The first time I saw it, I did a double take. Did he just say that on Facebook?
Yup, there it was on my Facebook feed, tucked away in a comment on a fairly long conversation. One of my friends, a Christian I know and respect, had used the word sh*tty to describe his day.
I had never heard him use language like that before. But shortly after that, I noticed other people in my circle of friends using language like that in casual conversation here and there.
Even though I had used (more than) my share of colorful language before coming to Christ as a freshman in college, since that time I had always assumed cursing is something Christians don’t do. Or, at least try not to.
But now my friend’s comment, and this underground practice among my friends, had me thinking. Should Christians curse? And, why or why not?
A Neutral Matter?
As we approach this issue, does the bible have anything to say about this?
Turns out, it does. Here are two verses that bear on our question:
- But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. (Colossians 3:8)
- Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)
In an article for Relevant Magazine, Preston Sprinkles notes that the word Paul uses for ‘corrupting’ here means ‘rotten, decaying, unwholesome’.
So Paul is sidelining traditional cuss words, but his primary concern is much broader. He’s concerned about any speech that doesn’t build up, fit the moment in front of us, and give grace to the person I’m talking to.
Darn it, Paul. Just when I’m about to be Christian and cool, you rain on my parade. It would have been soooo much easier if you had just given us a Top 10 list of really bad words to avoid.
Further Down The Rabbit Hole
But why do we curse anyway?
There are probably others, but I can think of these reasons:
- We’re angry complainers. Something goes wrong, and our anger bursts out (sometimes, just in our heads) in the form of profanity.
- We want to be cool and fit in. Everyone else around us seems to be using profanity, and we like fitting in. We’re people-pleasers who desperately want to be accepted, even if it means acting in ways that are questionable.
- We like being edgy and pushing the envelope. Part of us likes being rebellious and seeing how close we can come to the line without crossing it. We can also congratulate ourselves for being sophisticated enough to handle it, unlike our more simplistic, fundamentalist brothers and sisters.
- We’re wondering if others will accept us, even with our imperfections. Sometimes using questionable language is a safe way to see if others will still accept us. If they don’t say anything when we curse, we feel accepted and confirmed just as we are, flaws and all. If they do speak up and question us, we can write them off as judgy, uptight fundamentalists who aren’t worthy of our friendship.
Do you see yourself in any of these?
Some of you may be thinking, ‘This is an interesting post, but I don’t really curse. But I’ll share this with my friends who do.’
But wait a minute. Remember: Paul’s concern isn’t so much that we avoid cursing. He wants us to talk to the people he’s created like he would talk to them.
Whoa. Not sure about you, but I don’t even come close to that. Especially when you look inside my heart.
I’m guessing – and hoping – that you can see these things in your own life, too. No one’s exempt. (For an amazingly convicting, practical exercise check out The Tongue Assignment).
How We Can Make Progress
How can we make progress in cleaning up our speech – and hearts?
- Develop thankfulness, even when things are a mess. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we’re encouraged to ‘give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus’. What are those areas where you tend to routinely grouse, and what would it look like for you to thank God in those moments?
- Rest in God’s approval, rather than seeking others’. If we truly believe that we already have the approval of the One who matters, we won’t be driven to fit in so much any more. (See Galatians 1:10) It will still hurt when we don’t, but we’ll feel less need to use things like profanity to be accepted. And we won’t need to fish for approval by using it.
- Rediscover holiness. Even though our worst sins are pre-forgiven, the least of them is enough to separate us from God apart from Christ. We are to ‘be holy as [God] is holy’. (1 Peter 1:16)
- Find joy in belonging, and submitting to, God. For some of us, using ‘colorful’ language is motivated by the impulse to be our own master. Which, in turn, is driven by the suspicion that God isn’t fully for us. Psalm 119 is immensely helpful here. David shows us – over 176 verses – that God and his commandments give joy and freedom – not restriction. ‘I will walk in freedom, for I have devoted myself to your commandments’. (verse 45)
If we’ll move toward these practices in the little moments of life, we’ll slowly find ourselves changing and replacing our old habits with better ones.
For example, when something goes wrong and I catch myself saying (or, usually just thinking) ‘d*mn it!’, I just take a second and talk to God about it. ‘Father, sorry for acting like the world should revolve around me. Thanks for showing me my pride. Please forgive me. Help me change…’
It’s slow, but over time God is changing me into a less angry, more thankful person. When things (inevitably) go wrong, I’m able to handle them with less frustration and more peace.
Which is way more important – and encouraging – than just avoiding an f-bomb.
Do you find yourself using questionable language (internally or ‘out loud’)? What drives it, and, what might help you address it on a heart level?
PS / Update – got lots of great feedback, and pushback, on this post. You guys pushed me to think more deeply, and I did a follow-up post in response: Cursing Christians Revisited.