This post, the last of a three-part series addressing common moral issues Christians face (you can find the other two posts here and here) will hopefully be a thorough discussion of potty mouths’ favorite shock-inducing words — the words Christians consider taboo. You know the drill at this point, we will start with relevant scripture:
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. (Exodus 20:7 ESV)
A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you. (Matthew 12:33-37 NLT)
And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:10-11 ESV)
Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and railing, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:29-32 ESV)
Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:4 ESV)
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27 ESV)
For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body […] but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:2-12 ESV)
You may notice that unlike in previous posts, there is no “The Good” section” to offer a balanced perspective on this topic. That’s because I cannot find any biblical justification for the use of profanity in any circumstance. That may seem conservative, legalistic, and maybe even ridiculous, but there are plenty of good reasons for Christians to refrain from using profanity in our speech. Here are a handful of those reasons:
1) Taking The Lord’s name is vain is never OK.
I want to believe this is a point I don’t have to discuss at length, but with the number of oath-filled expletives I’ve heard Christians utter, it bears repeating. We should never use God’s name in vain or any way profane His holy name (Exodus 20:7, Deuteronomy 5:11, Leviticus 24:16). I think there are many ways we can profane the name of God, but the most common way is through profanity and swearing.
To use The Lord’s name in vain through swearing is to attempt to reduce his holiness, glory and perfection to profane triviality. It indicates a complete lack of reverence for God and understanding of His holy greatness. Sadly, we take for granted the severity of commonly used phrases such as “oh my God” or “holy smokes” (I’m intentionally choosing PG phrases, here). But we must be mindful of how we use any iteration of God’s name to avoid uses that dishonor Him.
Need more encouragement to cut the God-centered profanity from your lexicon? Well, God notices and He cares when we profane His holy name. Just look at God says in Ezekiel 36:21-23:
But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came. “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. (Ezekiel 36:21-23 ESV)
2) Words aren’t harmless.
I used to wonder why there was such fuss surrounding curse words and ‘naughty’ language. I thought, they’re just words with arbitrarily assigned meanings that our society considers bad; words can’t actually hurt anyone. Well, I’ve come to learn words, particularly profane words, carry a great deal of power, and their meanings aren’t so arbitrary, as is evident in their etymology. Think about it: Most of the expletives we use are rooted in undignified sexual acts and biological functions. What are we saying then we link people, places and things to such words? We certainly don’t intend to show high regard or respect (there are far more effective words we can use); we typically seek to express contempt, anger or disdain. Knowing the roots of curse words helps us understand why there is great power in expletives. They are intended to degrade, intended to hurt.
And hurt they will. Profanity harms the speaker. One example: When we use the language of the world, we strengthen the bonds between ourselves and the world. Profanity harms the hearer. Ask anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an expletive. Most importantly, profanity and obscene words grieve the Holy Spirit because the purpose of them are at odds with the character of God.
Fortunately we have access to words that have great power to encourage and uplift, and as Christians it is our duty to use our words to such ends. Using courteous, mindful language towards all people is more than being polite — it’s an expression of the love within our hearts that we should have for others.
Some of you may wonder, “But what if I use profanity casually and not directed towards any particular person with evil intent?” This may sound harsh, but this question falls into the “how close can I get to sin” category that indicates a greater heart issue. We should avoid seeking gray areas, even with regards to our language, and instead seek total transformation of our hearts towards purity. Furthermore, I think this is a selfish question because it fails to acknowledge the impact words can have upon the hearer even when used casually. Obscene language corrupts us whether we want to acknowledge it or not.
3) Our speech reveals our inner character.
When I was a new Christian, I was not careful about my words. I no longer cursed like an uneducated sailor, but I didn’t exercise the level of discretion befitting a Christian, particularly in heated conversations. This became abundantly clear in arguments I had with my roommate, to whom I hurled more expletive-ridden insults than I care to admit (it’s funny how living with other people can bring out the best and worst in you). Looking back, I can admit that my preference for foul language in such situations signaled some serious corruption in my heart. I defaulted to profanity because of my desire to express bitterness, anger, malice, and disgust in way that would hurt the recipient. Such behavior and such desires are toxic, and we should be mindful of them.
The words we use act as windows to our hearts and reveal our inner characters. I believe this is the core point of Matthew 12:33-35 and James 3:2-12. That’s why only a perfect man with a perfect heart can be perfect in his speech. We may not be perfect, but when we know better we must do better.
What does your speech indicate about you, or rather your heart? Does it portray a sinner renewed in Christ, who seeks to please The Lord in all that you say and do, or someone with great appreciation for Christian virtues like self-control, patience, and love? Or does your speech indicate someone clinging to the ways of your former life with serious heart issues to address?
Mathew 15 provides a necessary reminder for us: the greatest source of pollution comes from the heart — and use of obscene, vulgar or offensive language are good indicators that some moral cleanup is necessary.
With all that said, I know how difficult it is to break the habit of cursing and heavy use of profanity. There are still moments, typically prompted by physical pain, when an expletive will passionately fly out of my mouth before I can catch it. Thank God for repentance and the opportunity to seek forgiveness for moments I fall short. Still, God has helped me come a long way from the vulgar-mouthed person I used to be. That’s due in great part to this good practical advice I received from fellow Christians: Stop consuming media that uses filthy language. Yup, that means removing all of your favorite movies, songs, books, and even podcasts (for my Serial fans out there). It’s not an easy task — and it’s a task you’ll constantly have to remind yourself to do — but it’s worth the sacrifice if you ultimately seek a transformed heart that doesn’t default to the use of profanity.
As always, I’m curious to hear your thoughts, dear reader. If you have more practical advice or spiritual encouragement for breaking the habit of cursing, please share! We can all use some help in taming our tongues.