What’s in a Word? – Cursing

I still remember the first time I ever (intentionally) cussed. It probably seems a little strange that the moment stood out to me, but it was during a pivotal time in my life—my first and only year in public school, after growing up homeschooled (and returning to it the following year). I was on the bus heading to school and a couple seventh graders were being rowdy—the usual suspects who made the ride miserable for the rest of us. At one point, tired and aggravated, I’d finally had enough. Spinning around in my seat, I said, “Why don’t you shut the hell up?”

The moment stands out in my memory not because it made me feel powerful among my peers (it did) or because I was asking for a retort from a kid known for fighting (I was), but because I remember how absolutely awful I felt afterward. It wasn’t the kind of bad you feel when you think you’re going to get in trouble, it was a visceral sense that I’d just crossed a line.

That line evaporated over the course of my sixth grade year, and by the time I returned to homeschooling all the usual cusswords you hear were a regular part of my vocabulary. I loved how empowered they made me feel when I used them, but I never quite got past that squirmy feeling after I spoke them. It wasn’t until I reached my adult years and stopped trying to impress people with how mouthy I could be that it finally began to make sense why cussing bothered me.

So, I knew all along God said not to engage in obscene talk, right? But what really struck me was that I was praising Him with the same lips that actively and knowingly broke His rules. No wonder the Bible says this ought not to be so. Think of all the rules God put in place for the Israelites just so they could stand in His holy presence without being consumed; think of the price Jesus paid with his own blood so we could boldly approach God. Yet we dare spread God’s praises while we willfully profane things He calls sacred with the same mouth? We sing to Him with a tongue we don’t tame to avoid blaspheming things like anatomy, His name, and the sanctity of sex?

As time goes on, I am confronted again and again by the fact that I have to do better. I have to ask myself—is the “ conveying of my emotions” or the “empowerment” I feel at using socially-praised obscene speech really worth it when I know the wedge it drives between me and God?

Have you asked yourself the same?

What is cursing?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines cursing as “a profane or obscene oath or word.”

There are lots of debates about what really constitutes  cursing/swearing, whether God is REALLY against “cussing” as we know it today, etc.

What gives us some clarity is that God doesn’t just use “cursing” to refer to kinds of speech we should avoid; He makes it clear that filthy, crude, and obscene talk are all to be avoided. If we’re honest with ourselves, we can pretty easily discern what falls into these categories and should be avoided. The harder part is truly steering clear of them, especially when they are so embedded in our culture, our society, and indeed in our own speech and thought patterns!

What Does the Bible Say About Cursing?

Ephesians 5:4 – Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

Colossians 3:8 – But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.

James 3:10 – From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

How Can I Guard Myself Against Cursing?

Because obscene, slanderous speech and cursing are so prevalent in today’s society, it can be one of the hardest rules to adhere to. For one thing, it definitely makes us seem weird; for another, avoiding it or calling it out can be incredibly difficult. Here are three keys that I’ve found have really helped me pivot both my mind and mouth when it comes to clean speech:

  1. Be mindful of what goes in; the more we hear certain words or phrases, the more embedded in our minds they become. I’ve personally found that if I subject myself to lot of movies or TV shows that use God’s name in vain, those phrases will pop up in my head – and they make me feel absolutely horrible every time I think them. Try to avoid intake of media that’s inundated with what God says is wrong (this goes not just for cursing, but any kind of unwholesome thing!).
  2. When you catch yourself doing it, repent and correct yourself. This is a super-effective mind-training tool. Sometimes I catch myself saying something I know is disgraceful to God. Rather than letting it slide, if I verbally apologize and make myself rephrase it, I find I am less likely to say it again.
  3. Don’t tolerate just to get along. The use of foul language has become a looser and looser standard both in the secular and Christian world as time goes on. Let’s face it—we want to talk how we want to talk! But there’s no arena where God says it’s okay to compromise on His instructions just so we avoid inconvenience. It’s okay not to tolerate that kind of talk from yourself—it’s also okay to have boundaries where you don’t let others curse or speak obscenely in your presence.  Be bold to call out when people’s conduct makes you uncomfortable; this too can bring discomfort of a different sort, but any discomfort we experience confronting a problem in this life is nothing compared to the discomfort we will feel if we have to stand before God and try to explain why we tolerated something we knew was wrong.

Above all, never forget that a penchant for obscene speech is something Jesus can help you get free from. Don’t be afraid to ask him in prayer for help catching the words before they fall out of your mouth and retraining your brain so your default is wholesome speech.

Take Action!

Pay special attention this week to the language you use; if you find yourself defaulting to foul language, take time to repent of it every time it slips out. No matter how many times it happens, don’t give up! Keep repenting and keep renewing your speech!

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  1. This is an excellent reminder for all of us in the Body of Christ! When I was a new Christian, I had a problem with being sarcastic (another way speech can be used inappropriately). I thought when I came up with a sarcastic comment that I was being “witty” and providing humor. My sister-in-law took me aside and told me that sarcasm has it’s roots in the idea of tearing at another person’s flesh. Yeech! Is that the way I want to represent Christ as his ambassador? I repented but had to go through a season of being more serious than I like because I had no clue how to be witty and humorous in a godly way. Thankfully I eventually learned to inject humor into situations without hurting others. We are called to represent God with excellence and our manner of speech is certainly one very important way we do that. Thanks for a great article, Renee!

  2. Thanks Renee, this is something I’ve been working on and your article is really helpful.

  3. Good article! We all can certainly relate.

    Although it was imbedded in your article, I would certainly appreciate an article on the ever popular “OMG”. This is SO popular among all age groups and also among Christians who have no concept of their blasphemy,
    I find it ironic the people that don’t believe in God, yet use the term.

    you don’t need to tack this on as a comment, just making a request to you to consider.

    Again, good article.

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