Christians love a good sin to rally against. We gather together like angry villagers in a monster movie, sharpening pitchforks and lighting torches, as if Jesus Christ Himself needs us to rid the world of all evil. We witnessed this firsthand when we originally posted this article back in September of 2012. The post garnered countless views and sparked a fantastic conversation. We asked ourselves, "What the hell is cussing?" Read on to find out what we think.
If this title was written on a scroll back in Jesus’ day, the reader would expect a story on how Jesus rescued a donkey. In the 21st century, many will read the rest of this simply because you are a little offended by the title.
I understand. I used to be just like you, but I’ll get to that later.
I want to talk about “cuss words” and the unwarranted hype they accumulate. “Christians shouldn’t cuss” is a pretty widely accepted belief, but the question I want to ask here is this:
“What (the hell, the heck, in the world) is cussing?”
I frankly do not believe in an inherently evil use of words outside of the heart in which they are spoken from. One of the Ten Commandments forbids taking the Lord’s name in vain. One can only discern whether a person has spoken God’s name in vain by having a feel for the person’s heart-motivation behind what was said.
Here’s an example of how someone’s heart can determine whether or not one’s words are good:
Responding with fondness to the news of a best friend getting a sweet new ride for Christmas: “I hate you.” (not a sin)
A friend made you feel really bad, so in order to retaliate and make him/her feel bad as well, you say, “I hate you.” (sin).
The following list represents additional reasoning as to why there is no evil in mere words alone:
Reason 1: Synonyms’ fallacious inequality
Example: The term “screw that” is relatively acceptable in Christian circles, while “f_** that” is not.
Fallacy corrected: They mean exactly the same thing. Thus, either the former is a sin to say or the latter is not a sin to say.
Reason 2: Evolution of cuss words
Example: “That sucks” used to be adamantly scorned by parents in my generation. Now, I’m sure that most of these same parents have said in recent years that our economy sucks.
Fallacy corrected: Given this trend, does that mean that formerly sinful words can evolve into harmless words? Nope. All forms of sin have always been sin, and always will be sin. Sin is always committed against an eternal God that is the same today, yesterday and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
Reason 3: Jesus
Example: Jesus says that people’s self-righteousness is like “filthy menstrual rags.” He used this terminology because it was the most accurate description of what self-righteousness really is. I’m sure this phrase, back in the day, would have been just as offensive as “your self-righteousness is like sh_t” would be to folks in church today.
Fallacy corrected: Neither one of these expressions are sins in themselves.
So, what’s my point?
Do I want to create a Christian culture of cussing? Absolutely not; it’s actually pretty dumb when Christians flaunt cussing for the sake of sounding hip and edgy. This topic is quite important to me because up until about the age of 23, when I encountered a person who professed to be a Christian, in the event that I heard him “cuss,” I concluded that at best he had backslidden, at worst, he was possessed by legions of demons. Even writing this, I can’t believe I used to think this way.
First of all, someone’s salvation is not based on ANY work other than Jesus’ work on the cross, and Joey Svendsen doesn’t have jurisdiction in determining what words in the English language are evil.
Secondly, it is fairly common for Christians to try and refrain from using words that borderline on cussing. Unfortunately, they additionally create a whole Christian language on their own, totally aborting any words that mainstream culture is accustomed to, and simultaneously forming a Christian “replacement language” which greatly conflicts with Jesus’ efforts to relate to, befriend, and find common ground with unbelievers.
Thirdly, it actually burdens me when I hear folks pray that God would “clean up their language” and I hope they recognize the more important issues in their lives that God would like to clean up. While I do not want to dismiss anything God would convict anyone of, in my humble opinion, my guess is He gets much more “heartburn” over us using discouraging words and making a regular habit of gossiping.
Outside of gossip, discouragement, lying, etc, I do indeed feel there are words in which the mere use of them can be considered evil almost all the time. For example, the vulgar terminology for female anatomy is rarely acceptable in any contexts, and for good reason. Because almost 100% of the times these words are used it’s with a disrespectful, demeaning slant towards females. This is just plain disrespectful and wrong, as is joking to a sweet old lady that her collards taste like sh**.
One may ask, “What if there is a word that I feel is ok, but others do not?”
I would respond by referencing scripture that forbids acting in a way that is a stumbling block to others. These things that Paul says we must refrain from are not sins in themselves, but rather, sinful because they produce the temptation to sin in others around us.
The acceptability is clear then: we can act a certain way in front of some people while acting differently in front of others.
Some call this hypocrisy and living a double-standard, I call it being biblical (1 Corinthians 8). I certainly talk differently around my wife and close friends – people who know my heart and I know theirs – than I do in front of strangers or around folks who would potentially be offended.
With this being said, I have actually found that using some words that most Christians deem as foul can be the same words that, when used in front of unbelievers, have the capacity to destroy walls and lesson feelings of apprehension – which are all too common for unbelievers when they talk to us “Jesus freaks.”
My heart for this topic may seem unimportant and trivial to some, but I happen to believe this issue to be important and potentially critical for effective Christian evangelism. I don’t necessarily need you to agree with me, but I do think it would be helpful for you to ask the following questions:
Do you think someone is less moral and/or less spiritually mature if they say the word “Damn?” What about “Darn?”
Are you more concerned about people’s language being clean/polished around you than you are about their hearts being completely yielded to Jesus?
Would you stop conversing with a “cusser” or even someone who says foul words in close proximity with our savior’s name, even when the potential is there for you to influence the depths of his or her heart with the love of Jesus?
Does “unwholesome talk” (Ephesians 4:29) mean the use of specific words or does it mean dialogue that has the potential of destroying rather than building up?
When Paul says he will be all things to all people, for the sake of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:19-22), I wonder if that includes saying a word that is unacceptable in most Christian circles in order to find common ground with an unbeliever?