(Tim: This from Elder Jeff Moore of Church of the Good Shepherd)
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. - Ephesians 4:29
...and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. - Ephesians 5:4
Increasingly, I'm aware of, not only my own failure to honor Christ in my speech in all spheres of my life, but also everyone else’s failure in light of God’s holy commands. Since God was opening my eyes to the incredible importance of words, tongue, and how we so often dishonor him, I have tried to be more keenly aware of all speech everywhere and in every area of life.
This is even more apparent and important in the digital age of computers, internet, texting, tweeting, cell phones, and whatever the new flavor of the month is for communicating with the world. Information bombards us at breathtaking pace and from many sources. Rarely does any of it honor God.
We can get so immersed in the cultural norms for the way we communicate that we lose discernment on how it is we accomplish obeying, by God’s glorious grace, God's commands to us in the epistle to the Ephesian church. Note this letter was given to the church, God's people.We cannot confine this passage to simply the spoken word in personal conversation when we can hide behind our façade of respectability, if we like. Nor can we be so confined in our application of these commands and also the oft-cited passages in James 3:1-12 regarding the danger of the tongue. No, this also includes the cell phone, the telephone at work and home, and our online words clattering on endlessly...
In this information age with such dependency on digital communication, we need to be on guard like never before and recognize some potential pitfalls in our way to communicating online.
One such pitfall is the apparent buffer zone of comfort the computer affords us. The screen becomes our mask and our hiding place--and, dare I say, the place where the real us is revealed. Why?
Well, the screen is impersonal, it is comforting, and there is no danger. Therefore all those passive-aggressive tendencies being held back during the day in personal transactions can now be spewed forth with total abandon. Why do you think that there is the adage that, when online, everyone grows six inches and forty pounds of muscle? The real you comes to bloom with keyboard clarity. You are now more brazen, emboldened, and the real you releases the ballast tanks and surfaces.
The kind of language encountered online can be scandalous in it's subject matter as well as the petulant and hateful spirit in which it is used. I have heard speech and seen writing from brothers that can only be described, charitably, as "course jesting" (Eph 5:4). Yet we are commanded not to have any part in this.
Since it's so common, are we immune to it's effects on us? We have seen so much scandalous language, disrespectful ways, and manner of “speaking” online that we have become hardened and numbed to the vileness of it.
It reminds me of a scene in the animated movie Ratatouille in which a rat is eating garbage in a sewer and comments to his friend, another rat who turns his nose as such filthy food, that, “as soon as you get past your gag reflex, a whole new world of food possibility opens up.”
It would be somewhat easier to digest if all this was directed to the ‘world,’ but alas, it is not. Sadly, most of my commentary is directed at people who claim the name of Christ in whom I see relatively no difference in manner and affect online. Yet we are not to be conformed to the world in our speech and are to keep constant guard on the heart as it is “deceitful beyond measure and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).” "(T)he things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.”
So why do we communicate online so disgracefully and sinfully?
Because it’s from our heart--that’s why. Remove the person in front of you and replace it with a screen and a keyboard and the heart has free reign to express itself in it’s true colors.
It would be nice to stop there, but there is more. We communicate so sinfully in speech and online because we do not love our neighbor. We are consumed with ourselves, our pride, our kingdom--not God's--and only desire our designs. Therefore, it is our pride and designs that must be the primary focus in our speech. We desire the recognition and praise of men. We desire to be thought oh so pithy and erudite. We could care less if our brothers are edified by what we say and type on the keyboard, or the manner and spirit by which it is given expression. We are only concerned with the next “zinger” we can nail them with and, by extension, place ourselves on a higher pedestal to look down on them. We desire the praise of the world as well and want desperately to be approved by them. We desire to be thought "hip" and "cool" rather than Godly. Therefore, we compromise knowingly, and we throw them a bone in manner of speech and give them a little taste that we're hip just like them.
Love? Yes, it is indeed love, but not of God or our neighbor. Rather, it is the love of self.
There can only be two basic loves... the love of God unto the forgetfulness of self, or the love of self unto the forgetfulness and denial of God. - Augustine
So the good news to all this is simply, now that we surely recognize our failure, confess it, and may God grant us repentance from it so that we turn to him to cleanse us and make us walk anew with renewed vigor to obey by his grace and power. Keep watch, brothers, for we live in a wicked day. Keep watch, brothers, for we must give an account for every word. Whether we speak it in person or type it on our keyboard (Matthew 12:36).