Not long ago, a reader asked my opinion on swearing/cursing/cussing/using profanity.
Certain words are offensive in the hearing of much of our culture. Before someone pipes in and says, “but swear words aren’t offensive to the culture,” think again. I was a high school teacher for many years and there were words that were “offensive” and couldn’t be used by the students nor the teachers without rebuke. That hasn’t changed in most public school systems today.
Further, many parents don’t wish their children to use certain words (you know what those words are). If such words aren’t offensive to a sizable portion of the culture, then why tell children and students not to say them?
So the fact that certain words are offensive to the culture – in general – is without dispute. The question that is in dispute is: is it acceptable for Christian to use such words? We are living in a time where there is less of a consensus among Christians than ever. For instance, I’ve seen arguments condemning and approving the following behaviors by Christian people:
*watching R rated movies
*having premarital sex
*listening to “secular” music
*supporting gay marriage
Swearing/cussing/ profanity/vulgarity, etc. is another topic to be added to the list.
Let’s reframe the question. Instead of looking at it through a legal lens – right vs. wrong – let’s put the question on a different mountain. Is the use of certain words that are considered profane/vulgar by the general population a help to the gospel of Jesus Christ or a distraction from it? To put a finer point on it, here are five questions to ask yourself within your own heart that may help you to navigate the issue:
- Are you addicted to using profanity? A Christian should not be in bondage to anything (see Romans 6).
- For some people who are in the world system, using profanity gives them the impression that you are no different than they are. I’ve heard people make this case all my life. “Christians are no different than us. They cuss, talk bad about other people behind their backs, gossip, slander, back-bite, and chew up their own. I don’t see anything that sets them apart from me, so why would I want to join them?” Is it possible that any of your friends or coworkers feel this way when a Christian uses profanity/vulgarity?
- Do your spiritual instincts tell you that profanity/vulgarity is wrong? Before you answer that, determine if your conscience is operating or if it’s seared in that area. (A person’s conscience becomes seared when they keep ignoring it when it nudges them about something that’s not in line with the Holy Spirit.) One way to determine this is to ask if it ever bothered you in the past.
- The heart is connected to the mouth. Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Do you think that profanity/vulgarity in your own life reveals a problem with your heart?
- Does your manner of speech violate either of the following texts?
Ephesians 4:29 – “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
Ephesians 5:4 – “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”
Again, I’m not asking you to answer this question on this blog. This is for you to examine when you’re alone with the Lord.
Two further thoughts:
- Some argue that Paul used profanity in Philippians 3:8 saying that the word “skubalon” is the equivalent of “sh—” today. That’s debatable. The word has a broader range of meaning. For instance, BDAG: useless or undesirable material that is subject to disposal, refuse, garbage [in var. senses, ‘excrement, manure, garbage, kitchen scraps’]. Some translations have “rubbish.”
- Some argue that Paul allows just about everything in his statement, “All things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial.” However, most scholars agree that the phrase “all things are permissible” is a slogan that the Corinthians were waving around. Paul quotes them, and then responds with “but all things are not beneficial or edifying.”
In summary, if you can answer a resolute “no” to the above five questions, you probably feel free in the Lord to use profanity/vulgarity. If you cannot answer “no” to them all, then you may wish to reexamine your speech before the Lord. For “in His light we shall see light” (Psalm 36:9).
Updated Postscript: Here are four more texts that relate to this business of swearing (using profanity/cursing/cussing).
- “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45 – What comes out of your mouth is what’s in your heart. So if you are using profanity, your heart is inclined toward dirty things. Interestingly, many swear words have to do with intimate acts (the f* word is an abused word that degrades the act of sex which God created; the s* word refers to what happens during a bowel movement — a highly private act. Other swear words refer to the sexual parts of human beings, which God created).
- “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” James 3:9-10 – In James 1, the writer makes the point that if you cannot control your tongue, neither can you control your body – “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26). Note that swearing (profanity) is also called “cursing.” Cursing actually brings curses, and not blessing, upon one’s own life. Profanity, therefore, isn’t an insignificant matter. It points to issues that are far more serious than the words one uses.
- “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk [filthy language] from your mouth.” Colossians 3:8 – Obscene talk is a clear reference to profanity and vulgarity.
- “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” Exodus 20:7 – Isn’t interesting that when people curse, they will often use the holy name of God to do it. They don’t use the name of Alla, or Muhammad, or Buddha, or Confucius. No, they use the name that is the highest and holiest name of all – Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:9). To say “Jesus Christ!” or “For Christ’s sake!” or even “God damn!” as a curse or swear word is to misuse and degrade the holy name of God. While this is common for the world, it should not be so among those who follow, love, and honor the Lord Jesus Christ.
A Final Word
It’s part of our culture that is engrossed by the world system to use profanity. It’s in the drinking water of all media, which leads to brainwashing the masses, especially our youth. A disciple of Jesus belongs to another kingdom which has it’s own values, culture, and way of speaking. As I explained in Insurgence: Reclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, the language you use is a reflection of the kingdom to which you belong.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2