Flattery and Foolish Talk
We are witnessing the deconstruction of a civilization. Across our land, the major institutions that are foundational to any nation are in a downward spiral, whether we speak of education, government, business, or the family. Isaiah and Jeremiah were observers of a similar destruction in their nation and wrote about it. One of the characteristics of that fall was the decline in the civility of everyday language. Isaiah said that the child was “insolent toward the elder, and the base toward the honorable” (Isa. 3:5). Their conversations did not demonstrate a godly respect for the position and authority of parents, grandparents, and civic elders.
Just as the character of a culture is reflected in its architecture and art, the character of a culture is reflected in its language. Isaiah and Jeremiah said that the false prophets and the politicians told the people what they wanted to hear, not the truth. Why did they do this? They spoke these deceitful words for their own gain. Their language was termed “empty.” As a culture declines morally and spiritually, truth is an early and constant victim. The writer of Proverbs wrote, “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet” (29:5). Flattery is deceitful in that it praises another for the self-interest of the flatterer. The one who flatters is setting a trap for the person whom he pretends to compliment. Flattery is the language of a society that puts self-interest above all else.
What, then, is the language of Christ’s people? Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul said, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil. 2:4) Surely, flattery has no place among such a people. Yet we have become a nation of flatterers. Why? Because we all (not just politicians and false prophets) habitually use others for our own gain, and that must involve flattery. We live in a fallen world, so this form of deceit will always be in our midst. However, when it becomes the distinguishing mark of a culture, it is the language of deconstruction.
Paul understood the connection between social mores and language. He wrote that the language of God’s people would be different than the language of the world: “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place” (Eph. 5:4). We live in a society preoccupied with sex. Whether you are watching a football game or a tire commercial, you are being bombarded with sexually charged words and images. Our everyday language has become filled with terminology that reflects that reality. Expressions that would have been considered grossly inappropriate just a few years ago are common phrases in our current conversations. Now, I would not argue for a return to the past. I would passionately argue for a vocabulary that is not vulgar (morally crude or unregenerate).
Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:4 are quite clear. A morally bankrupt culture will use morally bankrupt language. The people of Paul’s day were familiar with the Greek and Roman Bacchanal parties with their infamous orgies. Those orgies had their own vocabulary. Paul was saying, “That is not our language.” John Stott said this about some men and women from this Corinthian-type culture who were converted to Christ: “When believers rose up out of the environment of the ancient world, they rose up like flowers out of the mud.”
Easy, perverse, and multiple sexual relationships have “dumbed” sex down and taken our language with it. The obscenity, vulgarity, and pornography of these lifestyles drag God-created sexuality through the sewer. They are alien to healthy, fulfilling, and godly sexual relationships between husbands and wives. These two ways of living are poles apart and must use a completely different vocabulary. The language of Sodom and Gomorrah is not the language of Jerusalem.
The intimate sexual relationship is at the center of a marriage relationship. God said at the first wedding that the two would become “one flesh.” Marriage and this sexual union form the basis of the family and the family is the foundation of civilization. If one corrupts that which is at the center of marriage, marriage, family, and civilization will ultimately self-destruct. That decline will be illustrated by our language.
Remember the story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. At one point he carries the beautiful maiden high into the towers. They are talking to each other and he begins to weep. She asks him, “What’s wrong?” He replies, “I never knew how ugly I was until I saw how beautiful you are.”
That is also the response of one who comes from the me-centered, perverse, vulgar, and coarse temples of Aphrodite and Apollo and sees the love, wonder, and depth of the sexual relationship God has given His creation. “I never knew how ugly those temples were until I saw how beautiful this intimate relationship is in the design created by God.”