Holy S#&*! Profanity in Christianity
Got your attention? Good. Because I think we need to address (readdress) this issue, which I believe – and I think you will agree – has become too commonplace amongst us, and dismissed or justified by some of our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Vulgarity in our society, especially in entertainment and in the arts, has run amuck. There used to be a time when censoring curse words in a song or on a show was expected and welcomed. Not so much now. We have even reached a point where certain derogatory words are used and accepted as terms of endearment, all depending on the context of the conversation (Think of how the word B*^$# is used in hip-hop and pop subcultures, on reality television shows, etc.). To be honest, I hear and see it so frequently today on television and on social media sites that in some ways I personally have become desensitized to it. What I mean is that it doesn’t shock me like it used to. I sort of expect it now. After all, we are dealing with fallen people who have yet to be redeemed by Jesus from their sin.
But what about when we hear and see it displayed by those of us who have been saved from sin by God’s grace through faith in the person and redemptive work of Jesus? Should the proliferation of profanity in our culture cause us to disregard its presence – albeit in varying degrees – in our lives as the church? The answer to this latter question is no. Before I elaborate on this, I know what some of us might be thinking.
“Out of all the evil and sin in the world, let alone in the church, you choose to write a blog post on cursing?! What about abortion, murder, stealing, you know, the big stuff? C’mon, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that serious, Ed.”
“I’m grown. And, yes, I am a Christian. And, yes, I may say a few ‘choice’ words on occasion. But it ain’t like I’m running around sleeping around, or abusing my kids, or doing drugs like some of these other folks. My cursing isn’t hurting anybody. So, give me a break! You are just being self-righteous, Pharisaical, legalistic, and holier-than-thou!”
I hear you. And I have a response to each of those statements. But to do so would only cause us, I am sure, to just go back and forth, tit for tat. But at the end of the day what really matters to all of us as Christians is what God says about this subject. After all, we believe that His thoughts, His words on the matter – as recorded in the Bible – are our final authority, right? Right.
But let me speak to the last sentence in the last statement in quotation above as a segue into God’s Word concerning this issue of profanity in Christianity. I am by no means seeking to be self-righteous, holier-than-thou, etc. I used to curse with the best of them. For those that know me personally, that might be hard for you to imagine. But I did. I am in no way glorifying in it. I simply mention it here for the sake of relating to those who have this sinful, fleshly propensity. However, when the Lord Jesus saved me and as I matured in Him, cursing was one of the sins that I was set free from, practically speaking, quite quickly and was convicted of by the Holy Spirit every time I would slip up. I didn’t have a book, chapter, and verse to point to at the time as the basis for the conviction that I felt. I just knew it was wrong. Then one day during my regular Bible reading I came across a passage of Scripture that spoke directly to it (as well as to other sins):
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from you mouth.” (Colossians 3:5-8, ESV, emphasis mine; see also, Ephesians 5:4)
According to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, the Greek word for “obscene talk” can also be understood to mean “foul speaking.” It is a compound word with the first word being defined as “base or dishonorable.”
Some questions naturally arise: What is considered to be base or dishonorable words? Who determines what they are? These questions are fair. But in all honesty, the spirit that is sometimes behind this type of inquiry is not completely sincere. In certain cases, we ask these questions with an underlining goal to justify our coarse language, not necessarily to seek truth or goodness with the intent of altering our behavior to match it. But, back to the questions at hand.
If you notice, the Scripture doesn’t tell us specifically what words or phrases would be considered off-limits for believers. Why? Well, I believe because God knew that in some regards they would vary from culture to culture, from place to place, and even from conversation to conversation. Having said that though, it seems that certain terminology is fast becoming universal due in large part to the interconnectedness of the world via technology. Certain questions could be asked that would possibly help to mark out those terms that would be deemed obscene, but – and I could be wrong here – I don’t think it’s necessary. Because in this fallen world we live in I think those words are already identifiable. They are those words that the majority of humanity wouldn’t want spoken by or around our little children. They are those words that are spoken in stand-up comedy shows and rapped and sung in the songs of the sinful sectors of the mainstream music/entertainment world. In other words, to state it plainly and frankly, you and I both know what obscene talk is and what is considered as such in our various contexts. We are adults after all, right? So, with all due respect, let’s not play games here.
To this issue of cursing not being bad or wrong as long as we are not hurting anyone, let me say this: It is hurting someone, and His name is God the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). We should seek to not grieve the Holy Spirit through the use of profanity (or any other “sins of the mouth” for that matter) in verbal or virtual communication (Twitter/Facebook abbreviations included).
There is no expectation of perfection here. None of us will be able to obtain that until the return of the Lord Jesus when we will be gloriously transformed. But we should be progressing, growing, and repenting. And if you are a Christian who used to cuss like a sailor (Just a colloquialism; not typecasting seamen or seawomen), as I once did, but still deals with a real, pronounced temptation to do so, know that in Christ sin has no dominion over you (Romans 6). And if you do sin in this way, don’t downplay or dismiss it, and in no way justify it, regardless of whether it was mild cursing or otherwise. Sincerely confess it to God. If you curse someone out, humbly ask them for forgiveness (this includes your children as well). Deal with your cursing in a way that honors the Lord Jesus and respects people.
Father, may you help us, through the Holy Spirit, to refrain from the profane and to honor you and represent Jesus well with our whole lives, including what comes out of our mouths and through our keyboards, tablets, and smartphones. In the name of Your Son and our Savior, Jesus, we pray, Amen.