I could be wrong, and Iíve done nothing to scientifically research what Iím about to say. Yet, Iím very sure that more Christians in general and also many pastors I encounter these days, seem to be alright with openly using swear words in their conversations with folks when they feel like it. Moreover, it seems those same Christians also assume that others find no offense in their use of such language.
Perhaps I missed the memo where God proclaimed that Christians are now free to use swear words whenever we feel itís appropriate. Yet the last time I checked Scripture, swearing and using foul language, were still listed in Godís Word as something which is wrong and something we Christians should avoid doing.
Now lest one feels Iím being too legalistic here or judgmental, let me tell you something about myself. I used to swear and use foul language as much or more than most people. I was a habitual cusser and Iíd used the worst words around. In fact, cleaning up my language was something I resisted doing for quite some time, even after becoming a Christian.
However when I read Scripture on this subject, I was both convinced and convicted that swearing is wrong and that I should allow The Holy Spirit to give me the power to stop doing it.
Three main Scriptures come to bear on this subject and Iíve printed them below.
"But now put them away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth." Colossians 3:8. R. S. V.
"Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. Donít grieve God. Donít break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Donít take such a gift for granted." Ephesians 4:29-30 The Message
"Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." Ephesians 4:29-30 R. S. V.
It really is clear in Godís Word that swearing, cussing and foul language are wrong and wrong for some very specific reasons. When I looked up the Greek word translated "foul language" it literally means evil speech which includes the area of obscene speech.
All swear words, in any language, carry a negative connotation. They are, by their very nature, designed to degrade and put people down. I feel one would be hard pressed to find anyone who would say they enjoy being the focus of foul language. Iíve never met anyone who says they feel better about themselves when people make them the focus of foul language.
The Scriptures are clear. They say that foul language is just that "foul" or "evil" or "obscene. Such words are designed to make people feel bad and are aimed at tearing them down. Now of course many of us have become desensitized to foul language since we hear so much of it today on television and in the movies. It all started with Clark Gable and "Gone With The Wind" and itís gone down hill ever since. What was unacceptable language only a few years ago on both television and in the movies, is now used all the time. How much farther it will go is something we will all have to watch. Yet Scripture remains constant on this issue. Foul language is meant to hurt, harm and degrade those at whom it is directed. Moreover, what might be called "secondary effects" of swearing, (sort of like second hand smoke) effects others around who hear it, including children. In a very real sense, foul language is one of the things I like to call "lead paint for the soul!"
In Scripture weíre told to build each other up not beat each other up, and that includes how we speak to each other.
However, notice how Scripture writes this command. It says let no foul talk "come out of your mouth." Interestingly enough, God seems to be very aware that we are far from perfect and when we are upset or in a tight situation, such foul words will come to us and we will indeed be tempted to speak them, but He tells us to make sure they donít come out of our mouths. Now how do we do that? Well there are some specific ways that really work.
First of all we should realize again from Scripture in Ephesians 4:30, that when we do swear and allow such foul talk to come out of our mouths, it will injure and harm others. Far from building up a person, it calls up images which at the least are improper and at the worst are disgusting and degrading to others. Moreover, when we use foul language we are not only harming others, but as Scripture clearly states, we are upsetting God! When we swear, we are, as the R. S. V. puts it, grieving God. What that means is that He is upset and negatively affected by our bad language as well. In short, our cussing gets God upset. It disappoints Him. It brings him sadness over our behavior. It affects Him perhaps even more negatively than those at whom itís aimed.
Secondly it has to be said that when we cuss or use foul language, we are sinning against God. We are doing what is sinful and somehow justifying it. I like to use the analogy that when we commit any sin, boldly and knowingly, itís just like picking up a hammer and driving the nails in Jesusí Hands all over again and acting like itís nothing! Thatís the image that really convicted me. I actually came to see my flagrant and arrogant use of foul language that way. Each time I used foul language, it was as if I had picked up a hammer and just drove another nail into His Hands!
Iíll never forget teaching on this subject in an adult class at a wonderful Church in The Dalles, Oregon. Later that day, a man confessed to me that he was struggling with the problem of swearing. He certainly was a Christian, but heíd been brought up in a tough lifestyle and had been a marine and worked in a tough profession where cussing was just a way of life. Yet, after hearing the teaching and what was in Godís Word, he felt convicted by The Holy Spirit that what Scripture said about this subject was correct and he felt he had to do something about it. So, he told me what he had to do was come up with a word that he could use when he became upset that he could substitute for his swearing. I told him I agreed with him and with joy in his eyes he told me he had already come up with the word. He told me that whenever he felt he was going to swear, heíd use the word NAILS! He also felt when he used a word like NAILS, people would ask him why he was saying that and it would give him a chance to witness for Christ.
