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Is It Wrong for Christians to Curse?

 Becky Lynn Black  

What is meant by "curse words"? It seems to me there are three types of curse words: 1) To repeat God's name (as in "Jesus!"  or "God!"); 2) to declare judgment (as in "D-mn!" or "God d-mn"); and 3) to say either of those first categories but change a letter or two (as in "Gosh!", "Golly!", "Darn," or "Doggonit!").

Here are some thoughts.

 1) To flippantly repeat God's name (as in "Jesus!"  or "God!"). Exodus 20:1-7 speaks very clearly to the first category of curse words.  In this chapter God is telling the Israelites very clearly, in no uncertain terms, how things are to be in their relationship with Him. Essentially He says, "Look, I am the One who saved you, and you owe me respect. You owe me worship. You owe me submission." The Israelites failed in many ways, but one thing is for sure -- they had reverence for the name of their God. In fact, they reverenced it so much that they almost refused to say His name "Jehovah."  So it was a real shock to them, when Jesus arrived and called God "Father." But when Jesus called Him "Father," He didn't undo the respect that is owed to the Father. He says, "Hallowed [respected, set-apart, revered, honored] is Your Name" (Luke 11:22).

This respect for God's name is much more than just not saying His name flippantly, in an uncontrolled moment of anger, frustration, fear, or surprise. To show respect for His name is to show respect for Him.  This means that if we ever swear (as in a courtroom, or taking a vow of marriage, etc), and we use the authority of God as the basis for our sworn statement, then we must fulfill that vow as a matter of showing respect for His name.

And remember: Jesus said "If you ask anything in my Name, I will do it." "In my Name" doesn't just mean we say the words of His name in our prayer. It means to have a healthy respect, awe, reverence, worship of Him, such that our lives are lived focused on obedience to His command.  He promises that the person who is living his or her life in full recognition of the authority of Jesus as God is the one who delights in asking things that please He can promise to give what is asked.

The whole idea is not to use His name in a flippant, off-handed, casual way. And to recognize that a flippant tongue is reflective of a flippant heart. Even flippantly saying "God bless you" as a sort of Christian version of "goodbye" or "thank you" can be a violation of this command. What do you know about the person you are blessing? Perhaps he's a confirmed homosexual, or she is sleeping around, or he beating his wife at home. In flippantly saying "God bless you," we belittle the name of God, His blessing and their anti-God lifestyle. So, personally, I don't like to blanketly-say "God bless you" to everyone I meet. Sometimes I will say "God bless you for your kindness to me." This points out the God-like act they did and makes a direct tie to God's blessing on their act. But even then, I am careful to say it in such a way that it is not casual or flippant.

Sometimes, when a person says "My God," they actually are praying in their heart. But if we are honest, those situations are very rare. And if it's a genuine prayer, wouldn't it continue with another statement to Him?

Exodus 20 states clearly that it is a very serious matter with God when we are flippant about who He is. So he attached a firm judgment to impress the Israelites to think twice about this habit.  I'm sure in the Egyptian culture the people would flippantly use the names of their gods. I can just hear the slave master hollering "Ra!" (their Sun God) as he beat the Israelites into more work. So it would be a natural thing for the Israelites to adopt that behavior, just as it's a natural thing for us to adopt the behavior of our family and friends who flippantly holler out God's name with any provocation.

But God says very clearly, "Before you speak my Name, remember who I am. I am the One who saved you from slavery. You belong to Me, and I am a jealous God. Don't show more respect for other people and things than you do for Me."

So as I understand Scripture, it is a strong sin for us to flippantly (either verbally or in vows) use the Lord's name. It does not do Him justice as our Savior, and also He has strictly forbidden it.  Even though it was originally part of the Old Testament Law, Jesus repeated the idea when He taught us how to pray. "Hallowed be thy name" means "don't take the name of the Lord Your God in vain."

 2) To declare judgment (as in "D-mn!" or "God d-mn"). There are four things wrong with this: a) It presumes we have authority to damn;  b) it demonstrates lack of integrity;  c) it is contrary to the Gospel; and  d) it runs contrary to God's nature.  Let me briefly discuss these four items.

a) Whenever I hear someone say this, I think to myself, "Who gave you the power to damn? By what right do you judge another? How dare you cast a soul into hell because they ruffled your feathers?  Is it righteous judgment to damn someone to hell because of your selfish interests?"

