What Goes In, Must Come Out
I have been around sports my entire life. I played baseball for 14 years, and have coached it for more than 15 years. I played basketball for eight years and coached it for another eight. I’ve been around coaches and athletes virtually my entire life. And, one of the things that has remained consistent over those nearly 40 years of my life on the field and on the court: you’re going to hear a good bit of profanity.
As for me, I was never a cusser. Not that I have never uttered a bad word under my breath when doing a construction project at home, or trying to put together Ikea furniture…but, among peers, coworkers, fellow athletes and coaches, or neighbors, I don’t do it, and never have. And, those rare occasions when I told a coarse joke or made vulgar gestures left me feeling sick to my stomach. Why? It was the Holy Spirit telling me not to go there.
I had a good friend of mine who tried to justify his use of profanity with this argument: “Well, a cuss word is just a substitute word for another word, so it’s not really profanity. In fact, if you say ‘darn’ or ‘shoot,’ then you’re really cussing according to your logic.”
Flimsy argument if you ask me. But, regardless of the actual word that slips off your tongue, what truly determines the tone and intent of your speech is your heart.
Consider Jesus’ words to his disciples just after he had called the Twelve:
“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
Luke 6:45 (ESV)
If I read this correctly, a couple things stand out. First, if I am filling myself up with bad things, I can’t expect anything good to result. Likewise, if I am filling myself up with good (righteous) things, then I’m far less likely to do wrong things. And, finally, it’s possible for me to have an abundance of good OR bad flow from my heart, which will reveal itself through my speech.
As a coach, I make it absolutely clear to my players at the outset of the season that I will, in no uncertain terms, tolerate profanity or vulgar speech. In all my years of coaching, I believe I’ve only had to address this once or twice. Not only is it a pet peeve of mine, but scripture actually talks quite plainly about it.
Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. Ephesians 4:29 (NLT)
In our home, we have this rule: If you don’t hear mom and dad say it, you don’t say it. My wife and I do not use foul language at all, and we expect our kids to follow suit – no only at home, but at school, on the ball field, in the community.
My wife takes it a step further. She says, “When you cuss all the time, it tells others that you aren’t smart enough to speak intelligently.”
If you’re an athlete reading this, you may say, “I’m around countless others who have foul mouths, and I can’t do anything about it.” Yes, you can. You can model what it looks and sounds like to be a young man or woman of character, who honors God and others with their words.
If you’re a coach, you have a responsibility to do more than just teach the game. You have an opportunity to mold athletes into men and women who demonstrate respect both on and off the field. But you have to learn to tame your own tongue first.
If you’re a parent, have a conversation with your kids about the use of foul or offensive language. Ask questions and create an open dialogue about it. Just know, you’re the Number One model for their actions!
In the end, it goes back to what Jesus recognized more than anyone else: what you put into your heart and mind is what is going to come out. That goes for the music you listen to, the TV shows you watch, the social media habits you develop, and the company you keep.
The good news for all of us who have stumbled in this department is that we have today to make a change and to begin to fill our minds and our hearts with that which is most worthwhile and most honoring of the Lord.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Colossians 3:1-3 (ESV)
C.A. Phillips is a lifelong sports enthusiast and youth baseball coach, and currently serves as the Communications Pastor and Director of Men’s Groups at NorthStar Church in Kennesaw, Ga. He lives in Kennesaw with his wife, Amy, and his two sons, Chaz and Chandler.
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