My wife and I recently decided to watch a movie that had been recommended by a Christian conservative review service. The children were tucked away in bed; so, we settled down with some popcorn, all ready to enjoy some alone time. It was supposed to be a lighthearted comedy with a pretty solid Christian worldview.
Sadly, about a third of the way through, we were compelled to turn it off. No, there was no rampant violence, no flagrant nudity (though there was a seduction scene that we skipped). The soundtrack was beautiful and the storyline engaging. Why then did we decide to switch it off?
It was the language—the unnecessary and frequent use of crass words. Conflicting with the Christian “salvation theme” of the movie, the name of the Lord was used in a profane manner time and again. Repeated vulgarities were bantered about as common idioms. In the end, regardless of the worldview, I just didn’t want to subject myself, or my wife, to the almost incessant barrage of curse words.
Afterward, as I paused to reflect the reason I turned off the movie, I was disturbed that it had been recommended in the first place. I wondered, were we the only ones to see the challenges here? How in the world could it have been recommended for viewing without making a point to flag the challenging dialog? Was it really simply a problem with me?
I don’t think so. In my spirit, I recoiled as the name of Jesus was used as a kind of crutch, just a filler word. It seemed the playwright struggled for adjectives, and so inserted deprecatory phrases to fill the void. And why shouldn’t he? Isn’t this the common tongue of hip America? It seems that everyone is using such words. Vulgar acronyms fill Twitter and Facebook posts. Even preachers seem to be using more “common speech” these days. I recently read where a pastor referred to his congregation’s giving pattern by saying, “They suck at tithing.”
Why is it that vulgarity and profanity are so common place today? How can it be that Christians seem to easily overlook curse words in movies as long as the storyline is solid? What is with the young people, the Christian young people, who populate text messages with three letter acronyms that degrade the Lord’s name to an expression of surprise? Don’t we know what OM_ or WT_ stands for? I suppose the answer is that we don’t see this as sin anymore.
And, so the question is, what does the Bible say on this topic? Does the Bible give us any guidelines to follow when it comes to cursing? Let’s review just a few verses on this subject:
Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”
This verse speaks of our responsibility to guard our words. We are responsible for what we say, and corrupt speech is not acceptable for the Christian. Our words are to be those which edify others, helping them, encouraging them. It is challenging to contemplate God’s desire for us to use our words as a means of communicating His grace through our conversations with and behavior towards others.
Now, some may argue that profanities and vulgarities are not really “corrupt words” since Paul doesn’t lay out a list for us in the verse above. However, he clarifies the concern for us in Ephesians 5:3–4, where he says:
“But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”
Ouch. Can you imagine the scandal that would come upon the church if adultery was routine in an assembly of the saints? Well, Paul outlines filthy speech as being similarly disgraceful. Paul calls us to be those who voice thankfulness. Ponder for a moment, could you construct an edifying sentence of thanks to someone while lacing it with a string of vulgarities? It seems pretty unlikely, doesn’t it?
We can also turn to Colossians 3:8, where we read:
“But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.”
Again, there is an action that we are to do, we who call ourselves Christians. We are to make an effort to be different than the world and its vices!
And then, consider these words from James 3:9–12:
“With it (the tongue) we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.”
Have you ever heard the question asked, “Do you kiss your mama with that mouth?” The implication being in line with this verse—how can we bless God and turn around curse man? This verse speaks of the state of a man’s heart. If there is sin abiding in the heart, it is not surprising that there is an overflow of cursing, a spring of bitter water. The frequent cursing from those who claim Jesus as Savior is a contradiction to their testimony. We are to be those who bear good fruit, not bad.
Notice that curse words typically fall under five categories:
- Human defecation (what my wife would call “potty words”)
- Sexual immorality
- Profanity (blasphemy)
- Cursing of Man
- Sexual body parts (used in a deprecatory way)
Some may ask, “Why does it matter? What’s the big deal anyway—it’s only words?” Let me give you three points to ponder in answer to that question.
Garbage in Garbage Out
The first is that our speech is often a reflection of our conditioning. It is a mirror of what we are bringing into our hearts and minds. And so, if our diet of mental consumption is comprised of movies and activities that are laced with profanity and vulgarity, we will indeed reflect the world rather than Jesus. Think back for a moment, what were the last five movies you watched? Did you notice the language in the films? When the name of Jesus was used in a derogatory fashion, did it trouble you? Or are you so accustomed to such profanity that you didn’t even wince?
How much time are you spending in movies such as that in comparison to spending time in the Word or in prayer? We are told that bad company corrupts good habits (1 Cor 15:33). What does your speech say about your habits, your friendships, and your moral choices?
Living a Set-Apart Life
Secondly, as Christians, we are supposed to be a reflection of Jesus in the midst of a lost world. We are told to think like Jesus (Phil 2:5). We are told to put on the new man, the new man of righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:24). And we are told to not be conformed to this world (Rom 12:2), but instead we are to imitate Christ (1 Cor 11:1).
Jesus said that we are to bear good fruit and that our mouths are to speak of the good treasure that is in our heart (Luke 6:43-45). Yet, it seems in a world awash with course speech that many Christians would rather blend in, looking like and sounding like the world.
A Living Testimony
Which brings me to my last point. What is the big deal anyway? Why should a Christian speak differently than the world? Why should we stand apart when societal norms almost dictate that we use cursing as part of our everyday discourse? The reason is this. We are to be a people serving King Jesus for the expansion of His Kingdom. And we do this when, by our very lives, we testify of the difference He has made in our lives.
When we make the decision to not curse and to not engage in profane jesting, we stand apart. Jesus said we are to be a light in the darkness. We are to be salt to a tasteless world. In other words, we are to be different, for His Kingdom’s sake! When we chose to flavor our words with grace, purity, and love, and to not engage in vulgarities and profanities, people notice. And it gives us an opportunity to communicate our faith to the lost.
I learned this lesson years ago. It was my junior year at the University of Idaho. Finals were upon us. Groups of engineering majors congregated in the commons to work through previous assignments together, helping each other prepare for the exams.
I was sitting with three fellow students as we prepared for an upcoming differential equations exam. Suddenly, one of my study partners, who struggled to understand a particular problem, let out a string of caustic expletives. He was really angry and decided to express himself verbally in the manner taught to him by the world, a manner that reflected his heart.
But then, something interesting happened; he suddenly calmed down. He turned to me with an inquisitive gaze, and asked me in the presence of the other two students, “James, why is it that you never swear?”
I had never berated any of my unsaved friends for the language they used. And I don’t remember making any mental effort to not curse. Because of Jesus, it was just something that had become part of who I was. Yet, because of my decision, Jesus gave me an opportunity to share with my fellow students the wonder of the Cross.
At the end of the day, this is what it is all about. As Christians, we are to get to know our Lord to the point that we start walking in His steps. And then He gives us opportunities to speak for Him. This is why it is important to communicate like Jesus, and not like the world. Friend, do you now see cursing as a sin? Confess it; repent of it; forsake it!
We are told that if we confess our sin, Jesus will forgive our sin and will cleanse us of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Let Jesus renew your mind! Seek Him—seek His Word. Saturate your mind with His truth. And see what the Lord will do through you!
And to make it legal, the opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the other elders or members of Providence Church.