Girls don’t swear! That is what I believed when I was a boy. Even boys rarely swore, and I cannot recall one girl saying a swear word. Come to think of it, I do not recall people swearing and cursing in public. Of course, I did not frequent the bars or places that “seedy” characters usually hung out. I imagined a lot of swearing going on in those places. I’m not sure when I heard the first swear word other than “damn,” and I do not recall anyone taking the Lord’s name in vain.
Some will say I have a selective memory and some may wonder if I have a memory at all. I am sure people did curse and swear when I was a boy, but rarely in public. Children were taught to express themselves in proper, accurate statements; and English was an important subject in school. Maybe after living for 60-plus years, people can say I’ve grown up to reality, but I do think that old-timers will agree that 40 years ago cursing and swearing was nowhere near as prevalent as it is today. It would never have been tolerated to wear T-shirts with profanity written on them. Movies and the music of the day did not contain foul language. I will concede my recollection of people and events of childhood may not be as accurate. It may even be colored by naivete and a forgiving memory. However, I am positive that what I see and hear as a common thing today was most certainly not common then. I know I would have remembered that!
The Bible’s input on swearing
The Bible has many references regarding cursing. There are different types of curses, but I will stick with the discussion of profanity. One very strong scripture is in Romans 3:9-18 Romans 3:9-18 9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;
10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
11 There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God.
12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one.
13 Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:
14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:
15 Their feet are swift to shed blood:
16 Destruction and misery are in their ways:
17 And the way of peace have they not known:
18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.
American King James Version×. Paul writes that both Jews and Greeks are under sin, and then defines that sin. In verse 14 he states that their “mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” Verse 18 states, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Some say we are living in a nation that is no longer Christian. If that is the case, I wonder why so many use the name of Jesus Christ or God in their language. Of course, it is not used with reverence or respect. It is used as an expletive or a way of expressing emotion. Proverbs 30:11 Proverbs 30:11There is a generation that curses their father, and does not bless their mother.
American King James Version×states, “There is a generation that curses its father and does not bless its mother.” Proverbs 30:17 Proverbs 30:17The eye that mocks at his father, and despises to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.
American King James Version×tells us this displeases our Creator. The Fifth Commandment is broken in this case. This is all very serious to our Creator, so we need to give heed to this problem.
Swearing and cursing may be defined in different ways. From the mild epithet and an expletive word (usually four letters—why four?), to out-and-out filth, the cursing of another and swear words have become part of daily speech. People who are under pressure or great fear sometimes slip into cursing without realizing what words are coming out of their mouths. Matthew 26:74 Matthew 26:74Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.
American King James Version×relates the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus Christ. Peter was shocked at the events he was witnessing, and he had reason to fear in the political and military climate of his time. He began to curse and swear as he stated he did not know Jesus. It is not easy to guard our mouths. The book of James has much to say about that. But that does not mean we cannot or should not fight for control. It is possible for us to learn to speak with words that edify and show respect to others.
How should we speak in an environment where filthy language is commonplace?
Proverbs 25:11 Proverbs 25:11A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.
American King James Version×tells us that “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Colossians 4:6 Colossians 4:6 Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer every man.
American King James Version×states: “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” Language is an art and speaking with grace and dignity takes effort and training. It also reflects character. It is from the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34 Matthew 12:34O generation of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
American King James Version×). Sadly enough, many have not been trained to control their speech, and many greatly lack the abundance of heart that would result in an inner desire and wish to edify and add grace to a conversation or statement. My ears tell me that it has become a rare treat to hear a gifted speaker—one who appreciates and understands the English language. I sometimes feel surrounded by many who seem to relish the use of expletives and shocking words. They are becoming so common they no longer shock anyone.
A few months ago while working out on a treadmill in a large gym full of people, two attractive young ladies were standing near me. Their voices were loud enough to hear, even if I did not want to. Their filthy language removed any benefit of doubt I’d have given them to be ladies. Ladies have always been those who express themselves with dignity and grace. There is a dearth of such women in our society. On a vacation, I was about to use a public barbecue and as I came near, four men who were on vacation with their wives (or girlfriends) were standing and using the barbecue, but their language was so filthy that I turned around and waited until they left before I approached. I have asked a man sitting at a table in a restaurant next to us to please refrain from using foul language as my wife and I were trying to enjoy a meal there. He asked his friend if he had actually been swearing. He did not even realize what was coming out of his mouth.
In public, the camera often turns to an NHL, NBA or NFL coach who is shouting at his players—or more often than not, at the referee or umpire. You do not have to be a lip-reader to know what that public figure is saying. Some are standing in the midst of many people. The great lack of control and disregard for the public is evident. The problem is the public has accepted more and more of this kind of behavior so those conducting themselves in this way have lost most, if not all, restraint. Public opinion does count a great deal, but public opinion has also slipped into the gutter. I do gladly admit not all people are like this. A large number are offended by this kind of filth and there are many people who have a wonderful vocabulary. English is a tremendous language. Our poets and writers are to be complimented in the way they use words.
They say with time a language changes. English has changed over the last 600 years. Maybe that which was once considered crass, ignorant, uneducated and boorish will be considered normal, stylish, noble and correct. Maybe we will all become so accustomed to filth in our language that our brains will overlook or cancel it out. Maybe we will devolve back into being apes and grunting instead of talking (that was written with tongue in cheek). Or maybe we will start inventing new four-letter words to shock people; words like good, kind, true, hope and such. Maybe more of us will learn the beauty of words “fitly spoken.” Maybe we will think about the Proverbs 31 woman who speaks with words of wisdom and kindness (verse 26). Language does reflect the heart of a people. Many of our fellow citizens have a serious “heart problem.” However, these “heart problems” can be healed, if only we will try.
Living in an environment of profanity means it is all too easy to slip into a habit of swearing. But God, through the conversion process, can help our minds and mouths have cleaner habits. Interested in learning more? Please request our free booklet Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion.