Published On: January 10, 20226251 words31.3 min read

What is a Christian theology of speech? God has given us the ability to speak. And if we are anything like our God (and Genesis 1:26-27 says we are), then our words have power. Not power like God’s words have, but a powerful influence – either for good or bad. Joining us is Vancouver-based pastor Brett Landry, who helps us understand a general theology of Christian speech and how to confront friends when you know what your group is saying isn’t life-giving. Brett also helps us consider the topic of swearing as Christians.

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*Below is an edited transcription of the audio conversation.

Isaac Dagneau:

Hey, it’s Isaac here. Hope you’re all well. God has given every person a mouth and with this mouth we eat, but we also speak. And if we’re anything like our God, and we are, then our words have power, not power like God’s words, but power in the sense that they can have a powerful influence, either for the good or bad. This week, we talk about Christian speech and even get into the issue of swearing. Here’s our conversation with Brett Landry. With me today is pastor Brett Landry. He pastors a church in Vancouver BC called Christ City Church. It’s great to have you with us this week, Brett.

Brett Landry:

Thank you. Thanks for having me on.

Isaac Dagneau:

So, firstly, just tell us a little bit about yourself. Maybe how’d you come to faith? What’s it like pastoring this church in Vancouver? Yeah. Just let us know a little about who you are.

Brett Landry:

Sure. I grew up in Alberta, grew up in a non-Christian home. So, I had not heard the gospel until I was close to 20 actually the first time I really heard a cohesive idea about who Jesus was. I mean, everybody in the area that I grew up at certainly knew what the church was, but we didn’t really have any idea who Jesus was. So, yeah, I was almost 20 years old when I came to faith. Came through some reasonably radical circumstances and immediately felt a call toward pastoral ministry.

Brett Landry:

So, began training for that. I started Bible college actually about six weeks after I came to Christ, which I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. It’s not maybe the best way to jump into things, but that’s what I did. And so, that was in July of 2001, actually probably it was the first week of July 2001 I came to know the Lord and started Bible college that September and have been in vocational Christian ministry now full-time for about 12 years. And previous to that, part-time in internships and things like that in my studies.

Isaac Dagneau:

That’s awesome. That’s so good. Before we address specific points, Brett, about our conversation, I just want to ask you to just give a general theology of Christian speech. And I was just thinking of this idea that, here’s a group of Christians from a whole bunch of different ages who’ve just been saved and perhaps they’re in this membership class at your church and you have this hour on Christian speech and maybe you wouldn’t even have a whole class on that, I’m not sure. But what would be some of the basic instructions or teachings you would say to them? What are maybe some scriptures you’d point to things like that? So yeah, just take some time and flesh us out. What would a theology of Christian speech look like?

Brett Landry:

Well, I think it’s a great question. I think it’s a great question given the day and age that we live now, where we have all different forms of communication. It’s not just a verbal speech culture that we live in, but we have obviously a lot of literature, but then we have the digital mediums that we all communicate through as well. So I think, yeah, it becomes a large conversation, actually, when you start to think about the implications of Christian speech.

Brett Landry:

So, your situation, if I was given the opportunity to speak to a room full of people from all different ages, all different backgrounds, maybe just coming to know the Lord or maybe newer Christians, that I was going to lay out an hour of this. I would probably start in Genesis 1, which is where I like to start most things. But I would probably start Genesis 1, I’d go to verse three, the third verse of the Bible says, “And God said,” and I think that’s an important thing for us to note that we serve a God who speaks. And because He is a communicative God, it actually sets the parameters of what it means to be created in His image, that we are people who speak and communicate.

Brett Landry:

So, I would note that. I think I would begin there. I would move to Genesis 3 and I would show the implications of the fact that Satan’s aim with regard to Adam and Eve and his communication with Eve, it was deconstructionist in the sense that he said, “Did God actually say?” And so, we have this God who we serve, who creates all things through his words. And then, we have the enemy who is actually trying to undermine the truth of God’s word and his speech and what he’s told Adam and Eve as his creation by questioning that.

Brett Landry:

So, I think that that forms a beginning conversation for us talking about Christian speech and the importance of the words that we use. If you’re going to move through the scriptures, you’ve got Genesis 11 where you’ve got the Tower of Babel, you’ve got this idea that their greatness and the desire of them to build themselves a tower of greatness to reach the heavens. You’ve got this thing happening, where God comes and confuses their speech. So, now there’s actually more complicated system in play, when you start talking about speech.

Brett Landry:

I think I’d begin there. And then I would move through into probably, you could really go anywhere in the scriptures to find good examples of these things. But when you start to build an understanding, you’re probably, if I had an hour, I’m probably going to end up with some texts from Ephesians. And I’m probably going to end up with some texts from James. I’m going to move into the James 3, he’s talking about the importance of the tongue and taming the tongue and how we utilize our speech. I’d probably look at some Proverbs, you’ve got Proverbs 18:21, talks about how there’s power of life and death in the tongue. And the fact is, we are communicative people. So, the way that we communicate says something about what we believe.

Isaac Dagneau:

Yeah, that’s so good. So, I guess, at the end of this hour-long class, if I’m a new Christian, would I go away from that class with this really heavy kind of weight on me thinking, “Oh my goodness, my words really, really really matter.” Or is it just going to be like, “Oh, okay, it’s important, but I can still go along with what I usually do.” What would be that kind of depth of weight you’d put to this?

Brett Landry:

Yeah, I think I would try and not… I try never to put a yoke on a person in the way that I teach or the way that I’m sharing the scriptures to someone, that there’s a heavy yoke, a burden. But what I would want them to see is that the speech they have is actually a fruit of the changed life that they have. So, the speech that they are utilizing is a picture of the changed heart, which is actually, it’s like Ephesians 4, where you’re looking at the conversation, the context of the conversation sort of verses 17 to 32 is this idea that there’s a new life in Christ.

Brett Landry:

And right in the midst of all of that, you’ve got verse 29 that says, “Let no corrupt talk come out of your mouths, but only such is as good for building up as fits the occasion that it may give grace to those who hear.” So, I think it’s actually a fruit of the way that Christ has redeemed us and renewed our hearts. The way the Holy Spirit has made us new and that we have come to a place of realizing that the way we live our lives needs to be in line with the scripture. So, our speech should change. I think that’s the fruit of a changed life.

Isaac Dagneau:

Yeah. That’s really good. And I even think about Jesus talking about, “It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person. It’s what comes out.” And if you do have that changed heart, then you’re going to start to see evidence of that from what comes out of your mouth. So, it totally makes sense. I get that completely. Brett, from my perspective a little bit, it just seems that this sort of unhealthy Christian speech is lower on this “sin scale,” that we can sometimes think of subconsciously. And maybe I just want to ask you, why do we lower, even taking the Lord’s name in vain, which is, again, it’s a heart issue, but still, it’s coming out of the mouth. Why is that lower on this sin scale than adultery or something like that? So, yeah, I’m just interested, why do we naturally think that it’s okay to say something or gossip a little bit or have bad Christian speech?

Brett Landry:

Well, I think I would want to define bad Christian speech and I would want to know what it is that we mean when we say that. Because when it comes down to it, I think, in my reading of scripture in this, it’s the way that we utilize words at times more than the words that we utilize. So, you can have different sets of words that are being used, but they can be given with a real angle of blessing and a posture of humility, or they can come with vitriol and pride. And if you looked at the words on a piece of paper, they might actually be similar words, but you can’t tell the tone and intonation of them. So, I think all of that plays into it.

Brett Landry:

So, I mean, to get back to the original question, I think, of what you’re asking, why do we not at times care as much about this? I think that it’s because we can be accustomed to cultural ideologies around these type of things too. Cultural, maybe not, ideologies might be not the right word, but cultural implementation of our language. So, there’s certain places where certain words can be used and certain tones can be used. I mean, for example, before I came to Christ, I worked in the oil field for a year after high school, trying to figure out what I wanted to do.