The Scriptures clearly teach that all power, all authority has been given to Christ. Matthew 28:18 states this clearly, and there are many other verses to this effect. If we dare to damn another person or situation, then we have dared to challenge the authority given to Christ.

b) Now, the one cursing might say, "Oh, it's just a saying. I'm not really that serious about damning another person. It just means that I'm upset at the moment." Well, Scripture says a lot about the words of our mouth being reliable. Even in a serious matter, the declaration of ourselves should be enough; we do not need to presume upon another to emphasize our point. James 5:12 puts it clearly. "Above all things, my brothers and sisters, do not take an oath on anything in heaven or on earth. Do not take any oath. If you mean yes, say yes. If you mean no, say no. Do this so that you won't be condemned."

What James is saying is this: There is no need for extreme expressions that presume upon the authority and power of another. As a Christ-follower, you should be such a person of integrity and testimony that your word is enough for people.

If we are flippantly saying harsh things, like the damning of people or things, how can we say to other people "believe me." Our word has no integrity with others when we cannot control our tongue.

c) How can we damn another human being for whom Christ died?  It is unthinkable! The Scriptures are clear that the one who causes a child to stumble spiritually is majorly condemned by God.  “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea"  (Mark 9:42).  How can we damn someone when the heart of God is within us? Don't we realize the spiritual effect that this has on another person's spiritual life?

The Holy Spirit indwells each believer. How, then, can someone He indwells seek the eternal destruction of another? It is unthinkable! It is utterly contrary to the heart of God. Read John 3:13-17 and then ask yourself, could Jesus say "D-mn!" to another person?

d) Finally, when a person flippantly damns a situation (as opposed to a person), doesn't he work against, violate, negate, fight against the nature of God in His sovereignty and justice? God is the One who holds the universe together and orchestrates all happenings in that universe. And if things don't go our way, causing us to strike out with curse words, aren't we at the core fighting against who He is?

It is better for us to deal with the anger and resentment within our own hearts than to try to fight against the God of the Universe. Damning a situation is just an expression of the hard-heartedness within us, and it shows a heart that is far from loving and embracing the One who died for us. 

3) To say either of those first categories but change a letter or two (as in "Gosh!" "Golly!", "Darn," or "Doggonit!")  Some people have been deceived into thinking that if they will just change a letter or two in the word, then it no longer is called a curse word, and therefore they can escape the judgment of God.

Who's fooling who on this matter? We might make others think a little better of us, but do we really believe that God cannot see our heart? Do we really think that God is more concerned about the outward show than He is the heart? Why are we playing this little game? It's a sort of Christian version of the world's cursing.

We play this same game in many other areas of our lives: we give 10% to play the game of giving Him what is due to Him (instead of giving our whole person); we talk dirty and read "Christian" romance novels without getting pregnant or into pornography to play the game of living pure lives (instead of keeping our minds pure and clean); we attend church in the proper clothes to play the game of being godly (instead of getting dirty in sacrificial serving of others where they are). The list is endless.

We must always remember that God sees the heart. And all the reasons given for the real curse words apply to the fake curse words as well. The person who loves and follows God wants to please Him in every little detail of his life. He wants to be a "sweet odor" (like perfume) to God. "For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing"  (2 Cor. 2:15).

Often my prayer is this:  "Lord, make me to bring You joy!" Does it bring Him joy when we curse? Paul answered that question clearly when he said, "Don't let any unwholesome word come out of your mouth. Instead, speak only that which is edifying, encouraging, and helpful to others.  Seize the moment to give grace to those around you" (Eph 4:29). 

In Phil 4:8, the Scriptures go even deeper. Here, Paul isn't talking about our speech; he's talking about our thoughts. He knows that if our thoughts are godly, then our speech will also be godly.   "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

So the bottom line is this:

  • don't flippantly say the names of God
  • don't presume to have authority that you do not have
  • don't work against the heart of the Gospel
  • don't fight against God's sovereignty and justice
  • don't play games with God
  • instead, focus on bringing Him joy; make Him your guide instead of society
  • instead, focus on impacting others with His grace; make their holiness, not your ego, the focus of your communication
  • instead, discipline your thoughts to be holy and commendable thoughts, knowing that from your thoughts will come your words
  • instead, get real, be honest in your relationship with God, remembering that He sees your heart

June 3, 2011

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