"You did WHAT? What the ----"
We've all heard it somewhere: a slightly too colorful word or phrase. Swearing, cursing, profanity, vulgarity--it's all around us, and as Christians, it is super easy to add it to our vocabulary. But is it right?
I've talked about swearing and cursing with a lot of people over the years, and the first response usually looks something like: "Well, who defines swearing? What is ACTUALLY a swear word? What is vulgar?" In essence: isn't it all relative anyway? My church recently did a series called "Is it Relative? Living Morally in an Amoral World" and I think that truth summarized in that title applies: words are amoral, but the way we use them can be moral and immoral.
But back to the questions they pose. Lets look at some definitions, shall we? Vulgar is defined as " indecent; obscene; lewd; crude; coarse; unrefined." Swear, in our context, means "to use profane oaths or language." Profane goes a bit further, and was originally in relation to taking the Lord's name in vain: "characterized by irreverence or contempt for God or sacred principles or things; irreligious." It also means "not devoted to holy or religious purposes; unconsecrated; secular ( opposed to sacred)." (Vulgar is also a definition of profane, coincidentally.) And, just to be thorough, I pulled up profanity: "The quality of being profane; irreverence. Profane conduct or language; a profane act or utterance. Obscenity."
So to recap, swearing is using words in a way that are indecent, crude, coarse, not devoted to holy purposes, and obscene. Regardless of context or intent, this is the definition of swearing.
I feel like the recap definition above answers this question on its own, but I'd like to state it because it gets asked: "Doesn't the culture define what is swearing? I mean what about: 'Those who reject Christ's salvation will not enter heaven, but will enter hell.'" This goes right back to words being amoral. Using the word hell in that context is appropriate and is not offensive. Yet often times, when a word becomes profanity, the actual definition of the word loses any "clean" meaning that it had (ex. the alternate for "donkey") or in many cases it wasn't something decent to talk about in the first place.
Though a search result for "profanity" doesn't bring up any scripture, the Bible has a lot to say about how Christians are supposed to live, the conditions of our hearts, and controlling what we speak.
The Psalmist pleaded that God would "Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips" (Psa 141:3). And then in Proverbs, there is an actual reference for the idea that we will "eat" our words: "A man's stomach shall be satisfied from the fruit of his mouth; From the produce of his lips he shall be filled" (Pro 18:20). James, as he likes to do, lays it down straight in verse 26 of the first chapter: "If you claim to be religious but don't control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless."
Clearly, there are things we shouldn't say. Isn't this just about the obvious stuff, like dishonoring God's name, or tearing down someone else? I'd say yes, that's included, but I'd say there is also a lot more on the table here.
In Luke 6:45, Jesus clarified it even more: "The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks." We get a peak into the condition of our heart through the words we say.
In fact, Jesus expands on this concept in Matthew 12:33-37: "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
Every word we say matters--even if done thoughtlessly or ignorantly, we will have to give an account. Our words are very important: "It's not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth" (Mat 15:11).
So what are Christians called to be, do, and say?
We are called to a higher standard, to live our lives in a way that leads others to Christ. We are called to live in accordance with the Kingdom of God, to make our bodies, God's temple, a place that He is comfortable in and wants to dwell in because it is laid out according to His desires.
A few things that God doesn't like in His house include "fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness." In fact, He had it written that we should "let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks" (Eph 5:3-4).
Instead, God wants His house (ahem, you and me) filled with "whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things" (Phi 4:8).
And there is an even bigger reason than just making God happy. He wants us to keep a clean house--a clean spirit and mind--for a purpose. It's like "in a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work" (2Ti 2:20-21). That good work is being a representation of Christ to those around us because "we prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love" (2Cr 6:6).
If it is at all in our means, we need to live at peace with everyone around us--and the people around us are a part of our culture (Rom 12:18). We "work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will [otherwise] not see the Lord" (Hbr 12:14).
Speaking with peace and holiness while using profanity cannot go hand in hand; they are contradictions. Think about the context of nearly all swearing: either tearing someone or something down, expressing frustration vulgarly, or simply being idle in a careless, profane way with your speech. Does this promote peace and give an example of living a holy life? It's OK for us to express our feelings, but it's not OK for us to violate God's desires and standards when we do so (Eph 4:26-27).
It's about a lot more than the words you say. It is about living a life that is pure, which is an antonym for vulgar. From my perspective, God doesn't care about the act of swearing; He cares about what the act of swearing means about your heart.