A post concerning (but not containing) swearing
Is swearing wrong? If so, why? Some of you are probably reading this with a shocked expression, because I’ve just called into question something that evangelicals have taken for granted for years. That is, that swearing definitely is sinful. I submit, though, that the traditional definition of swearing may not be entirely helpful; in this post, I’ll explain why. I further submit that we need to reconsider the question, “why is swearing sinful?”, if, in fact, we believe that it is.
There is a group of words in America that we call “swear words.” I assume that most, if not every language, has a category of words like that. Some people consider any word in that category to be more sinful than others. My question is, can we find Biblical support for the idea that some words are more sinful than others?
The Bible has a lot to say about words in general. Here are two verses:
Ephesians 4.29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
Colossians 3.8: “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”
Jesus said that the reason that corrupting and obscene talk is wrong is because “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matthew 12.34).” In other words, if your words are corrupt and obscene, they are, at least to some degree, a reflection of the corruption and obscenity in your heart (which exists in smaller and ever-waning degrees if you’re trusting Christ).
The only words that the Bible says are “more evil” than others are those that take the LORD’s name in vain. One of the Ten Commandments addresses that. That is because the greatest offense is one that directly profanes the name and character of God. Even that can be done in a number of ways, but the commandment refers specifically to our words. Yes, “obscene talk” and “crude joking” and “corrupting talk” are Biblical categories, but the Bible doesn’t put words in those categories for us. I believe that countless words and phrases could be put in those categories, depending on how they were being used.
See, the Biblical word on our words is that what really matters is the heart behind them. In other words, what makes swearing sinful is not the word itself, but its intended meaning by the speaker. That means that words that don’t fit into the traditional category of “swearing” may in fact be just as sinful as those that do.
So, you might ask, is there any reason why I shouldn’t use “swear words”? I think there is, but you should judge for yourself. I’ll just tell you why I don’t use swear words. First, I don’t want to be a stumbling block to anyone. I know what the common definition of swearing is, and the common viewpoint of it, and I don’t want to do it. By swearing, I may give the impression that I think lightly of sin. Secondly, my words are a reflection of my heart, and swearing probably is sinful in almost every case. It’s just not sinful because of the word itself, but because of the heart behind it. If I swear, it is likely because my heart is not in the right place. I want to increasingly desire a pure heart that pours out pure speech.
I wrote this post because I’m concerned that we get so worked up about using specific words, without realizing that the sin is not in the words themselves. Let’s not adopt a “holier than thou” attitude about this. The truth is, each of us speak words every day that we regret, even if we don’t “swear.” Those words remind us that sin remains in our hearts. And they remind us that we need Jesus.