NOTE: no curse words are used in this article other than some mild “profanity” and some potentially insensitive words are used in this blog post that might make you blush, giggle, hate, or swear to yourself or others.
I was listening to a radio program the other day and they were discussing the “Christian” swear words that we use. First they started off by having people call in and spill the beans on all the words they use “Whatdafrack, Shut the front Door, Sugar Honey Iced Tea, Holy Grape Smucker’s ~ I didn’t get that one?” then they dove into whether or not it was right for us to use those words. Overall it was an interesting discussion and thought it would make for a good post. This is a tough topic to write about. I don’t know that I can match Jon Acuff’s article on Remix #31. Occasionally Swearing, or cause as much of a flurry as pastor Ed Young, but I would like to lend my thoughts to the discussion. By the way, before I start, in the interest of full disclosure and transparent: Okay here’s the deal, I cuss sometymes… and I’m in the ministry: I’ve been known to occasionally let a few profanities slip out. (Don’t judge me, just pray for me. I’m a work in progress. It’s not an excuse, it’s the truth!) I’ve said the occasional curse word in the heat of a stressful moment. Every once in a while, a situation arises where it seems that a curse word can better express frustration or even anger better than any other word might. At tymes it’s hard to be harmless as doves and not as wise as serpents. Matt 10:16 MSG
I must say I do get frustrated when people feel like they’re walking on eggshells around me JUST because I’m in the ministry. I recently ran to a friend at McDs’ whom I hadn’t seen in about 10 years. She knew I was in the ministry from “FB”. We had a quick conversation and what not but it felt tense. She keep say my pardon everytyme she said a cuss word so… I broke the ice. I said, “I’m not your traditional Christian. Yes! I do minster, Yes! I am a leader in my church, AND YES! I do slip up and say crazy S*%t sometymes.” She was like WOW! It was amusing to me that she immediately breathed a sigh of relief. Then I asked her to pardon me! Besides being a minister, a gentleman should not cuss at a lady! Unless she cut you off on 76 by turn right from the far left lane. Just joking! Not really!
Profanity is a long standing phenomenon in history. Cussing, obscenities, cursing, swearing, dirty words–whatever you want to call it–exists in all languages. The word “profanity” literally means “outside the temple” and the word “obscenity” literally means “off stage”. We shouldn’t use coarse language to try and be “cool” or “provocative”. Those words (“profanity” and “obscenity”) imply that there may be a place for those things – not “in the temple” or “on the public stage”, but in more private conversation and thought and discourse.
First and foremost: God does call us to purity. To holiness, to right living, sin should not abound because grace is abundant. Christians are supposed to be pure in contrast to the ways the rest of the world is dark. We are called to look different than “non-Christians” in affection, thought, conduct, and speech and I have definitely failed much in this respect. Words are very powerful. They can bring communities together or tear them apart. This is what Colossians 3:8 is talking about. Paul mentions several things that can hurt others in a relational sense and his final thing is “obscene talk”. Coarse, filthy, and inappropriate statements about others can infect an entire group as much as anger, gossip, or slander, whether or not they use “bad” words. Speech is a precious gift God has given to us and it should be used to His glory and His honor.
This article is not a defense of Christians cursing. I’ve been a Christian for fifteen years now and have heard many arguments around this issue. You have the classic “there’s no list in the Bible of curse words” or the related “curse words are just random arbitrary words that the culture says are wrong” (both arguments are sort of absurd). On the other side you have those that say Christians should never curse because “we are called to a higher standard of holiness” and this is absolutely true. (It is this idea that has given me the most pauses on this topic and originally inspired this article.)
Clearly, the Bible forbids something called aijscrologiva (aischrologia), “obscene speech.” Colossians 3:8 says, “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech [aijscrologiva (aischrologia)] from your mouth” (NASB). The NIV translates the word as “filthy language.” The KJV has “filthy communication.” The ASV reads, “shameful speaking.”
