Our pastor told a story last week that I'm sure is common to most pastors. A friend of his describes how every time he makes a new acquaintance and they've spent some time talking, as soon as he has cause to mention that he is a pastor, the new acquaintance immediately apologizes for his language. (This particular pastor decided to head off such encounters and put people at ease by using some mild curse words in his own speech before the question of his occupation ever arises . . . not sure that's a good solution, but that's beside my point here . . . )
Interesting, he noted, how this is one of the defining characteristics of Christians to non-Christians: they don't cuss. Unfortunately, this shouldn't be one of the defining characteristics.
Our pastor brought this up in relation to the scripture we were examining in Matthew 23: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in men's faces."
Now, I'm not saying we should feel free to run around talking like the proverbial salty sailor. There are plenty of other reasons for tempering our language that I could expound on in another post on another day.
But this needs to be very clear: cussing has nothing to do with entering the kingdom of heaven.
Given that, those of us that were raised in environment where such behavior WAS treated as something that would strike you from the Book of Life need to pay close attention to how we react to this behavior in others, lest we end up "shutting the door of the kingdom of heaven in men's faces."
As the story of this pastor demonstrates, the unbelieving crowd seems to have gotten the impression that the kingdom of heaven is about our behavior -- and not only that, it is about petty details of our behavior like whether you say "hell" or "heck." And they got that impression from us, folks. Because we treat them like they are going to hell because they use the word inappropriately. They are not. They may be going to hell, but not because of that. And the problem is, they will NEVER understand why they are going to hell because they won't get past our immediate reaction to their language to ever explore the heart issues and relationship status that is the problem. And it's not just about cussing. It's about all the other external "sins" that are obvious and out there for the world to see and react to.
Sometimes, our outrage over a person's observable sin is self-righteous indulgence more than it is an expression of respect for God's holiness. We tell ourselves we react to someone's "F-word" because it is offensive to God . . . but no. We are really just reacting to something that makes us uncomfortable, that reminds us that the world does not behave or structure itself the way we want -- and of course, the way we want is right.
And our reaction is very likely to shut the door of heaven in men's faces. I'm sure first century Jews had their versions of the "F-word," and I'm sure Jesus heard it from people on occasion -- most certainly at those dinners he had with the tax collectors and sinners of the community, the dinners the Pharisees criticized him for even attending. But folks, I'm pretty certain that if he reacted to their "F-words" the way some of us do -- with the jolt, the shocked expression, the look of contempt -- the sinners he was eating with would never have invited him over, never have listened to him, never have heard truth, never had gotten "saved" at all.
And we might need to consider whether that's why our neighbors and loved ones are not getting "saved" either.