My favorite, and yet most uncomfortable, experience with a church was surprisingly not within a building on a Sunday morning or in a special service. Neither was it an encounter with the Holy Ghost. This experience of mine was at a service in downtown Lakeland, Florida, in an area named Munn Park, led by a homeless pastor with a homeless congregation. For me, it was the first time I was the richest person in the vicinity, despite having no job and living off my parents, though we all shared a common Wealth. It was beautiful.
The pastor of this church had a very unique way of communicating the Gospel to his congregation. The pastor’s focus this particular Sunday was on the Great Commission. The passion this man had for reaching the lost people of the city of Lakeland was inspirational and moving. I honestly felt like I have never heard anything like it before. Then the pastor said something I’ll never forget, “I was in prayer time with the Father telling Him about reaching this city and the Father told me ‘You don’t know shit about reaching people!’”
This was not the only moment in which he said a curse word, let alone claim that God had cursed at him in his personal prayer time, yet it was the most beautiful sermon I had ever experienced. It was moving to see that the message this pastor was sharing from his heart was impacting the lives of his congregation as they were committing their lives to Christ.
I committed my life to Christ when I was a freshman in high school at a Hispanic, Assemblies of God church. Language such as this was not tolerated in that church because “reverence and holiness” were paramount to the community. However, I was not offended or appalled in any way by what this pastor was doing or how he was doing it.
I saw someone meeting people where they were spiritually and culturally through language.
What worried me was that not many people would be willing to hear the message this man was preaching because of his language.
Why does there seem to be such a problem between Christians and cursing? Often times we are so quick to dismiss what a person has to say because they do not use the same vocabulary we use or speak the same way as “us”. When it comes to cursing, Christians have stigmatized it because of its association with worldliness. There has been such a focus on making sure the Church does not look or sound like the world that we have emphasized the external rather than the internal.
While I am not advocating for the use of curse words within the Church, I’m not necessarily advocating against it. I am advocating for the heart.
Jesus says in Matthew 15, “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine the precepts of men.’” In this passage, Jesus is speaking to a group of religious leaders who lacked a connection between their words and the posture of their hearts. They knew how to speak in religious contexts, but their hearts did not reflect the words that came out of their mouths.
It makes me wonder that if one person can say the right things yet have an impure heart, can the opposite be true? Can someone say all of the “wrong things” and yet still possess a rightly postured heart? I ask these questions because Jesus is clearly implying that the posture of the heart is of the utmost importance, not our vocabulary.
If we continue within this chapter we read that, “After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, ‘Hear and understand. It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.’” Jesus calls out the pharisees and scribes for accusing his disciples of uncleanliness because they allowed unclean food to enter into their mouths, yet they would forsake other laws such as “honoring your father and mother” for the sake of their image (v. 3-6). This points back to their emphasis on the external rather than the internal, similar to many of us Christians today.
Why are we saying what we are saying?
Regarding language, Jesus is not so concerned with the content of our speech, but rather the condition of our hearts.
For the homeless pastor in Munn Park, God’s focus wasn’t his choice of words, but his passion to reach the hearts of those around him. God was using him to reach other homeless people in a context that was familiar to them in a language that they could understand.
Perhaps we can all learn to realize that there is more to language than just the words that are used. Instead of focusing on the vocabulary, let us listen to the hearts of those that are speaking while inviting God to help us search our own hearts.
For it is the heart that curses first before the mouth ever speaks.
Love on, friends.