Four Letter Words
The story is told of an Egyptian ruler named Amasis who sent a sacrificial animal to the residence of a respected sage. His request of the wise man was that he send back the best part and the worst part to his sovereign. To the surprise of the monarch, not two parts but one was returned to him. The tongue was sent back as that which is both best and worst in any living thing.
In the Montreal subway system many years ago there was an ad campaign that had as it's goal the encouragement of people to use better language. It's slogan was, "To Speak Well Is To Respect Yourself." You see, even in a non-religious context people have always understood the power of the tongue and that its improper use is destructive. In this Mini Book, therefore, I'd like to focus on one specific sin of the tongue - swearing.
There are different types of swearing:
- Swearing as in taking an oath.
- Then there is swearing as in the use of profanity – this is the swearing I am referring to:
- Using words of a sacred nature irreverently (God, religious things, sacred ideas, etc.).
- Using coarse or vulgar ideas.
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 say "damn" in a movie. "Gone With The Wind" was the first Hollywood movie to use curse words. The rise of this behavior is a sign of social anger and frustration and a general selfish attitude. Swearing is the ultimate sign of contempt for others.
Psychologists tell us that swearing/cursing can be a sign of personal insecurity. It is a way of calling attention to oneself - a self you don't like very much to begin with. In many of us swearing is a warning that we lack self-control. Many of us swear when we are angry but some of us get angry for no reason at all. Our problem in these cases is less about swearing, and more about controlling our temper.
Bible Teaching on Swearing
Although there is a lot of bad language in our society, it is not a new problem. Both the Old Testament and Jesus talked about it, as did His Apostles.
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
We are commanded to honor the integrity of God's name since His name represents His essence and to defile it is sinful.
You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. 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. But I tell you, that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
- Matthew 12:34-37
Jesus says that what comes out of your mouth is an indication of what is inside of you. Some make excuses for a vulgar, angry person saying that, "Down deep inside he's really a good man", but this can't be true if this person is swearing, angry, and rebellious on the outside.
Liars speak lies, the impure speak impurities, haters of God swear, and good men and women speak truth in clean and encouraging words. Everything we say will be known and judged by God (Matthew 12:36-37).
Why do you think we confess Christ before baptism? God will judge us based on that confession (thankfully only this will be revealed about us) the rest of our actions and words 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 says that we must not allow useless words to come out of our mouths (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 we utter should have value, and we know they have value because at the moment we say them 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
Note that verse 30 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:
- Ourselves in self-respect.
- Others in contempt.
- Holy Spirit in offense.
We need to show who we really are with our speech, building others up, revealing (not hiding) the Spirit of God within us, by the things that come out of our mouths.
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. Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 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. 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! 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 3:2-6
The epistle writer, James, warns against the dangers of the tongue and why we should control it.
- Verse 2 - Everyone sins with the tongue; it is a common and deadly sin.
- Verses 3-6 - Example of how small things affect great things:
- Horses - bits
- Ships - rudders
- Forest fires - spark
- Ourselves - tongue
For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 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, by learning to control our tongues - we can't control others but we can influence others. 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, therefore, 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, ways to dissipate negative energy caused by frustration and adversity. Instead of violent outbursts that include swearing we should focus on prayer. We can also vent our feelings by weeping, calling out to God, singing, running, exercise, or talking it out with someone we trust. It's healthy emotionally to express negative feelings in a positive way.
2. Change our Habits
We need to consciously change our habits of speech and eliminate vocabulary which is vulgar and disrespectful. Many of us use euphemisms without realizing what they are referring to. For example:
- GEE - Euphemistic contraction of the name of Jesus - "a minced form of Jesus used in mild oaths" - Webster's New World Dictionary.
- GOSH - "a minced form of God, used as a mild oath" - Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
- Heavens, Golly, For heavens' sake, Gracious, My Lord - All mild oaths using euphemisms for God's name, holy things, or concepts.
- OMG! - (Not exactly a euphemism but most used today).
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?
3. Avoid Temptation
In order to produce good speech we need to avoid people and situations that lead us 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. Otherwise we need to walk away.
4. Learn to Apologize
Many may hear this and say "No one is going to tell me how to talk" or "He's going too far". But we can't produce pure, clean, fresh water unless we understand and acknowledge that maybe we're wrong - and have been for years on this matter. Learning to apologize to God and others is the first step in gaining self-control.
5. Fly with Eagles
There's an old saying, "If you want to fly like an eagle, don't hang around with the chickens". As far as developing good speech habits, this saying reminds us that we need to develop friendships and habits that create a "building" atmosphere. Don't hang around with people who spend all their time complaining, swearing, and gossiping - find those people who have pure water coming from their fountains and learn from them, drink from them.
- Swearing is the use of coarse language and improper use of sacred names, concepts, and euphemisms 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.
- That one way to purify our hearts is to guard carefully what comes out of our mouths, because we'll be judged for that. "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 and hearing it said to us - this is spiritual, this is Godly, this is right.