Cussing has become very popular among Christians these days. Over the past decade or so we’ve seen cussing preachers, cussing Christian podcasts, and even cussing Christian bands like King’s Kaleidoscope who recently lost distribution privileges with LifeWay because of their infamous “F-bomb” in their song, “A Prayer.” Needless to say cussing is no longer a problem for many Christians. But it isn’t universally accepted either. Many Christians still refuse to listen to, watch or read anything that contains expletives. So who’s right? Is it ok for Christians to cuss or not?
WHY CHRISTIANS CUSS
What I want to do in this post is hopefully catalyze a conversation. I think that many people who have no problem with cussing and even find it beneficial have some great points, and I also think that people who hate cusswords have some great points. We can learn from each other and challenge each other if we are willing to listen to each other and stop speaking past each other. So let’s talk about why people feel the way they do about cusswords. For each side of the argument there is a scripture, a good reason, and a bad reason.
Why some Christians are ok with cussing.
Scripture: Christians who consider swearwords to be either neutral, or even in many cases helpful, point to verses like Philippians 3:8, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” The word “rubbish” in the Greek is a strong, and arguably vulgar, word for poop. We also have a strong word for poop, which many people put on their list of “cusswords.”
Good reason: A lot of people today, especially millennials, are quickly turned off by any hint of fake Christianity. And for some reason cussing has become the embodiment of authenticity. Christians who cuss are seen as people who have let down their guards, who aren’t hiding behind a mask, and who don’t pretend to be more holy than they actually are. And they are often described with words like “real” or “raw.” You might actually be surprised at how open some people are to hearing what you have to say about Jesus if you let one slip every once in a while. I’m not defending it, but I think it is worth considering.
Bad reason: I think for many there is also a sense of “sticking it to the man.” Whether “the man” is their pastor, their parents, their conservative friends, or their past legalistic self. We love swinging pendulums, and we aren’t good at moderation in anything. It’s all or nothing. I think that we can sometimes get on these kicks of things like cussing as a way of proving or showing off our lack of legalism. But what we often end up proving is just our lack of self-control.
Why some Christians hate cusswords.
Scripture: People who think curse words are wrong point to verses like 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.” In Greek, the word “filthiness” means “obscenity, indecency, baseness.” It’s meaning is a bit vague, and it certainly refers to more than the use of cusswords. But whether or not it includes cusswords is worth considering.
Good reason: Some Christians have a very sharp “worldliness” radar. And that is a great thing! These are the Christians who want to stay as far away from the line as possible. Why would you want to see how close you can get to the line without crossing it? Just stay away. Another reason I’ve often heard is that cussing is a bad witness, and can come across like hypocrisy. Non-Christians may think that there isn’t any difference in how they live their lives and how Christians live theirs. Also a good point.
Bad reason: Arbitrariness. Let’s be honest. Sometimes we cringe when we hear a certain word, and we don’t really know why. We can’t express the reason for our distaste, other than that we simply aren’t used to hearing those words, so they make us feel awkward and uncomfortable, whereas other words that other people may find offensive don’t bother us at all.
4 rules for cussing.
The Bible isn’t very clear on the subject of cusswords. But I think there are biblical implications that can give us some guidelines.
- Love others.
Those who cuss should love others enough to not offend them when it isn’t necessary. Find another word as often as possible. Those who don’t cuss should love others enough to be understanding and not just assume that they are just trying to be cool, jerks, or “liberals” simply because they use stronger language than you do. They may have very good reasons for doing so.
- Be self-controlled.
Those who cuss should exercise self-control by being purposeful with your cusswords. When you use strong language all the time, it isn’t strong anymore. So what may have once made you come across as “real,” now just makes you seem crass. For those who don’t cuss, be self-controlled enough to not judge others for a couple of words that come out of their mouth that you don’t use.
- Cuss, don’t curse.
Can we all agree that no matter your stance on the subject, name-calling is not ok. Some cuss words we can discuss and dialogue about, but others—specifically, the ones that degrade someone else’s worth and dignity—should simply be off limits. And this extends to non-cusswords as well. Calling someone stupid or idiot, or anything else that can diminish their self worth is never excusable for a Christian.
- Use good words for good things and bad words for bad things.
While the Bible isn’t clear on the subject of cussing, it does seem to have a pattern of using good words for good things and bad words for bad things. And I think it is healthy to follow suit. For those who cuss, reserve a list of strong words for your most passionate moments, when you need to express truth or get a point across. And for those who don’t like to cuss, I want to challenge you. Don’t be afraid to use stronger language than you usually do when you need to make a strong point. I don’t mean you have to use a “cussword,” but I am saying don’t skirt the issue by using a mild word. Like it or not, “dang” will never have the same impact as “damn.”
Questions to ask if you cuss.
- Are you offending someone unnecessarily?
- Are you modeling self control?
- Can the message be emphasized without the use of an expletive? (Sometimes it can’t, sometimes it can).
- Do you cuss in every day conversation, or just when you are trying to get a strong point across?
Questions to ask if you don’t cuss and judge those who do.
- What words do you use that others might find offensive?
- Do you dislike the use of that word because you think it is worldly or sinful, or because it simply makes you uncomfortable?
- Could the same message come across as strongly without that word?
- What kinds of conversations should you consider using a stronger word to communicate your point in an impactful way?
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