Recently President Trump gained attention for publicly taking the Lord’s name in vain and for frequently using profanity. Observers have noted the increased willingness of public figures to use profanity in forums where it was once considered impolite to use foul language . This trend is a reflection of the widespread use of profanity in American culture. A Christian cannot avoid hearing cuss words, but should he use them? Many Christians lerned to cuss long before they ever heard the gospel. Should they be expected to go through the trouble of breaking that habit?
The Bible does not include a list of prohibited words. Since the Bible does not forbid any specific words, can anyone really say the Bible forbids cussing? According to Scripture, the way a person speaks matters a great deal. What a person says reflects who they really are. “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” (Matthew 12:34) The things we say have a significant effect on others. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21)
Scripture forbids the Christian to engage in any corrupt communication. Corrupt speech is like a rotten apple. It is useful for nothing and could cause harm if consumed. Cussing is useless speech that is hurtful to others. Most cuss words fall into two categories: curse and profanity. A curse is wishing ill upon someone. One common curse is a command for someone to depart to infernal regions. Should the Christian state a desire for someone to be damned, or wish them to go to hell? Isn’t such a statement the opposite of Christian compassion, the great commission and Christlikeness?
Profanity is that which attempts to corrupt or belittle with the mouth. Often these words are scatological or sexual in nature. Specific examples need not be given. Those who have heard them used know these words are used in a fashion which intends to destroy, defile or demean.
Recent decades have seen some American preachers take up the habit of cussing in the pulpit. Thankfully the fad has lost momentum, but those who engage in this despicable practice have defended their speech by pointing out that the apostle Paul cussed. This is simply not true. The epistles of Paul do not contain one single equivalent of a Greek cuss word. One supposed example of Paul’s using foul language is in Philippians 3:8, “I do count them but dung.” Paul is making a strong point, but is he using profanity? The Greek literature from that era has numerous examples of the word Paul used. Not once is it portrayed as profanity or foul language. Paul used the proper term to describe filth, including human waste. Other supposed examples could be given, but when the words Paul used are examined in light of how they were used and understood in his day they can not be construed as cuss words. Some are strong. Some are harsh. None are profanity.
Because what we say matters. The Christian ought to speak words that “minister grace unto the hearers.” (Ephesians 4:29) To use profanities and curses is to speak of things which ought not be spoken of (Ephesians 5:3-4) and to trivilize matters of eternal importance. Cussing is the opposite of gracious speech tht edifies the hearer.
From the wisdom of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, to the warnings of Jesus, to the instructions of Paul and the rebuke of James, Scripture consistently teaches that a Christian’s speech ought to be different. It must be careful, gracious, wise and helpful speech that builds up. Profanities and curses do not meet this standard.