It is interesting to note that these two particular sins are tied at #8 and are both sins of the tongue.
There are different types of swearing.
- Swearing as in taking an oath. For example, an oath of citizenship; an oath between two people (marriage); or the personal type of oath described in the Bible where Abimilech swore not to harm Abraham (Genesis 20:1-16). Jesus said to use these type of oaths sparingly (yes is yes, no is no - Matthew 5:37).
- Then there is the sin of swearing where one uses profanity. For example, using words of a sacred nature irreverently (God, religious things, sacred ideas, etc.), or using coarse ideas or words (of a sexual nature; ugly words describing people or the normal functions of the body, etc.).
Why Do People Do This?
Swearing in public and in the media are common now, but as recently as 1939 you were not allowed to use a curse word in a movie (Gone with the Wind - first movie where the word "damn" is used). The increased appearance of this behavior is a sign of social anger and frustration in people (swearing is the ultimate sign of contempt for others), as well as the rise of a more selfish attitude in American society developing after WWII.
Psychologists tell us that swearing or cursing is a symptom of personal insecurity. It is a way of calling attention to oneself, a self you do not like very much to begin with. This type of language is evident in some forms of popular music which is often angry in nature and displays the attitude of those who produce it. In many of us it is a warning that we lack self-control. Most adults swear when they are angry, some swear to draw attention to themselves and others use this language because of a limited vocabulary. Whatever the reason, swearing never endears us to others, and if we are Christians, it ruins whatever witness we may have for Christ.
Bible Teaching on the Subject
Although there is a lot of bad language in our society, it is not a new problem. Both the Old Testament and Jesus, along with His Apostles in the New Testament, talked about this issue.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.
- Deuteronomy 5:11
This command demanded that we protect the integrity of God's name. His name represented His essence and to defile it was sinful.
34You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. 35The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. 36But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.
37For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
- Matthew 12:34-37
What comes out of your mouth is an indication of what is inside of you. Liars speak lies, impure speak impurities, haters of God swear, and good men and women speak truth in clean and encouraging words. I often hear people make excuses for a vulgar and angry person that they know by saying, "down deep inside he is really a good man." My response to this defense is to point out that there is unmistakable evidence to the contrary coming from his own lips.
In Matthew 12:37, Jesus warns that everything we have ever said will be known and judged by God. If this be so, have you ever wondered why we vocally confess Christ before baptism? After all, God knows what is in our hearts, we don't have to express our belief in Jesus out loud for Him to understand. Perhaps it is because God will judge us based only on that confession of faith, and only these words will be revealed about us, the rest will be forgiven.
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.
- Ephesians 4:29
Paul tells us not to allow useless words to come out of our mouths (i.e. swearing, cursing, gossip, lies, slander). These things have no worth, produce nothing positive and should not be uttered. On the contrary, the words we do speak should have value. We can know that they have worth because at the moment spoken they build up the people we are with.
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
- Ephesians 4:30
This passage indicates that worthless speech grieves or makes sorrowful the Spirit of God that lives within each Christian. Useless speech, which is what swearing is, has a destructive effect on everyone: our own self-respect, others in contempt and the Holy Spirit in offense. On the contrary, we should witness our faith with our speech by building others up, and revealing (not hiding) the Spirit of God within us by the things that come out of our mouths.
James 3:2-5 warns against the dangers of the tongue and why we should control it.
For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.
- James 3:2
James states that everyone sins with the tongue, it is a common and deadly failing.
3Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. 5So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.
- James 3:3-5
He demonstrates how small things can affect great things. For example: small bits in horses' mouths that control these large animals, rudders that guide mighty ships, and tiny sparks that ignite vast forest fires. These are compared to a few misspoken words that can ruin an entire life.
The Solution - Swearing
7For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.
- James 3:7-12
Bad language, of all types, exists in the world and we hear it all of the time. The solution is to not add to it ourselves and learn to control our tongues. We cannot control others, but we can influence them. In verses 7-12 James tells us that we have the choice of blessing or cursing, but only one instrument with which to do both: the tongue. We need to learn to do one consistently because we cannot do both and be pleasing to God. Continuously producing "fresh water" from our fountains is difficult but possible if we learn to do the following:
1. Control our Tempers
We need to find acceptable ways of expressing our passionate feelings, and better ways to dissipate negative energy caused by frustration and adversity instead of violent outbursts that include swearing. For example, during these times we can pray, weep, call out to God, sing, run, exercise or talk it out. Having negative feelings and expressing them are fine, but we need to find better and more productive ways of doing this than simply using bad language.
