We had a good, and I hope helpful, dialogue in episode 13 of our weekly To Be The Church Podcast about the issue of cussing/swearing. We discussed the topic in terms of our practical theology as Christians; how our belief in God works itself out in our individual lives and Christian community.
From a cultural standpoint, we noted that as far as we have studied and observed, societal norms seem to dictate a perceived moral line in terms of the words we use. Where this line comes from, who ultimately sets it, and whether or not it moves from one generation or culture to the next are all issues we talked about but didn’t resolve. It seems plain that each society sets lines and as Christians we work to contextualize our faith in the midst of a culture that values language to one degree or another.
Should a Christian be convicted about cussing?
The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment. It is best to allow Him to do His job and to not presume that any one of us possesses infallible judgment or perfect wisdom on this or any subject. However, in inspiring the Scriptures, God saw fit to reveal certain things on this issue, and it is our job to wrestle with those as individual Christians working out our faith in community.
I brought up the passage in Colossians 3 where Paul is admonishing the church to “put off the old man” and “put on the new.” As I can see, it is probably the most applicable text to wrestle with on this issue of practical theology. Paul lists things like compassionate hearts, humility, meekness, kindness, and patience among the things we should “put on” as the Spirit of God works to sanctify us. Under things we should “put away” from the “old self” he lists anger, wrath, malice, slander, lying, and “obscene talk.”
The greek word for “obscene talk” is the word aiskrologia. It is the combination of two root words aiskros and logos. The first word means “shameful or base” and the second: “word.” Together these root words form the idea of ‘speech that is considered socially or morally unacceptable.’
Toward the end of our podcast Tyler asked me if I thought this was an issue we should spend a lot of time on as Christians. I said I think we should certainly grapple with and work out Colossians 3 in our individual lives in the context of Christian community, but at the same time we should avoid playing “policeman” on this issue for our world.
If I could more fully answer that question in this blog, I’d say that cussing isn’t the biggest problem we should work to tackle as Christians. It’s important that we work out God’s word, continually mature, and grow together in Christian community. And while cussing may be something God convicts you of, and on which you need to work and be held accountable, we often view this as a bigger issue than it is—especially for those who aren’t Christians.
I don’t know why we even view it as an issue for non-Christians. Cussing is not what sends people to Hell, denying Jesus Christ—the only way to salvation—is what damns people to Hell. And when we ignore this fact by trying to police behavior in people who don’t even know Jesus, I think we can actually hurt both their perspective of the gospel and the work of the gospel in their lives. That friend or co-worker with a foul-mouth is not going to find salvation by not offending your Puritanical sensibilities. His only shot is the finished work of Jesus. We can’t ‘moralize’ people into new life in Christ. They need Jesus before they’ll start exhibiting the fruit that grows from new life in Him.
There are certainly a number of Christians who understand this, and who reveal their understanding by not paying heed to the language they use. I think Ephesians 4 (“let no unwholesome talk proceed from your mouth”) and Colossians 3 are both texts with which these Christians should wrestle. We’re told in 1 Corinthians 5 not to judge those outside the faith, but to judge one another. I don’t think flippancy in our language is evidence that we’ve somehow reached a point of mature enlightenment on the gospel, maybe it just means we have some growing up to do. I’ll leave that to you, the Holy Spirit, and the Christian community to which you are accountable.
Walking in the light of Christ shouldn’t blind people around you who are living in darkness. Satan does that job thoroughly enough. We have to stop tightening that blindfold by giving non-believers a standard to keep, though they have no power to keep it.
 2 Corinthians 4.