Swear words. It’s an issue that has been going back and forth in my head like a tennis rally for a while now. Is it acceptable for Christians to swear or not? An issue highlighted by a friend this afternoon has, I think, given me some clarity on the matter. Let me just make it clear now that when I talk about swearing I’m talking about cussing, not blaspheming which is a very different issue to deal with from a Biblical, Christian perspective (and a much easier one).
I’ve been brought up to think that swearing is wrong. All my life I’ve tried hard not to swear. I don’t always succeed, but I try. That said, I’ve often wondered why swearing is frowned on by Christians. After all, aren’t swear words just random sounds that society has, seemingly arbitrarily, named as bad? Actually, I still think that’s true (although I know some swear words have offensive connotations for other reasons, such as racism), but just because there doesn’t seem to be a good social reason for swear words being wrong, it doesn’t mean that, as Christians, we have an excuse to swear.
I’ll hold my hands up write now and say that nowhere in the Bible does God say “don’t swear”, but here are a couple of verses that I think are relevant:
- Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)
- And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)
- Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)
The examples that I have chosen are all from Paul’s letters and all have wider meanings, but I have picked them for the reason that they all emphasise the way Christians should think and conduct themselves.
Philippians: In 4:8, Paul instructs Christians to think about ‘excellent or praiseworthy things’. Swear words are loaded with negativity. They do not encourage anyone. They are used to insult, hurt and knock down people. There is no argument that can say that swearing is ‘noble’, or ‘pure’, or ‘lovely’.
Colossians: In 3:17, Paul instructs Christians to ‘do it all in the name of Lord Jesus’, applying both to what we do and what we say. If you can convince me that you can cuss in Jesus’ name, then I might change this line of argument, but I can’t see any Christian being able to swear alongside Jesus’ name – it seems awfully close to blaspheming.
1 Timothy: In 4:12, Paul instructs Timothy to ‘set an example for believers in speech [etc]’. Timothy was supposed to set a good example to the believers he led. Thus, if we as Christians are to follow this example, we should also check our speech and conduct. Swear words are seen as deviant (not so much as they used to be, but they have a word category of their own for a reason). Being deviant for the sake of it is not the Christian way. In fact, we’re taught to accept social authority as long as it doesn’t contradict the teachings of the gospel. Yes, I know Jesus ate with sinners. As Christians, we also can be around non-Christians, that’s fine, but we still have to set an example, as Jesus did with the woman at the well. He didn’t think himself above her, but he did remain holy, and she was changed because of the time she spent with him. We too should remain holy, whatever company we’re in.
I know I’ve put this in an uncompromising way, but I wanted to speak my mind firmly on this subject. I just want to say that though I think it’s wrong for a Christian to swear, we all screw up every now and then, so we shouldn’t jump down our brothers and sisters’ throats if they slip up and swear. Correct and advise, yes, but do it all in love, because at the end of the day, if we do not have love, we’re merely crashing cymbals.