2. Change our Habits
We need to consciously change our habits of speech and eliminate vocabulary which is vulgar and disrespectful. These include:
- Sexual and bathroom vocabulary (heard among adolescents but not mature men and women).
- Euphemisms: The substitution of a word or phrase for a less objectionable or offensive one.
- Gee - "Euphemistic contraction of the name of Jesus." Webster's New World Dictionary says that Gee is "a minced form of Jesus used in mild oaths." We use it as an exclamation or interjection. "Gee, I did not mean it!"
- Gosh - "Minced form of God, used as a mild oath," Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
- Heavens, Golly, For Heaven's Sake, Gracious, My Lord: All mild oaths using euphemisms for God's name, holy things or concepts.
We may see this as being extreme, however as Christians our conduct and speech should be far above the standards of the world. How can our light of faith shine brightly if we use the very same language as everyone else, especially when it comes to references concerning God and the holy things of our faith?
3. Avoid Temptation
In order to produce good speech we need to avoid people and situations where dirty jokes, gossip and bad language are present. If we find ourselves in this situation it will require true courage and conviction as well as self-discipline to change the course of a conversation that is going the wrong way. Sometimes we need to simply walk away.
4. Acknowledge the Failing
Some may note a Christian's offense at bad language and think, "He's not going to tell me how to talk" or, "You are being self-righteous and over zealous in this matter." We cannot produce pure, clear and fresh communication unless we understand and acknowledge that we (or others in our circle) are wrong and may have been so for years on this matter. We need to learn to say, "I have used bad/offensive language" and apologize for it when we lose our temper or unwisely tell a story that uses vulgar or coarse language. Learning to acknowledge to God and others that we have used poor language and intend to do better is the first step in gaining self-control.
5. Fly With Eagles
The old adage, "If you want to fly like an eagle, don't hang around with the chickens" is true when referring to the use of bad language. We have to develop friendships and habits that create a building atmosphere if we want to affect real change. This means avoiding people who spend all their time complaining, swearing and gossiping. Spiritual wisdom leads us to drink from the fountain of those who have pure water and in doing so we will eventually produce clean water as well.
Swearing is the use of coarse language and the improper use of sacred names or concepts in our everyday communication. People swear for various reasons but usually because of frustration, lack of self-control, low self-esteem, ignorance or immaturity. The Bible teaches us that what comes out of our mouths is an indication of what is in our hearts, and one way to purify our hearts is to guard carefully what comes out of our mouths because we will be judged for this.
Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth;
Keep watch over the door of my lips.
- Psalms 141:3
The best way to avoid swearing and evil communication is to experience the joy that comes from saying what is right and good as well as hearing it said to us.
Butch Adams (mydailypause.org) says that gossip is a sin because it goes against both the basic command to love our neighbor and the direct command from Jesus as Christians to especially love the brethren. Gossip is the revealing and sharing of negative things about others. This type of communication is gossip because it is done without the person in question's knowledge or permission, and usually shared without confirmed facts. Speech is gossip when you reveal or share what you know is true concerning a negative thing about another. Speech is malicious gossip when what you share is based simply on rumor and innuendo, and meant to harm.
Either way, gossip harms everybody involved: the source of the gossip betrays a confidence or is guilty of spreading a hurtful truth or a damaging lie about another; the carriers are hurt because they share in the original sin and contribute to its amplification; the victim is hurt because whether the information is true or not, a negative thing is attributed to them which they will have to bear from now on. The damage caused by gossip can rarely be undone. Gossip, therefore, is a serious sin because it violates the basic command to love one another, does serious damage to many people and is not easily repaired.
Gossip and the Bible
At least three of the New Testament writers teach us about this sin; a sign that this is a common problem among believers.
Paul the Apostle
29Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
- Ephesians 4:29-31
Note that Paul includes gossip (slander) in the same category as anger, malice, wrath and bitterness. It is interesting that in this verse the conjugation "and" is used to link all of these words suggesting that they are equal in their degree of wrongness and potential for harm. Paul says that Christians should put this kind of speech away from themselves.
11Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. 12There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?
- James 4:11-12
Gossip has an element of judgment in it since we not only pass along the failings or foolishness of others, we also render a silent judgment of them as well. In this context James asks, "Who are you to judge another person by making known their weaknesses or criticizing them?" Only God can judge because He is without sin, knows the Law perfectly and also knows the individual completely, therefore His judgment is perfect. Criticism and the gossip that surrounds it tend to put the gossiper in the role of judge, a position only God has a right and the ability to fulfill. Even courtroom judges have to qualify for their positions and are guided by laws as well as the rules of evidence so as to not be influenced by hearsay (gossip) or rumors. They are supposed to judge impartially according to proven facts and the rules of law, things that are usually absent when people engage in gossip.
Peter the Apostle
Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander
- I Peter 2:1
Peter echoes Paul's instruction to put aside this type of speech but adds the idea that the reason we do these things is because we like it and desire to hear and traffic in gossip. For example, "Have I got a story for you!" This common phrase that often precedes some type of gossip suggests that both the speaker and the trafficker in the gossip enjoy and relish the experience.
Peter's admonition is to cultivate a desire for the spiritual nourishment that comes from God's word, like babies are anxious for their mother's milk ("pure milk") and not the toxic mix of hearsay, hypocrisy and the envy that is often the motivating factor for gossip in the first place. For example, "Have you heard? Betty bought a new car. Her other one was only five years old. Must be nice being a lawyer's wife!"
Unlike gossip, the motivation for feeding on God's word is the fact that it was through this Word that we learned of Christ and His sacrifice for us. How can we accept and enjoy this gift and participate in destructive gossip at the same time?
The Solution - Gossip
Like every sin and bad habit, the solution requires effort and the practice of different kinds of speech. Here are a few things to learn in order to deal with the sin of gossip:
1. Learn to Apologize
A man's pride will bring him low,
But a humble spirit will obtain honor.
- Proverbs 29:23
If you sin with your tongue, repent with your tongue. Apologize to the one you have gossiped about as well as the one you have drawn into sin by gossiping with. This will discourage the desire to receive or traffic in gossip in the future, and will be a painful yet effective way to cultivate humility and cut down on gossip in your own life. Do this a couple of times and I assure you that people will not want to share gossip with you.
2. Learn to Hold Your Tongue
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
But he who restrains his lips is wise.
- Proverbs 10:19
Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise;
When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.
- Proverbs 17:28
There is usually not much left to say if we eliminate what is untrue, exaggerated, distorted, unnecessary, coarse, repetitious, hurtful or stupid. We do not always have to say everything that passes through our minds or reported to us by someone else. Doing so is a form of pride.
A fool does not delight in understanding,
But only in revealing his own mind.
- Proverbs 18:2
Learn to filter what comes into our hearts and goes out of our mouths through the spiritual quality control provided us by God's word.
8Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
- Philippians 4:8-9
Note that the reward for correctly filtering and processing the things we hear, say or repeat is peace, the exact opposite of what is produced by gossip.
3. Learn How to Say the Right Thing at the Right Time
The wise in heart will be called understanding,
And sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.
- Proverbs 16:21
Like apples of gold in settings of silver
Is a word spoken in right circumstances.
- Proverbs 25:11
God has given us the ability to speak in order to praise Him, express ourselves, and communicate and bless one another. It takes time and practice but we need to consciously learn to do these things in a wise and gracious way. As Christians we do not always have an opportunity to use our speech to confess Christ, but if our speech is coarse, foolish and full of gossip, no one will take our witness for the Lord seriously when that moment comes. You see, not only God judges us for what comes out of our mouths, our brethren and non-belivers do as well.
In closing out this chapter let me say that the greatest danger concerning the sins of swearing and gossip is that many think that these are just minor sins, small vices that everyone does and thus not that serious. However, James says of the tongue and its sins:
5So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.
- James 3:5-6
I point this out for those who have problems in these areas so you will take seriously the lesson about these sins, and make a genuine effort to eliminate them from your lives because the reward (peace) is so great, and the punishment for these (hell) is so awful.