speech.  Vulgarity is another related sinful aspect of speech.  Vulgar means “indecent; obscene, lewd.”  It can refer to crude, course, boorish language.  Sometimes people refer to bodily functions in their common speech.  At other times, they may refer to sexual relations or sexual activities in an unbecoming manner.  Or they may other crude terms that should not be heard or spoken in any holy conversation.  We must remember that Scripture warns us, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth” (Ephesians 4:29).  Are the words we use “wholesome” in nature?  “Abusive speech” or “obscene talk” must not be found in our speech (Colossians 3:8; NASB, ESV).   We must avoid this “gutter talk” that is common in some circles.  We would rather not give examples of this dirty speech but the reader knows that to which we refer.


If we treat other people with love and respect, this will be manifested in our speech to them and about them.  Yet some people do curse others, swear at them, denounce them harshly and unkindly.  This is the opposite of love and a great offense against them, as well as against God.  Notice what God thinks about this: “He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:17).  “He who curses his father or his mother, his lamp will go out in time of darkness” (Proverbs 20:20).  Although we are not under the death penalty that the Law of Moses imposed on such disrespect, we know that God continues to utterly condemns cursing parents—and anyone else whom we should respect.  James shows the inconsistency of cursing another if we are children of God: “With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing.  My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (James 3:9-10).  How can we “curse” another person who has been made in the likeness and image of God our Father?

Perverse speech

Some speech is so wicked that it must be described as perverse, evil, filthy, and vicious.  Scripture says, “The lips of the righteous bring forth what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked what is perverted” (Proverbs 10:32).  We also read, “Who who has a crooked mind finds no good, and he who is perverted in his language falls into evil” (17:20).  In some Godless circles, the language us utterly perverse.  When Paul was describing the sinfulness of those without Christ, he used graphic language, drawing from the Old Testament: “Their throat is an open grave [it’s full of rottenness], with their tongues they keep deceiving [lies characterize their words], the poison of asps is under their lips [their words are destructive]; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness [this comes from a heart that is evil]” (Romans 3:13-14).

Some unsaved people are religious and they are even professing Christians, thus their language may be relatively good and clean.  On the other hand, some unbelievers are so lacking in spiritual interest and training that their words are evil and perverse.  This is why James says, “The tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity” (3:6).  He further says, “[The tongue] is a restless evil and full of deadly poison” (v. 8).

Failure to Speak

Whereas most of our discussion relates to speaking in a way we shouldn’t, the very opposite must also be noticed.  It is also wrong to remain silent when we should speak!  If we believe in Christ Jesus there are times when we simply must speak!  Paul the apostle wrote, “Having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed, therefore I spoke,’ we also believe, therefore we also speak” (2 Corinthians 4:13).  We must confess Christ and never deny Him: “Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).  If you have faith in Christ, you will need to stand up and speak up, plainly and courageously, and tell people that you do believe in Him and belong to Him.  To deny that you know Christ by remaining silent is utterly serious.  Yet people often do fail to confess Jesus because they are ashamed of Him (Mark 8:38) or afraid of taking a stand (Revelation 21:8).  Paul says that “if we deny Him, He also will deny us” (2 Timothy 2:12b).  Peter denied the Lord Jesus three times but later repented with tears (cf. Matthew 26:69-75).

How often have you allowed an opportunity to pass you by, but you said nothing?  How often have you failed to speak when you should have defended God’s creation (versus evolution), or Christ as the only way to God and heaven (versus pluralism, many ways to be saved), or the Word of God (versus false “holy” books)?  Sometimes we need to speak up and declare our faith plainly, openly, and courageously!

We’ve examined a number of kinds of speech that we should carefully avoid.  God has given us a vast amount of instruction on the proper use of our tongue.  We can see the need to be utterly careful in the way we speak.  God tells us, “He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles” (Proverbs 21:23).  How can we keep from using bad language or questionable words?

  1. Pray for God to help and strengthen you to avoid using bad language. We can’t solve this problem alone; we need divine assistance.  The psalmist prayed, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).  Ask God for His help to break the power of past sinful speech. 
  1. Draw upon the power of the Holy Spirit who transforms our heart, our soul, our words, and out actions. As we noted above, we need God’s supernatural power to break the stronghold of sinful speech.  James says, “No man can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison” (3:8).  Although no man can tame the tongue, God—through the Holy Spirit—can tame the tongue.  It is “by the Spirit” that we put to death the deeds of the body, including an uncontrolled tongue (Romans 8:13). 
  1. Fill your mind and heart on good things. We’ve noticed that the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil, and a good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good (cf. Matthew 12:35).  If we think on that which is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and of good repute (Philippians 4:8), our speech will tend to be good and pure. 
  1. Read and study God’s Word. If we are seeking to eliminate the evil words of our past and adopt a pure and good vocabulary, we need to think on God’s Word that will help to form our speech so that it will be pleasing to God (cf. Romans 12:1-2). 
  1. Spend time around mature and godly brothers and sisters who use wholesome and pure words. We become like those with whom we have constant fellowship.  Scripture says, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20.  The principle is that we will become like those around us. 
  1. Weigh your words before you utter them. Too often we speak without thinking.  This is why we can learn from Proverbs 29:20: “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?  There is more hope for a fool than for him.”  Don’t be hasty. Think what you are going to say before you say it. Make sure that what you say is wholesome, pure, and appropriate. 
  1. Ask yourself several questions before you speak: Is it true?  Is it pure?  Is it loving?  Is it needful?  Is it holy?  Is it edifying?  Is it according to God’s will?  Negative questions should also be asked: Is this dishonest?  Is it hurtful, harmful and cruel?  Is it unneeded?  Is it impure or suggestive?  Is it unholy, degrading, and wrong?  Would it displease the Lord?  Would it not be loving to the other person?  Would it not be a good example of a child of God?  Many other questions could be asked to determine whether you should say something or not.

The end


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