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Suppose you have an old, rundown house that you want to majorly fix up. What do you do first? Do you fill the rooms with nice new furniture before you start tearing down the ratty wallpaper and ripping up the stained carpet? No, you start with the foundational issues first. You upgrade the wiring. Then you paint. Then you carpet. Moving in new furniture is the last step that you only get around to after the core issues have been dealt with.
In your relationship with God, your soul’s attitude towards Him and your understanding of who He is are core issues which God feels are far more important than surface niceties. Classy, inoffensive speech is a surface nicety—it’s something that makes you more attractive to other humans but it really doesn’t have much to do with your relationship with God. Just as your house guests neither see nor appreciate all of the pipes and wires that you upgraded inside the walls of your home, other humans don’t notice or celebrate when your soul starts improving its attitude towards God or gains some new insight about how He views you. As is so often the case, God’s priorities for you differ quite a bit from other humans’ priorities. The challenge then becomes for you to choose the right set of priorities to focus on.
If you read through the New Testament epistles, you’ll find that the New Testament apostles push hard for surface niceties. They have a lot to say about how God’s people should improve their external behaviors, while they barely talk about the importance of people’s internal response to God. Paul’s famous list of spiritual fruits in Galatians 5 is a list of pleasant attributes which would make you a much nicer person for other humans to interact with (see Yearning for More Spiritual Fruits: Wrong Focus, Wrong Priorities). Paul doesn’t even mention things like reverence, submission, dependency or trust, because those core issues are like the wiring in your house. Other people don’t care about how well your house is functioning internally—they just want a soft cushion to sit on when they come visit you. So they will pester you to upgrade the aspects of your life which directly affect them, while they’ll ignore the importance of how you’re treating God.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul waxes on and on about the great importance of love. But the love he’s talking about is strictly a love for other humans—not a love for God (see Applying 1 Corinthians 13: A Love that Misses the Mark). What good does it do any of us if you sincerely love God? That mainly benefits you, and as selfish humans, we want you to benefit us, so we’re going to lecture you about treating us better while we pull your eyes off of the importance of loving God.
It’s their heavy emphasis on externals which makes the New Testament writers such poor spiritual guides. But by the time we’re calling ourselves “New Testament Christians” and saying that all of that bad advice is “God breathed,” then we’re naturally going to view something like vulgar language as a much bigger issue than it actually is.
If you’ve got a foul mouth, is it somewhere on God’s agenda to help you clean up your language? Perhaps. At some point. But it’s highly doubtful that He’s in a flaming hurry about it. The first thing He’s going to work with you on are your soul attitudes. As your soul attitudes mature, you will care more about pleasing God. The more you care about pleasing God, the more eager you are to obey any convictions He gives you. So should God finally decide that He wants to help you improve your language, He’ll start coaching you on how to do that, and you’ll eagerly apply yourself. Once you and God have dealt with some key core issues, you will be able to work with Him on surface niceties without falling into the trap of thinking that something as trivial as swearing could threaten your whole relationship with God. But before you and God deal with the core issues, then you’re going to be very likely to fall into the trap of letting other humans dictate what your priorities should be. This is how people end up stressing out about something like swearing. They think, “If I can’t stop these vulgar words from flying out of my mouth, I must be spiritually stalled.” Or they think, “God is mad at me because I can’t stop cussing, and He’ll never invite me closer to Him until I somehow overcome this addiction in my own strength.” Still others think, “God is angry with me right now because a bad word slipped out when I was trying to talk to Him and I’ve offended His holiness.” All of these fears are based on false beliefs about how God operates. God just isn’t hung up on surface niceties like other humans are. He cares about how you’re responding to Him internally.
If you’re currently stressing over your dirty mouth, ask God to help you to align with His priorities for you. Don’t insist that God has to find your vulgar language an outrageous offense which must be promptly fixed. Leave room for Him to have different opinions than you do about what is most important right now in His relationship with you. Learning to follow God is a core issue that is essential to building a strong relationship with Him. When we try to tell God what His priorities for us must be in the area of maturity, we are leading, not following. To help us fix that core issue, God will often refuse to help us with the issues that we’re trying to make Him view as urgent. Without God’s help, you have no hope of stopping crude words from flying out of your mouth, so when God refuses to help us accomplish our goals, it’s a very effective way for Him to motivate us to change what our goals are. By asking God to help you embrace His priorities for you, you are practicing submission, which is an essential soul attitude. You’re recognizing Him as the Leader, and you’re being receptive to changing what your priorities are.
As attractive as it sounds to be a polite, classy, kind, cheerful person who always rubs people the right way and never offends, that just might not be God’s dream for you. God created you for Himself, and He says that His opinion of you is all that matters. So focus on pleasing God, not people, and have confidence that He has very good reasons for maturing you in a certain order. Don’t expect your maturity path to look like someone else’s, because it won’t. There isn’t a single human in this world who God is trying to make you a clone of. He created you to be uniquely you. Are you still rough around the edges? Of course you are, every human is. We all have plenty of room for more growth. But instead of focusing on your flaws, focus on God, and let Him teach you how easy He is to succeed with. Then you’ll discover how much joy there can be in this fascinating journey of spiritual growth.
You Love God But You Hate People: Why You’re Not a Spiritual Failure
Choosing the Right Priorities: How does God want us to treat our brothers?
The Inner Room: Understanding How God Judges You
Understanding Divine Judgment: Illumination, Empowerment & A God Who Delights In Mercy