#8 - Cursing and Gossiping

By Mike Mazzalongo     Posted: Wed. Jan 20th 2016
Two sins tied for position number 8 in our survey. Mike will discuss the root cause of each, what the Bible says about these sins, and have some practical ways to manage and overcome these in our everyday lives.

Our countdown of top ten sins and struggles continues this week:

  • #10: Laziness
  • #9: Anger
  • #8: Swearing and Gossiping (tie)

Interesting that these are tied at #8 and are both sins of the tongue. So in this lesson we will discuss these two very different sins that come from the same source.

Swearing (Cursing)

Definition

There are different types of swearing.

  1. Swearing as in taking an oath. For example an oath of citizenship/court; oath between two people, like marriage or Abimilech swearing not to harm Abraham (Genesis 2:22-24); Jesus said to use lightly (yes is yes, no is no - Matthew 5:37).
  2. Then there is swearing as the use of profanity. This is the sin of swearing. For example, using words of a sacred nature irreverently (God, religious things, sacred ideas, etc.). Using coarse or vulgar ideas or words.

Why Do People Do This?

Swearing in public and in the media is common now, but as recently as 1939 you were not allowed to use a curse word in a movie. The rise of this behavior is a sign of social anger and frustration in people and a general selfish attitude of the 70's and 80's. Swearing is the ultimate sign of contempt for others.

Psychologists tell us that swearing or cursing is a sign of personal insecurity. It is a way of calling attention to oneself, a self you do not like very much to begin with. Evident in some music and angry nature of this music and those who produce it. In many of us it is a warning that we lack self-control. Most of us swear when we are angry, but some of us get angry for no reason at all. Our problem is not swearing, it is controlling our temper.

Bible Teaching on the Subject

Although there is a lot of bad language in out society, it is not a new problem. Both the Old Testament and Jesus talked about it as did His Apostles.

11 '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

Protect integrity of God's name. His name represents His essence and to defile it was sinful.

34 You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. 35 The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. 36 But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.
37 For 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. Some make excuses for vulgar, angry person saying, "Down deep inside he is really a good man." Not if he is swearing, angry, rebellious he is not. Everything you have said will be known and judged by God. Why do you think we confess Christ before baptism? God will judge you based on that confession, only this will be revealed about you, 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

Do not allow useless words to come out of your mouth (i.e. swearing, cursing, gossip, lies, slander, etc.) These things have no value; they produce nothing positive and so should not be uttered. On the contrary, the words you utter should have value. You know they have value because at the moment you say them they build up the people you 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, essentially has a destructive effect on everyone: your self in self respect, others in contempt, the Holy spirit in offense. Rather, show who you really are with your speech, build others up, reveal (do not hide) the Spirit of God within you 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

Everyone sins with the tongue, it is a common and deadly sin.

3 Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4 Look 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. 5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.
- James 3:3-5

Example of how small things affect great things: horses and bits, ships and rudders, forest fires and a spark.

The Solution - Swearing

7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can 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 the time. The solution for us is to not add to it ourselves, learn to control our tongues. We cannot control others but we can influence them. In verses 7-12 James tells us we have the choice of blessing or cursing, but only one instrument with which to do it: 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 of we learn to do the following:

Control Your Temper

Need to find acceptable ways of expressing our passionate feelings, ways to dissipate negative energy caused by frustration and adversity instead of violent outbursts that include swearing. For example, pray, weep, call out to God, sing, run, exercise, take a shower, talk it out (it is ok to express negative feelings, but not by swearing).

Change Your Habits

We need to consciously change our habits of speech and eliminate vocabulary which is vulgar and disrespectful (Garage mechanic in Vermont: F word had become an advert, adjective, and verb for them).

  • Sexual and bathroom vocabulary (expected of adolescents but not grown 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 our speech should be far above the standards of the world. How else will our light shine brightly if we use the same language as everyone else?

Avoid Temptation

In order to produce good speech we need to avoid people and situations that lead is into participating in dirty jokes, gossip, and bad language. If we find ourselves in this situation it requires true courage and conviction as well as self-discipline to change the course of a conversation that is going the wrong way, or we need to walk away.

Acknowledge The Failing

Man may hear this and say, "No one is going to tell me how to talk" or, "he is going too far." But we cannot produce pure, clear, fresh water unless we understand and acknowledge that maybe we are wrong and have been for years on this matter. We need to learn to say, "I have used bad/offensive language" and apologize for it when we have lost our temper or unwisely told a story that was vulgar or used coarse language. Learning to acknowledge to God and others about our poor language is the first step in gaining self-control.

Fly With Eagles

If you want to fly like an eagle, do not hang around with the chickens. Develop friendships and habits that create a building atmosphere. Do not hang around with people who spend all their time complaining, swearing, gossiping. Find those who have pure water coming from their fountains and learn from them, drink from them.

Summary I

Swearing is the use of coarse language, sacred names or concepts and euphemisms in our everyday communication. People swear for various reasons but usually because of frustration, lack of self-control, or 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 that one way to purify our hearts is to guard carefully what comes out of out 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, hearing it said to us, this is spiritual.

Gossip

Butch Adams (mydailypause.org) says that gossip is a sin because it goes against the basic command to love our neighbor, and our direct command from Jesus as Christians to especially love the brethren. Gossip is the revealing and sharing of negative things about others. It is gossip because it is done without the person in question's knowledge, permission, and usually 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 carry from now on. It usually cannot be undone. So gossip 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 was and is a common problem even in the church.

Paul the Apostle

29 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. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let 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.

11 Do 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. 12 There 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 judgement in it since as we pass along the news of the failings or foolishness of others, we also pass along a silent judgement 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, so His judgement is perfect. Criticism and the gossip it is usually wrapped in tends 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 and the rules of evidence so they are not influenced by hearsay (gossip) or rumors. They are supposed to judge impartially according to proven facts.

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 instructions to put aside this type of speech but adds the idea that the reason we do these things is because we like it, we desire to hear and traffic gossip. For example, "Have I got a story for you!" Both the speaker and the trafficker in the gossip enjoy, relish this experience.

His 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 gossip, hypocrisy, and the envy that is often the motivating factor for gossip in the first place. For example, "Betty bought a new car. Her other one was only five years old. Must be nice being a lawyer's wife." Of course the motivation for feeding on God's word is the fact that it was through this word we learned of Christ and His sacrifice for us. How can we accept and enjoy this gift and traffic in gossip at the same time?

The Solution - Gossip

Like every sin and bad habit, the solution and change requires effort and the practice of different kinds of speech. Here are a few new things to learn in order to deal with the sin of gossip:

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, an 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.

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 mind 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.

8 Finally, 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. 9 The 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.

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 trafficking in 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.

Summary II

In closing let me say that in my opinion, I think that the greatest danger concerning the sins of swearing and gossip is that many think that these are just minor sins, small vices, everybody does it. But James says of the tongue and its sins:

5 So 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! 6 And 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 at elimination them from you lives because the reward (peace) is so great and the punishment these can lead to (Hell) is so awful.

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Bill Schlarb, Bruce Veinot
for the Ottawa West Church of Christ