How Can a Christian Curse?

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One day I was appalled to find that one of my students had been using curse words in school. When I took him aside to deal with the issue, his response was, “There is nothing wrong with those words; everyone uses them.” While it is tempting to pass that response off as a typical teenage excuse, wisdom calls for a deeper examination. There are really two parts to this excuse. We will take a look at the last part first.
“Everyone uses them”
The fact that this excuse popped out so readily is very revealing. This is, in fact, what the young man had been telling himself. Paul clarifies this situation in Romans 2:14-15. “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.” To our own embarrassment, we must admit the truth of Paul’s words. Even without godly training, God has placed certain lines in our conscience that accuse us when we do wrong. Did you ever feel guilty for something that no one ever specifically told you was wrong? Probably. And it is that uncomfortable feeling of doubt that has us grasping for reassurance. This stab of conscience is what causes us to formulate the excuse: “Yes… but, everyone else is doing it.” It is an easy path to travel, even for adults.
Perhaps when stranded in the Amazon jungle, watching what others eat would be a good guide to what is safe, but the Christian uses a different measuring rod that stands in stark contrast to such thinking. In 2 Corinthians 10:12, Paul says, “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” Jesus words are more severe. “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). How can we do what everyone else does and still be among the “few” that Jesus speaks of? Can we allow “what others think” to motivate us and not end up being punished in hell?
Shamefully, poor speech habits are not limited to our insecure young people. I have even heard dads and ordained men use bad language at times. Can we who are supposed to be “examples of the believers in word…” avoid God’s judgment for setting such a bad example? Paul was not perfect, but he was able to say, “Follow me, as I follow Christ.” The world is full of bad language, and it gets worse every day. But just because my neighbor’s speech is 25% bad words and mine is only 1% doesn’t make me a godly, Christian example. It is easy to let the incessant stream of bad language in the world rub off on us. But true Christians will not be saying things because everyone else is saying them, but because no one else is saying them.
“There is nothing wrong with those words.”
Having exposed the “who uses what” argument for the shallow sham it is, what about the words themselves? Is there really anything intrinsically wrong with comparing a lawn tractor, or a Science paper, or a piece of freshly-planed cherry wood to the filthiest, most disgusting thing we can imagine? Isn’t that just creative hyperbole? Isn’t it just being honest about our feelings? Most of us, including this young man, aren’t even aware of the evil practices that give rise to a lot of American “slang.” And, honestly, even many worldly people use these words without thinking much about their origins. So how can we be accused of evil speaking?
For the sake of argument, let’s set the meanings aside. Let us suppose, that for conscience sake, I use only meaningless nonsense words in these situations. I hop on my riding mower, start it up, pull out of the shop, and just as I start my lawn mowing, it stalls—out of gas. “Oh, —!!” I say, or perhaps, “That mower is just—!” What am I expressing? Worship? Praise? Thanksgiving? Of course, not. That would be ludicrous! So what then? Rage? Anger? Dissatisfaction? Frustration? Probably.
But why? Here is where the truth becomes painfully personal because I am proud. Allow me to explain. Why did I run out of gas? I was in too much of a hurry to fill it up. So why not respond, “I really should have filled this mower up with gas before I started”? Because I would rather mask my pain with anger instead of embracing the humbling lesson that God is teaching. And why didn’t I fill it up in the first place? I was wasting time on myself and now feel like I need to catch up, or I wanted to accomplish more than God has granted me the ability to do so others would think well of me. Or I forgot to fill it because I was daydreaming about doing something that others would admire. In other words, pride. When I am god, and things don’t go my way, I respond with frustration. When God is God, and things don’t go my way, I can humbly accept it. I am not in charge. I am only the servant.
Even if bad speech rarely happens, the words that I say indicate what I think of myself, and what I think of God. As Jesus so aptly stated, “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shall be justified, and by thy words, thou shall be condemned” (Matthew 12:34-37). You see, it is not so much what I say that is the problem, but that what I say clearly reveals the condition of my heart. James, mindful of Jesus discourse, says it like this, “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom” (James 3:10-13).
This then is the challenge. One bad word is not one bad word. It is an indication that the source of speech is corrupt. How can a thankful heart curse? How can one whose life is an act of worship to God spew? How can I compare a trial that God is giving me to something filthy or evil? These are the real questions. Sure, it is not easy. James says, “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” But Christians don’t choose the easy way; they choose God’s way. Go ahead, read the Bible, study all the commands concerning godly speech. Look carefully at the words of Jesus, and Paul, and James. Then tell me, how can a Christian curse?
Pensacola, FL
1. The Oxford English Dictionary defines curse as “an offensive word or phrase used to express anger or annoyance.”
© Joshua Porter 2017. All rights reserved.