When I was in 8th grade, I was a huge baseball player. Huge in the sense that I loved playing, not in the sense that I was all that great. There was a day, as I recall, that I got very angry and started chewing everyone out (don’t ask me why I was angry because I have no clue). In the midst of my anger, I began cussing them all out as well. Most people ignored my tirade, but one short kid stood up in my face and disgustedly said, “I thought you were a Christian.” What was I to do? I shot back at him: “If you knew anything about being a Christian, you would know that we aren’t perfect. We still sin.” I will say that moment was the only time I cussed anyone out. But it wasn’t the end of my cussing career. I also recall my 10th grade year looking for someone all over the place. He had something I needed at the moment, and he was one of those people that was always around (annoyingly so), but when I needed him, I couldn’t find him. I asked a friend of mine if he had seen him and he said he hadn’t. Enter expletive. “Hey! What’s your problem? Watch the language!” Called out twice! Ugh. I apologized, and finally learned my lesson. Since that moment, there has only been a handful of times where a swear word (curse word, cuss word, whichever way you say it) has slipped through my lips. But that leads to the question: Is it okay for Christians to swear?
The short answer: No. At least, my understanding of Scripture is that it is not okay for Christians to swear. Let me give you the longer answer.
Words matter. How one expresses himself/herself in words matter. To express oneself through swear words is to express oneself hastily, even thoughtlessly. These words tend to not be words of thoughtfulness, but words of the moment. People that cuss generally do not think about which cuss word they will use. They don’t stand around thinking about how they will express themselves and which word is just right to get across the emotions or the logic. The words just instinctively come out. These words betray the heart. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. . .I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give an account for every careless word they speak, ” (Matthew 12:34b, 36). Jesus’ point here is that one needs to think carefully not instinctively. Careless words (fruitless/workless) words will be judged. Swear words are typically careless/fruitless words. Thus Christians should avoid them.
Swearing typically does not lift people up. They typically tear people down (You ______). They may express excitement (______ yeah!) , and may describe an encouraging word (that what a ________ good job). Except for the last, these do nothing to encourage people. The last one kind of does, but the encouragement is still there without the expletive. Paul wrote, “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,” (Ephesians 4:29). Can anyone honestly describe their cussing as a grace to those who hear? The term corrupting means that the words are of poor quality. They have little value. The cussing adjective adds little value to the encouragement. Thus Christians should avoid them.
While curse words may be described as “salty language,” they are not words seasoned with salt. Paul wrote, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of your time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person,” (Colossians 4:5-6). Paul is calling on people to make the conversation more pleasant. The idea in this context is that there are unbelievers around us, so then, being believers we are to be wise in what we do and what we say. We are an example of holiness to the outsider, and even outsiders understand that cursing is, at minimum, inappropriate in some cases. They also understand that swearing is used often as a weapon to rile-up people. It may be salty language, but it is not speech seasoned with salt. Thus Christians should avoid them.
That being said. . .I typically find that this question is asked by two kinds of people: those who want to excuse their sin, or by those who want to have a biblical answer for those who want to excuse their sin. There may be others, but these are typically the people that ask me. If you are the latter, I would utilize these verses to show that a Christian should avoid swearing. If you are the former, I would tell you that Christians are called to be holy. We are not called to be like the world in conduct or speech. Holiness means purity–purity of words and deeds. It means to be set apart; one cannot be set apart from the world and close together with the world at the same time. The believer is to be distinct in what they do and say, and so Paul told the Corinthians that he did not come to them with wise words of cleverness of speech, but with the word of the cross. Our being clever, or “relevant” with using cuss words, will not win the lost. The power is not in our relevancy or world-likeness, but in the cross.
Cussing is not the unforgivable sin. God doesn’t stop loving you or me if we swear. He is gracious and kind, but may we remember: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” (Romans 6:1-2)
That’s my take. If you disagree with me, let me know. I would love to know where my thinking is messed up. If this is helpful or a blessing to you, I’d love to hear from you too. Either way, leave a comment. If you would like to share this on your social media page, feel free to do so (tap on the link, copy, and paste).
All Scripture passages were from the ESV by Crossway.