Brett Landry:

And I mean, I would never go home and sit in my mother’s kitchen and speak with her the way that I would speak with guys on my crew, on a drilling rig. You know what I mean? There’s certain places. And I think culturally speaking, we all know that. I, actually, growing up, I did not know that my dad swore. It’s one of those things, and then you see him around the guys that he works with and all of a sudden you hear some language come up and you go, “Boy, I think I might have got a cuff in the back of the head if I spoke like that. But there’s something else going on there.”

Brett Landry:

And of course, growing up in a home that they weren’t followers of Jesus. So, there was no real ethic behind their language. But I know there were certain words I was allowed to use and certain words I wasn’t allowed to use. And I think that we import that into our lives in the church as well. At times, we triage things. So, when we look at somebody’s life and we go, “Okay, well, you’re currently sleeping with your girlfriend, have a pornography addiction. And I think I heard you cuss.” I’m probably, if I’m the triage nurse at the ER, I’m going to go like, “Okay, cool. We’ll throw a bandaid on one of those for a second. And then we’ll start working a little bit more intentionally here on,” and that doesn’t mean that it’s right. And that doesn’t mean that it’s right to neglect holding this in that area. But I do think there’s times where we look at this and go, “That’s not probably the sum total of it.”

Brett Landry:

And I think, when we talk about words, there’s people who I know are part of our church, who I know personally, and then I see them in their communication online and the way that they utilize words. And I think, “Boy, you need to not… You need to think about that. You need to take pause here and you’re not saying anything ‘wrong,’ but the way that you’re using words, I don’t know that that’s coming from a great heart, and so let’s talk about that.”

Isaac Dagneau:

That’s so good. Two things I’ll quickly say there is that, well, the first one, as you were first saying, I think you were just getting to it at the end there too, that it’s not just the word you use, but it’s the way you’re using them. And I think of a lot of people that, there’s some people that text and email with a lot of… They’re just able to get their emotions through, or what they’re intending to how they’re trying to say those words, it comes through well. But there’s others that don’t use any sort of punctuation or exclamation marks. And it’s really hard to tell sometimes, “What are you trying to say here? Are you saying this with a sarcastic tone, anger?” Different things like that. So, that’s huge.

Isaac Dagneau:

But the second thing is like, I really liked your analogy of the triage where you have these different issues and maybe you’d agree with this or not, but it’s as if he cussed and okay, with these other like sleeping with his girlfriend, things like that. The consequence of that cuss is not going to be as detrimental as an ongoing sexual relationship.

Brett Landry:

Yeah. I think that’s probably true. I think if… So, for example, I was in a motorcycle accident a couple months ago, and it wasn’t my fault. And my internal dialogue, my internal monologue about the person who caused me to crash my motorcycle and have an injury, it’s probably not something I would’ve utilized in the pulpit, and something that I had to just quickly say, “Lord, forgive me for speaking about someone created in your image in that way.” Though, I didn’t externalize those thoughts. I mean, they’re certainly in the heart and I think that’s where we’re getting at, isn’t it?

Brett Landry:

We’re trying to get at this idea that there’s something inside of us that can curse someone created in God’s image. And with that same tongue, bless the Lord, as it would say in James 3. So, there’s the motivation behind it. And God is the one who judges the motivation of our hearts. So, we get to judge the fruit of those things. So, yeah, I think that there’s probably less implications in terms of our speech using particular words, as there would be maybe in a sexual ethic or something like that, not being obeyed in terms of the way we would see that in scripture.

Brett Landry:

But I also think that the way we utilize words as followers of Jesus, it can be a massive detriment in terms of mission. So, if we are speaking about certain people, certain ways, in the hearing of those who follow Jesus and don’t follow Jesus, I think it can be part of why we come across a certain way as the church. I mean, these are obviously, I’m speaking in broad sweeping generalities here, but you’ve got this idea that if you’re in your workplace on Monday morning and you’re speaking ill of somebody in a certain way, and those people that you work with know that you’re a follower of Jesus. I think the speech that you utilize is going to say a lot about what you believe.

Isaac Dagneau:

If we want to obey, say something like, you mentioned Ephesians 4:29, or even just a few verses down in chapter five, verse four, which says, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk, nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” So, if we want to obey things like that, and if you’re preaching that, I just want to put this hypothetical situation out there. How would you pastor someone who came to you and said, “Hey, Brett, I love some of these brothers from church, we love going and hanging out together, but I find that when we go out, much of our conversation is really not about things that matter. And they just sort of tend towards silly jokes, sometimes crude, bordering crudeness and immorality, and I laugh with them, because I’d feel weird if I just ignored them. And I think they’re kind of funny, but sadly, when I get home, I don’t feel satisfied. What do I do? Should I attempt to change this ethos with the group? How could I do that?”

Isaac Dagneau:

Now, that hypothetical situation, I’m not sure if you’ve even encountered that before, but if someone did come up to you, what would you say to them there?

Brett Landry:

Yeah. That’s not a hypothetical to me. I had somebody in my study, man, like a month ago with almost verbatim what you’re saying. So, sitting down with someone who just says, “Hey, when we’re together, it tends toward, yeah, being a little bit improper, perhaps it’s a little bit of jesting, then turns at times some of the humor can turn sexual,” or whatever you would want to say about that. Yeah. I think that you look at five, four in Ephesians. I think when you look at that, that is the product of what’s inside. And I think we need to pay attention to that.

Brett Landry:

Now, here we are talking about the way that we use words and it may be at times seem… It may seem like something that is of less importance to worry about. What I would want to say about this is that we are not moralists, we are not sitting here saying that we should have this kind of speech, and if you use this kind of speech, then you’re accepted in the family of God. But when you’re accepted in the family of God, we actually do have a morality with that.

Brett Landry:

So, there’s going to be certain things that perhaps in your life before Christ, or something that’s maybe cryptic in your life with Christ that they’re not proper in keeping with scriptural teaching on the topic. So, what I was able to say with this guy who comes in, sits down with me goes, this was not the only agenda that he was talking, but he says, “Hey, this is something that goes on once in a while. What do you think?” Kind of like what you just did.

Brett Landry:

I just think you bring it up, because if I’m silent on something. So, if I’m part of that group and I’m silent on what’s being spoken and it’s bothering me, but my silence basically gives assent to it. My silence says, “Let’s keep going with this.” So, whether I participate in it or not, if I’m silent in the midst of it, it’s probably not going to change. If I say, “Hey, fellas, once in a while, when we get together, I’m not actually comfortable with how we talk.” And like you said, “I don’t want to be the prude in the group or whatever, but I also, I want to honor the Lord with the way we speak. And sometimes we just talk about nothing. And I just am not that into that. Or sometimes we talk about things that make me a bit uncomfortable in the way that we use words,” or whatever the topics may be. “And I just think we need to think about this.”

Brett Landry:

Now, I mean, depending on your group of friends, that conversation could go one of two ways very quickly, but I don’t think you’re out of bounds to say something that… You said something like changing the ethos of our group. I don’t think it’s a problem. I think that most of us are passive in our efforts of discipleship and we don’t see those as opportunities to grow in the Lord. So, we may give up an opportunity there.

Isaac Dagneau:

Yeah. And if that is the situation you’re in there, you’re kind of saying there’s no easy way around it. You really do have to be bold, because I’m thinking about it. I’m like, for a lot that could very well be hard to be that guy to challenge that. So, there’s no easy way.

Brett Landry:

And in challenging somebody on any topic, in any situation, for any circumstance, you also need to be aware of how you’re using your words. So, if you come across as judgmental and proud, because you’re actually judgmental and proud, and you think that the way you speak is better, it’s sort of like, here’s the speck in your eye that I’m trying to dig out, well, I’m missing the plank in my own. So, I think that’s maybe a reticence on a lot of people to step into a situation like that. But I think it’s fine to just bring it up and go like, “Look, I’ve been part of these conversations too. I’m just wondering if maybe we can change the way we talk.”

