Taming the Tongue: When is Harsh Language Appropriate for Christians?

Harsh language is a topic that can stir up quite a debate among Christians. It’s not about swearing or profanity, but rather the fiery rhetoric that tends to dominate social media and polarize people. As followers of Christ, it’s crucial to consider the implications of our words and how they reflect our faith. How can we ensure that our speech aligns with Christ-like values, and when, if ever, is it appropriate to use harsh language?

Reflecting on my own experiences, I’ve been guilty of using unkind words, both as a young believer and a more mature Christian. I’ve been too quick to judge and too willing to defend those who shouldn’t have been defended. Perhaps my own shortcomings in this area have granted me some perspective on when harsh language may be suitable. Here are four principles to guide our thinking:

  1. Am I using harsh language about my sins and failings? In the Bible, the Apostle Paul directs some of his harshest comments toward himself, particularly regarding his attempts to attain righteousness apart from Christ. We should be unflinchingly honest—harsh—about our own sin, naming it for what it is. But, we must also remember that, as Christians, our identity is in Christ, and we are children of God.
  2. Am I addressing a specific sin within my community? When it comes to our church or Christian community, harsh language can be appropriate when tempered with grace. Paul chastised the Corinthians for allowing various sins, but he also continually pointed them back to Christ as their only hope. We should follow this example, reminding those caught up in sin that their actions do not define them in Jesus.
  3. Am I addressing false teaching? Scripture is quite unrestrained when it comes to addressing false teachings. Paul condemned any teachings that distorted the gospel, and Jesus warned against leading his disciples astray. While harsh language may be warranted in this context, we should be cautious and avoid ad hominem attacks. Instead, we might be wiser to follow Jude’s example, who reminds us that the archangel Michael didn’t directly rebuke Satan but instead said, “The Lord rebuke you.”
  4. Practice restraint Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles rarely directed harsh language toward the lost. They approached them with kindness, gentleness, and compassion, even as they challenged their way of thinking and believing. As Christians, harsh language should generally be used rarely and with great reluctance. It’s better to err on the side of turning aside wrath with a gentle word.

As we navigate the complexities of communication in today’s world, it’s essential to remember our role as representatives of Christ. By considering the principles outlined above, we can strive to ensure our speech reflects our faith and brings glory to God.

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Pastor James Costa earned his degree in Theology from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. After graduation, he dedicated his career to serving as a pastor in Waco, Texas. Pastor James founded Faith Activist during the COVID-19 pandemic when he faced challenges in reaching people due to the lockdowns. He realized the potential of digital media to connect with people and spread the message of the gospel, leading him to create an online platform to help people grow in their faith and engage with other believers.