The topic of swearing can quickly become divisive. You have some believers who think that swearing of any kind is evil and should be avoided at all costs. Then you have a new generation of more hip Christians who think that you have to swear to relate to the culture and make an impact. Where do I stand? Probably just enough in the middle to offend both tribes. But before we start, it’s important for you to know the heart behind this discussion.
Here’s what I’ve seen throughout most of my life: we (I) have abandoned opportunities to share God’s love with the lost simply because those people act like they are lost. We expect the hearts of those who don’t know God to look like those who do. And that’s simply not what Jesus did.
So as we begin this conversation, let’s start at the law, and end with grace.Swearing and the Bible? Let’s start at the law, and end with grace. Click To Tweet
Since the Church seems to be divided into two groups, this conversation is split into two sections that speak to both generations. In the first, we’ll look at God’s word to see what he says about swearing in general. Then we’ll talk about how Jesus reacted to a culture full of sinners and swearers and how legalistic the 14 year-old me actually was.
I: What God Says
There seem to be two camps of “bad” words that people use today:
First we have the more biblically based swearing… these are your British classics: God, damn, bloody Hell, etc. The glaring problem with shouting “Jesus Christ!” when we get cut off in traffic is that God says not to. It’s actually one of the 10 commandments; “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain…” (Exodus 20:7) And if your asking God to damn anything to Hell, you probably need to revisit your own brokenness and need of grace.
The second camp, those “crass” or “vulgar” words, are your American favorites: the F-Bomb, 💩, 🍆, etc. So what does the Bible say about these guys?
There’s a chunk of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus where he talks about what “new life in Christ” looks like. He explains that there is a new way that we as Christians have learned to walk and he does this by contrasting the old with the new. For example, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work…” or, when it comes to how we speak to one another, “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) That word “corrupting” when taken straight out of the greek is defined as: rotten, putrified, unfit for use, poor quality.
A few lines down in chapter 5, Paul says, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”
Now, as uncomfortable as it might be to me, there’s actually a time and place for all of these words (that’s why they’re words – they were created for a purpose [duh]). The Bible actually uses plenty of “swear words”, but they’re either used in their proper context (like Paul in Philippians 3:8 or anything in the Song of Songs) or it’s a person living in opposition to God being a jerk (1 Sam. 20:30). The latter can be paralleled with the general use of these words today, as intensifiers or in strictly obscene and vulgar contexts.
Excluding the very few words that were inherently created to tear others down, you can think of these words like a brick. You can take a brick and knock somebody out with it, or you can get a couple more and build a hospital. Words are tools; they are a amoral (therefore, there are no such things as bad words), but when they are put into the mouth of a human and the context of our situation, they start to have personality – they either build up or they tear down.There aren't good or bad words. Words are tools. They either build up or tear down. Click To Tweet
II: What God’s People Miss
I grew up in the conservative south. If you’re not familiar with that culture, our family went to church three times a week, all us kids had “quiet time” each morning, and it was basically a sin not to pray for your food. Based on that description, you could probably guess that we didn’t hear many swear words growing up.
My parents were (and remain) amazing examples of what following Christ could look like. They certainly kept us isolated from a lot of what was in the world, but only because they wanted to walk with us and explain why things were the way they were and how we might could react to them.
But as a kid, it was easy for me to misconstrue their intentions. In fact, throughout most of my growing up, even though my parents had started to put me in more and more situations to make friends with people who were unbelievers, I avoided them. I looked at their actions and expected them to behave like a Christian and an obvious way to tell if they were “good” or not was their language. So I grew up judging those around me and not associating with others based on whether or not they used profanity.
Sadly, it wasn’t until my college years when I started seeing biblical passages with fresh eyes. But when I did, I saw the flannel-graph Jesus I grew up with doing some very strange things. For instance, God incarnate, the holiest person to ever walk on our planet, didn’t hang out with the “holy people”. The pharisees have a negative stigma in our minds, but to Jesus’ friends and family, they were the Billy Grahams of the culture. These are men who gave their life to the learning and teaching of God’s word and serving others. There was no one cleaner.
And yet, we often see that Jesus doesn’t praise or hang out with these people. In fact, in most of their featured stories they’re being criticized for their pride and self-righteousness. So who do we find breaking bread with Jesus on multiple occasions? Sinners & Tax Collectors.
(There’s something we need to note here: the Jews used the term “sinners & tax collectors” was used to refer to the scum of the earth. These were the cultural untouchables. The whores and the thieves. Okay, we can proceed…)
So Jesus invites all these people over and they eat and chat together. Then the pharisees, the cultural equivalent of your church’s most respected pastor start asking Jesus’ friends, “Why is Jesus hanging out with these people?” And of course, because he’s God, Jesus overhears the conversation and drops knowledge on the boys. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Here’s where we come to a crossroads; the place where my ideology deviates from many I grew up with and where I’m asking the more conservative camp to gracefully hear me out. If we never allow ourselves to even hear cuss words, we will never do what Jesus is exampling here. It’s easy to pick out who we as the Church would view as sinners in our American culture: porn stars, vulgar lyricists, those who work for the IRS… And here’s the problem: if we expect unbelievers to act like they know and follow Jesus before we will reach out to them, we will NEVER engage them like Jesus and his disciples did.
On a personal level, if I never interact with individuals and artists who swear and treat them like human beings, I’m doing this Jesus thing completely wrong. God has given me a platform as a guy who makes videos to interact with people that the majority of the Church never will. How can I throw away such an incredible opportunity that God has given me?
On an even more convicting level, I know that 🤬 isn’t the way God made me to talk, but that doesn’t mean I’m not tempted every now and again to get fancy with my vernacular as I’m driving down the interstate or when I get a little too competitive in pickup basketball. And still I find myself tempted to judge other brothers and sisters who struggle with the same thing – and even unbelievers who have no reason to act differently!
So without grace, I’m not only throwing away a God given opportunity to share his gospel, but I’m being a hypocrite by judging others and hiding my own struggle.
Because here’s the truth: I am the sinner & the tax collector. I am the one who needs grace. And if God had looked at my dirty self like I look at [insert anyone in pop culture I judge on a daily basis for living how I would without Christ], I wouldn’t have a chance. But thank you, God, for your grace. Thank you for eating with the sinners. Thanks for saying, “Salvation won’t exclusively be for my chosen family, the descendants of Abraham. I’ll extend salvation to the Gentiles – the lost who don’t give a thought towards me. I’m going to come, sacrifice everything and die for them.” (that’s not an actual quote – don’t @ me)
No, speaking foolishly, joking vulgarly, and using God’s name in vain isn’t the renewed way we’re supposed to live as Christ followers. But God have mercy if we judge and exclude the lost for acting like they’re lost.God have mercy if we judge and exclude the lost for acting like they’re lost. Click To Tweet
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