Isaac Dagneau:

Yeah, absolutely. That’s so good. I just remembered, years ago now, but there was a group of us and I think I was the instigator of it. I started to talk about some Christian preacher in a bad way, to get some laughs. And another friend came right up and just instantly turned the conversation on his head to say, “Let’s pray.” Kind of this thing. And the feeling I got, I didn’t look at this guy that confronted me with anger or anything. In fact, I was a little bit humbled, which was really, really good. And I just, he was elevated in my mind. I was like, “Wow, he actually has a strength to do that.” So, I hope people hearing can be encouraged to know that you can do that. It’s possible. And it feels good to be in those kind of things.

Isaac Dagneau:

But, Brett, as we’re finishing up this conversation, we can’t really talk about Christian speech without talking about the big S word, swearing, and we’re just scratching the surface. But I think we’ve actually got some of the major points out, which you’ve talked about, coming from the heart, things like that. And that obviously is going to filter into now, as we talk about swearing, but I just want to ask you, what are a few things you’d say in terms of Christians in swearing?

Isaac Dagneau:

Because there tends to be this group of Christians who believe swearing is acceptable. And like you said, when you had that motorcycle accident, you had these thoughts in your heart or you had this internal monologue going on in your mind. Some Christians would say, “Well, be honest with yourself, just be honest, be raw, be authentic,” that kind of thing. But then there’s another group who say, “No, it’s wrong. It’s simple. Whether you’re a laborer out in carpentry and everyone swears, is still wrong.” Yeah. Anyways. How would help someone think biblically and critically about swearing?

Brett Landry:

I don’t know that I’ve ever been asked that question before, which is really interesting. Obviously, there’s probably a bunch of differences in the way people would implement the understanding of it into their lives and how they change their speech. Yeah. I have a few thoughts on it, for sure. I think one of the things, I remember back probably like 10 years ago, I was working with a church in Alberta and we had a youth speaker come.

Brett Landry:

She was teaching this group of young women, and she was from Australia, and she used a couple of words in her talk with the young women that would be considered swearing in Canada that are not considered swearing in Australia. So, right away, we have to understand like, we are cultural people and language forms culture. So, whatever culture you’re a part of, different words will become normalized.

Brett Landry:

And again, it’s actually not the word that was used. It’s the way you use the words. So, she said something, and the whole room kind of took a big gasp of air. Like, “We can’t say that.” And I mean, her response to them is, “Oh, calm down. You know what I mean.” So, part of it is she probably should have understood our culture a little bit better before using a word that that group of young women would gasp back. On the other hand, we have to recognize that words in the English language are used all over the world in different ways.

Brett Landry:

So, I think there are situations where, let me say it like this, if I wanted to tear a strip off of somebody and I wanted to do it in an ungodly, loud, almost abusive manner, I could do that without utilizing any cuss words. Or I could be sitting around, hanging out with some friends and use something that somebody might think is a cuss word, and it’s actually, it’s sort of neutral. It’s not going to tear anyone down. It’s not going to maybe build anyone up.

Brett Landry:

What I want to do is I want to think about the words I use and are they building people up? Am I speaking truth in love? Are my words a means of grace and a means of blessing, always grounded and pointing toward the truth? Or are my words being used to tear down? And I think that, that matters. Now, if we produce a list of words that are not allowed to be used in our Christian vernacular here in Vancouver, part of my church, that type of moralism scares me a little bit, because we’re adding lists of things.

Brett Landry:

Now, I also want to be faithful to scripture. There’s certain things that a Christian probably shouldn’t say. So, yeah, maybe I’m trying not to sit on a fence with this, but I’m not trying to overreact one direction or the other. There would be people who I know who I think are some of the godliest people I know, who would occasionally drop an unsavory word into a conversation that is either meant for humor or is just actually part of something that they would be talking about, but there’s no vitriol behind it. There’s no pride behind it. There’s no abusive sense of whatever behind it. It’s maybe used for emphasis.

Brett Landry:

And for me, I’m probably not going to call them on that. Now, if they start speaking in a way that is degrading to somebody who’s created in the image of God, whether that be male or female, whether that’s language that’s just tearing down, or like you said, in your instance of kind of ripping on another preacher. Yeah. I think those are the instances we want to step in and go, “Hey, where’s your heart out with this?”

