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To what extend should a Christian insist on freedom of speech?

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  • To what extend should a Christian insist on freedom of speech?

    by Dr. Henry M. Morris

    There is, of course, a great difference between a Christian's responsibility as a citizen of his country and his responsibility as as a "citizen of heaven" (Phil. 3:30). Whenever there is conflict, the former must give priority to the latter. This is especially evident in the area of communication and conversation --both his written speech and his oral speech. Although he may have a legal right, for example, to use profanity in his speech, he does not have the moral right to do so. "The Lord will not hold him guiltless, that taketh his name in vain" (Ex. 20:7).

    When a person becomes a true Christian, through personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, he is "born again" (1 Peter 1:23). Although he has been "delivered from the law" (Rom. 7:6), he has been "bought with a price" and is "not his own" (1 Cor. 6: 19, 20). He is to "present his body as a living sacrifice" (Rom 12:1) to his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

    The tongue is the most important member of that body, and the most difficult to yield to Christ's control. "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body" (James 3:2). Because of his critically strategic role in one's entire Christian testimony, it is supremely important, therefore, that the tongue be subjected to the restraints and constraints of God's Word.

    A Christian's speech, for example, should not be idle and uncontrolled. "If any man among you seemth to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, that man's religion is vain" (James 1:26). "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment" (Matt. 12:36). "Study to be quiet and to do your own business" (1 Thess. 4:11).

    Certainly a Christian should never indulge in cursing or vulgarity! "Out of the same mouth proceedeth "
    blessing and cursing. My brethern, these things ought not to be" (James 3:10). "Put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth" (Col 3:8). "Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks" (Eph. 5:4).

    A Christian should definitely not be a gossip. "And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house: and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not" (1 Timothy 5:13). He must be especially careful to see that his conversation is not deceptive or misleading. "Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor" (Eph. 4:25).

    All of the foregoing admonition are essentially negative--that is, things which a Christian should seek to avoid in his speech. However, this is only a small part of the picture. The Christian's speech should not only be characterized by freedom from these things (verbosity, vulgarity, profanity, bitterness, gossiping, lying, grumbling, and such like) but should have certain very positive characteristics instead.

    For example, it should not be bland and pointless! "Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man" (Col 4:6). Not merely an absence of harmful contents, but a positive presence of useful and meaningful words, should be its essence. "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers" (Eph. 4:29).

    The Christian's speech should be, in so far as possible, gentle and kind. "The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves" (2 Tim. 2:24, 25). He must even be willing to endure personal criticisms and insult without retaliation. "For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously" (1 Peter 2:21-23).

    At the same time, the Christians, though he is not be self-defensive, must be bold in his witness and in defense of God's truth. He should pray, as did the apostles: "And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word" (Acts 4:29). "Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord" (2 Tim. 1:8). "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2). "Ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3).

    Thus, the Christian's speech should be, in the ultimate sense, a continual testimony to God's grace and truth. It should be gentile, yet courageous and uncompromising. It should be characterized, not by man's banalities and vanities, but by the positive assurance of God's Word. "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11). "Whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Col. 3:17).

    All these admonitions concerning the Christian's use of his tongue must apply with even greater urgency to the use of his pen. Spoken words may quickly vanish, but written words endure much longer and travel further.

    Finally, as with all the Lord's commands, these are much easier to hear than to obey! Every believer (the present writer included) fails to control his spoken and written words the way he should. The Lord, in His grace, continues to forgive in response to sincere confession. And even though "the tongue can no man tame" (James 3:8). even the member of the body can be brought under control by God if we "yield our members, as instruments of righteousness, unto God" (Rom 6:13).
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