At work this week, my coworkers and I were standing around, waiting to get instructions for the day. One of the guys I work with had gotten a DUI the night before, so what was supposed to be instructions for the day, became a stern talking to about the importance of not drinking and driving. During the conversation my boss - a professing Christian - used the “F” word at least half-a-dozen times. This wasn’t the first time it happened, but it still shocked me, and continues to shock me whenever him, or any professing Christian speaks that way.
So what are cuss words, and why are they bad? Why are there some words that are better or worse than others? The first thing we need to know is that the ability to “tame the tongue” is something that no one is capable of doing apart from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. James tells us that “the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness...It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”. This is the state of all tongues, not just those of unsaved people. So as Christians, we shouldn't expect non-Christians to speak how the Bible directs us to speak (with grace and wholesomeness). Furthermore, it isn’t the responsibility of christians to get non-christians to stop cursing, or doing any sin for that matter (1 Corinthians 5:12). Because taming the tongue is a purely spiritual affair, we cannot expect those that are not believers to care about their tongue in the way the bible directs us to care because “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him…” (1 Corinthians 2:14). For the Christian however, this is an issue, that hopefully when shown the biblical proofs, will lead to sanctification.
“Curse” words can be broken into three categories: 1) those that are directly against, and offend God, 2) those that are explicitly sexual and, 3) words that are generally impolite to say.
Words against God: Here I’m talking about the phrases “God damn” or “God damn you” specifically. I think that as children, when we first learn to cuss we steer clear of using these phrases because we instinctively know that there is a certain prohibition to using them. We know this instinctively because, well, we’ve been created by a creator who forbids we say them. As Christians we must take the Ten Commandments seriously, And the Third Commandment tell us exactly what not to do with our words. “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). Question 113 in the Westminster Larger Catechism is: What are the sins forbidden in the Third Commandment
"The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God’s name as is required; and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious or wicked mentioning or otherwise using his titles, attributes, ordinances, or works, by blasphemy, perjury; all sinful cursings, oaths, vows, and lots; violating of our oaths and vows, if lawful; and fulfilling them, if of things unlawful; murmuring and quarrelling at, curious prying into, and misapplying of God’s decrees and providences; misinterpreting, misapplying, or any way perverting the Word, or any part of it; to profane jests, curious or unprofitable questions, vain janglings, or the maintaining of false doctrines; abusing it, the creatures, or anything contained under the name of God, to charms, or sinful lusts and practices; the maligning, scorning, reviling, or any wise opposing of God’s truth, grace, and ways; making profession of religion in hypocrisy, or for sinister ends; being ashamed of it, or a shame to it, by unconformable, unwise, unfruitful, and offensive walking, or backsliding from it."
At the very least, as Christians, we must have reverence for God and honor Him in all our ways, and how we speak is a big way. It is unthinkable that a Christian would ever find him/herself using such language, not just in their day to day lives, but ever again after having tasted the grace of our Lord.
Explicitly sexual words: These are words, that when they are said, can bring to mind images of the delicate and precious form of the male and female bodies, committing certain sexual acts in an indecent or improper manner. Now of course sex is a wonderful part of God’s creation, and is to be experienced within the confines of a monogamous marriage, between a man and woman; when we use these words, however, we can create a kind of pornographic image in the minds of our listeners, and we in effect violate Hebrews 13:4 and Ephesians 4:29 by speaking about - in an ungraceful manner - the kind of joys that are to experienced only within the confines of the “marriage bed”. And again, it would be unthinkable that a Christian would use those kinds of words, either jokingly or to express even emotion, because our aim should always be to promote grace and purity when we speak to others (Titus 1:15).
Words generally impolite: These are words that are not sexual in any way or damning in any way. Paul Tripp uses the example of “shit” as being one of those kinds of words. When it comes to using those kinds of words we have to more or less know what is appropriate within the context of the culture we are living in.
As Christians however, we are not called to live according to a cultural standard. The standard that we are called to is much higher. A standard so high our Lord says: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37). There is a reason that we don’t see specific words or phrases specifically forbidden in the bible - and the reason for that is because Christians live an ever changing world where language is ever changing. Instead we read things like “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths” and “...now you must put...obscene talk from your mouth”. What this shows us is that we are to be a people - regardless of when or where we live - who are careful and gracious in our speech at all times. This is far from legalism as some will call it, but is a longing and a thirst for holiness and sanctification. The fact is, the words we speak and how we speak are the clearest indication of the heart that we possess (Matthew 12:33-35). An evil heart, will speak things that are evil, and a good heart will speak what is good. And when the culture sees a Christian with a foul mouth, an opportunity for reproach upon the Gospel has just occurred.
Christians are called to be gentle like Christ was gentle, serve like Christ served, love like Christ loved, and to glorify God in all that we do. Let not our speech fall by the wayside because of ignorance, lack of care, or lack of discretion. For the Christian, we delight in the joy that comes from pursuing holiness in all our ways.