Isaac Dagneau:

That’s really helpful, Brett. I appreciate that. And I guess you say something in there saying that we need to be speaking in such a way that uplifts, and doesn’t tear down. And as I hear that too, just one more question, the last one, I know we’re a little bit over time here. But for someone hearing that saying, “Okay, everything I say needs to uplift,” that can almost seem a little overwhelming. And I know you don’t mean that before we say every word, we have to pray about it and be like, okay, I’m ordering my coffee at Starbucks and I have to pray about the way that I ask for it or something like that. But when you say that everything we need to do is uplifting. How would you pastorally apply that to someone so they don’t get overwhelmed thinking about everything they say?

Brett Landry:

Yeah, I’m certainly not saying that everything needs to be uplifting. But what I am saying is that we need to be building each other up in truth. So, my wife is, if you talk about Five Love Languages of whatever that guy that wrote the book about the love languages, she is a words of affirmation person. I am not naturally a words of affirmation person. I do not naturally gravitate towards saying really affirming things to everyone. In fact, staff at our church, this has become a joke among them, because they’re sort of saying, “If Brett doesn’t say anything to you, that means things are going really, really well.” They’ll just let you know if something’s gone wrong.

Brett Landry:

So, I want to correct that in my own self. I don’t want to just be the guy who sees the 2% of the problems and only speaks to that. I want to encourage and all those things too. But I’m not naturally an encourager. So, when I’m ordering my coffee at Starbucks, I’m not the guy who’s like, “Hey, your hair looks really great today. And I just hope you’re having a great day.” I’m not that person. I’m saying building one are up in truth.

Brett Landry:

So, the words that we utilize, no, they don’t always have to be… I don’t think they always have to be sweet in that sense of what maybe would be considered kind. I think when we’re looking at the way that our language maybe should be used, we look at Colossians 4:5-6, it says, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” And then it says in verse six, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

Brett Landry:

And I think our speech should be seasoned in that way, where people understand the way we’re using our words is a product of what we believe. But I also, I think we would be wrong to skip over some of the things that Jesus said to the Scribes and the Pharisees. I mean, He called them like hypocrites and He called them like desecrators of monuments or something like that. And He called them a brood of Vipers at one point. So, He spoke truth to them, that wasn’t like in a nice flowery way. I certainly am not meaning that. I’m meaning, are you speaking the truth in love? And sometimes the truth means you need to bring correction to someone in a severe manner.

Isaac Dagneau:

That’s so good. Thank you so much, Brett. I really do appreciate just the time you spent with us today, your wisdom in that area. If you’re listening right now and you just enjoyed hearing Brett, I just encourage you to go check out christcitychurch.ca. You can listen to different sermons there and different things like that. But you can also follow Brett on Twitter @BrettLandry, that’s his handle there. And I’ll put that link up to that on our episode podcast page. But anyways, thank you so much, Brett, and I hope to chat with you again.

Brett Landry:

Fantastic. Thanks for having me on, have a great day.

Isaac Dagneau:

That was pastor Brett Landry. Again, the links I mentioned just a moment ago can be found on our episode podcast page. Hey, if indoubt is a nonprofit ministry that you’d be interested in supporting, then I just have a few words for you. As you know, everything we do at indoubt is given out for free. And that includes this weekly show you’re listening to, articles every week, bible studies, live events and more. But it also costs us money to create them, to produce them, and to promote everything. God provides for us through generous people who give. So, for those of you who are regular supporters in this regard, thank you so much. And for those who would like to make a donation, simply click the donate button at indoubt.ca if you live in Canada, or indoubt.com, if you live in the States. Well, that wraps up today’s episode. We hope you’ll join us next week as we host another conversation on life and faith, we’ll see you then.

Brett is the pastor of Christ City Church. Check out their site for sermons by Brett and various blogs.

Brett Landry
Brett Landry Pastor of Christ City Church in Vancouver
Brett Landry is the pastor of Christ City Church in Vancouver, Canada. Prior to Christ City’s launch in September 2013, Brett worked with the C2C Network and served on the staff of Westside Church and as one of their Elders. He is passionate about preaching God’s Word, developing and equipping leaders, and seeing people take leaps forward in their walk with Jesus.

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