According to Wikipedia, studies on swearing have been conducted that prove there is actually a pain relieving effect. “Swearing is a widespread but under-appreciated anger management technique.” So that’s why when I stub my toe, a swear word sometymes enters my mind. I don’t usually speak it, but it’s there, nonetheless. Which leads me back to the question of believers dropping F bombs. The Bible has some rather colorful language in parts. For example, “they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss” and “Behold; I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings…” So, is cursing a heart issue rather than purely a language issue? One linguistics study conducted found that the more a person curses, the less of a pain relieving effect it has on the body. So suddenly, if you start cursing like a truck driver, you can’t claim you are doing so for its therapeutic effects.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his first letter, “But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”
Paul was referring to what a man eats, but I believe the same principle can also be applied to cursing. We have liberty in Christ since we are no longer under the old law. However, we are not to participate in behavior in front of others that would cause them to stumble in their own faith.
To be clear, Christianity does contain facets that overflow into common morality. Excessiveness in drink, anger, greed, self-promotion…Are advised against by both. The problem with morality is that it is relative. When we get saved, we clean our lives up. That’s the “Gospel.” I have attended Theological Seminary and have heard and have heard Christians claim what you have about foul language and Paul and some Prophets using foul language. That was 2,000 years ago and we do not know contextually how those words were used back then outside of scripture. Maybe they were harsh but that does not mean that they were foul and used the same as curse words today.
But most interestingly, the Bible itself seems to have a lot of what some would consider cursing in it. In Philippians, Paul uses the very strong slang curse word for “feces” (our contemporary “s-word”) when referring to the “rubbish” that he counts all things as compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ as Lord. Prophets often say curse-strength statements to God’s people. And here we reach my ultimate point. What God calls us to and desires in us, and what is most attractive to “non-Christians, is authenticity as He changes us.Recognition of who we are as needy people that have not yet arrived. He does not call us to be and act like unbroken people in a broken world. He calls us to be the needy, messy people we are as we live in a messy, broken world. I’m realizing more and more the Church has exalted a false distinction between sacred and secular, even in language. God desires truth (honesty/authenticity) in our inmost parts, and sometymes authentically speaking may mean saying “bad” words.
So this is not a call to cursing. Rather, it’s a call to authenticity and freedom, even in our language. To be real people living in a real world. To know, embrace, and rejoice in the fact that God loves that different parts of His Church look very different and have very different ways of wearing their Holiness. As we go through tyme, drawing nearer to God, our authenticity changes as we grow more into the image of Christ. It’s a long, struggling, hard process, but it is what we should strive for. Self-control can be a good thing. It flows into other areas of our life as well. But it’s a process. As we strive for holiness, can we please reclaim the old truth that holiness is from the inside-out and not the outside-in? Whatever happened to St. Ausgustine’s famous summary of the Christian life: “Love God and do what you want”. Is that messy? Hell, yes. I hope we Christians can continue to work towards loving our God and each other in our messiness, as we strive towards true authenticity, which is this: finding our broken needy selves in the arms of a strong loving Savior who is slowly making us whole, who would rather us be inwardly honest than externally clean (Matthew 23:27).
I’ve learned from thinking about this that my own tongue is too loose. I’ve made excuses for too long why saying this or that particular thing is good or not good. I think there is a lot left to the heart on this one. WTF are you talking about? <–see what I did there? That’s ok because I acronymmed it. The “F” can mean whatever you want it to mean. But, seriously, I grew up with virtually nothing being off-limits–including cussing–so when I came to the Lord, it was something that I didn’t want to engage in anymore. Have there been occasions when I’ve been off-color? You bet! Like most, I believe that more important than what comes out of the mouth is the why it came out. What is the motive there? I think God is far more concerned about the heart issue than the particular words. I try to avoid using profanity out of respect for those it might offend. But it happens. I believe it’s more a sin of conscience than it is a sin of morality. Jesus doesn’t just remind us that we are imperfect, but also that He is perfect. “Good behavior” not required, but righteousness and obedience out of a heart that loves Him. Just my 2 cents!
Resource: Paul Burkhart & Nicole Cottrell