I feel itís fair to say that based on what Scripture shares with us on this subject, swearing, cussing and the use of foul language is inconsistent with and damaging to a good Christian witness to others. The opposite is also true in that when one stops cussing, that gets noticed by others around us and it in and of itself, gives a good witness to what we are trying to do by obeying God.
However, we must never forget that we can never do this ourselves. We must ask The Holy Spirit to give us the ability to keep those foul words from exiting our mouths. It really does work, especially when we admit to God that what he says about the use of foul language is correct, and to continue to use it in spite of what He says is just plain wrong.
The Fruit Of The Holy Spirit are mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23. Self control is mentioned there and if we allow The Holy Spirit to have control of this area of our lives, we will see a big change.
As I said earlier, I was one of the biggest users of foul language you could find and I kept using it even after I became a Christian until I was convicted by The Holy Spirit of how wrong it really was and the damage it does to others.
Now I suppose I could have said that I live under Grace and swearing once in awhile is really nothing to fret about. God loves me and therefore He can certainly see I am a sinner, so why get so legalistic about this whole thing? Well the problem with that is that it can carry over to other things like lying. If I feel that "minor cuss" words are now alright with God, itís only a short leap until "white lies" are alright too and perhaps a "little cheating on my taxes or my wife" can come under that big Grace umbrella as well.
We are supposed to live in obedience to Godís Word by The Power Of The Holy Spirit living in us. To sin boldly and just assume it will be covered under Godís Grace, is a serious mistake. Those who prefer to do that, often will see articles like this as just way too legalistic. They pronounce such positions as being like what The Pharisees held in trying so hard to keep all of The Law. Yet, the difference here is immense. We are supposed to try, by Godís Spirit, to live a life that is pleasing to Him and in obedience to His Word BECAUSE Heís saved us. Thatís very different from what the Pharisees were preaching which was to keep The Law in order that one day we could be saved.
Many Christians today have adopted a theology which says that we should just live the best life we can and never worry about our sins, since they are covered anyway by Godís Grace. Iíd submit that those Christians today are akin to the Christians at Rome who were going this same route and who actually felt that since Godís Grace was so wonderful, they could actually sin more boldly if they felt like it, because that would give God even more opportunities to pour out His Grace on them. Through The Apostle Paul God straightened them out quickly in Romans 6:1.
So I committed to "not allowing any foul language to come out of my mouth." I depended on Godís Holy Spirit for the strength and ability to make that happen and it has indeed worked. This may sound like boasting, but itís really just boasting about what God can do through a sinner like myself. In Scripture weíd told that if weíre going to boast, boast in The Lord. Well, I can do that by telling you that my children are now 28, 26, and 21 years of age and none of them have ever heard a single swear word come out of my mouth, and trust me, in their teenage years especially, they gave me plenty of reason to let a few fly. However, by His Grace, my tongue has been kept under control and it has made a real difference in our home, our lives and our witness to others for Christ.
Iíd be lying if I told you Iím never tempted to swear when Iím angry or upset with people. Yet in reliance on The Holy Spirit and desiring to obey God for the right reasons, Iím able to stop those words from coming out of my mouth. You can too and all the credit and glory for that goes to God.
About the Author
Pastor John McWilliams is a Presbyterian pastor and full time missionary with Campus Crusade: Russia. The ministry takes him to various parts of the world to train future pastors and Christian leaders. He is a graduate of Princeton Seminary and pastored two Churches in The Northeast for 21 years before going into mission work full time.
If you have questions or comments about this article, you are invited to contact Pastor John by email at PastorJohn@integrity.com.
I wholly agree with your article. Cursing is very unbecoming for Christians and should not be found in our mouths. Before God saved me, I had a problem with using profanity whenever I got angry. However, when I received the Holy Ghost, I haven't cursed again since then. Acts 1:8 says that we shall receive power after the Holy Ghost is come upon us.
Finally someone, you, wrote about this business of cussing. Thank you! I agree with your writing. I also know that we slip up, even us non-cussing people. I was never a cusser, but have been signifigant times in my life when I was very upset and tossed a comet across the sky!! Also, not long ago...surprisingly I cussed when I accidently killed a baby duck! I was mortified. And once I dropped a gallon of milk on the floor, spilling across the kitchen like the Pacific Ocean. I don't like cussing either, and when someone does it seems to...well, bring them into another idenity :( So, I want to please the Lord with what He desires of my speech! Thank you for the writing!!!