On this edition of Truth in Love, Dr. Lambert talks about whether it is ok for Christians to cuss. He concludes that the Bible argues that Christians will give an account for their speech. It’s standard for speech is stricter then even just not cussing.
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Heath: Amy, one problem that people face is whether they should use foul language or not and we want to talk about that on the podcast today. So what questions are people asking about Christians and cussing?
Amy: Yeah, Heath. I think people are asking is it okay for Christians to cuss. Nobody is arguing that you have to do this but sometimes Christians do it when they’re maybe arguing a strong point, or if they get injured it comes out, so is this okay for Christians to do?
Heath: I think you’re right. I don’t know of the Christian that is insisting that Christians have to use this kind of foul language but you’re right there are times in stressful moments, angry moments, moments of worry, moments of privacy when these words kind of come out. So I think its good to ask whether or not it’s okay. And I think that we should be clear that it is not okay for Christians to cuss.
We actually should be clear that its not okay for anybody to cuss but we just don’t have the expectations that unbelievers would avoid cussing but for Christians I think we should have the expectation that they would not use this kind of foul language. And the reason is because of a text like Matthew 12:16, it says, “I tell you on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak. For by your words will you be justified and by your words will you be condemned.” It’s a passage that teaches that our words are powerful. So powerful, in fact, that they are the basis for our judgment. And the text is really powerful because it doesn’t say you’ll be condemned for the foul language that you use or for the cuss words that you use.
The Bible says that you’re gonna be having to give an account for every careless word. Some translations talk about idle words. These are the throwaway terms. So it’s interesting that we’re talking about cussing and foul language and sometimes Christians are saying, “Well, hey, there’s times where that happens. I’m not saying its right but sometimes it just happens. “And what we need to understand is the Bible draws the line way earlier than cuss words, way earlier than foul language. The Bible says we’re gonna have to give an account for every careless word. So the Bible’s standard for our speech is incredibly high and when we see that bright line is drawn I think Christians need to fight to avoid foul language.
Amy: So, what’s wrong with it? Why are some words good and other words are not?
Heath: Yeah, you know I think that some people might sense that the distinction is a little arbitrary because a word is merely a construction of letters and they only have cultural meaning, right? And so what’s the big deal? Isn’t it the case that some words are okay in some context and in some cultures and in other cultures and context they’re offensive? So for some people it can seem arbitrary.
I think the Bible really helps us with this. In a passage like Ephesians 4:29 it says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth but only such as is good for building up as fits the occasion that it may give grace to those who hear.” The Bible’s standard for our speech is that it be the kind of loving speech that builds up and gives grace. So talk is corrupting when it doesn’t build up, when it doesn’t give grace. I think what the Bible does is it puts foul language; it puts cuss words into the category of words that never build up. Here’s why I think that: two passages. One passage is just a few verses after this one in Ephesians 5:4 and it says, “Let there be no filthiness, nor foolish talk, nor crude joking which are out of place.” And then another passage is in Colossians 3:8 and it says, “Now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.” So in these passages there’s these categories of obscene talk, or coarse joking, its foul language, it’s cussing. It’s these categories. And in the Apostle Paul’s mind he doesn’t need to give examples. He doesn’t need to say, “Well, here’s a word,” like that. He doesn’t need to say, “Well think of this four letter word.” He says there is a category of obscene talk, there is a category of coarse joking, there is a category of foul language and you know what it is.
The readers would have heard these instructions and would’ve gone, “Oh, I know what he’s talking about.” People are hearing me read these words right now and they know the kind of words I’m talking about. They don’t need to hear me give the examples because there are some words that are so clearly foul we know what they are and we don’t need to talk about them. And what we need to understand is the Apostle Paul here in Colossians and Ephesians is saying you never use those words. Those words never build up, they never give grace, so you don’t have to use them. You don’t have to use them as examples. You should not say them in private. You should not ever, ever use those kinds of words because they never ever build up because the cloud over them in whatever culture we’re talking about is so negative that they never help.
Amy: So don’t the Biblical authors use colorful language?
Heath: Yes. The Biblical authors use colorful language. I mean, when you read the book of Ezekiel it is not for the faint of heart. There are times when the Apostle Paul gets worked up. But the question is not should Christians ever use colorful language. The question is: should Christians ever cuss? And the point I would want to make is, that: the Bible is our standard for our speech. So we can say anything that the Bible says. Now, there are some things in the Bible that we would want to be careful about the context that we say them in, that just has to do with wisdom and a word well timed and that kind of thing. But the Bible is God’s word and if God said it then we can say it. So when the Bible is our standard then we can feel the freedom to embrace any of the examples of language that God uses in the Bible at the right point.
There will never be a time that we are reading the Bible and speaking about an issue the way God does that we will be in violation of God’s command to remove obscene talk or filthy language from our lips. And so what this is about is having the Bible be our standard in all of the words that we speak. The Bible is our standard when we avoid foul language, and cussing, and the Bible is our standard when we use colorful, bold, bright, language to make a strong point about God’s hatred over sin, about God’s love for sinners, about the grace of God in Jesus Christ and so the Bible is always our standard. And if we speak like the Bible does then we’ll always be okay.
For people that struggle with this, for people that do struggle to speak in a way that is unbiblical, to use words that are inappropriate, what you need to do, and I’ll just speak to you directly, what you need to do is pray to the Lord right now and confess your sin to him, confess that your words have fallen short of the Biblical standard, ask him for grace to forgive you, if you trust in Jesus, in his life and death and resurrection, he will forgive you. And then you need to go to somebody. Most people, most Christians, when they feel comfortable to cuss, they feel comfortable to cuss around people that they trust. So you need to go to those people that you trust, that you often feel the comfort to cuss around, you need to say, “Look, the things you’ve heard me say aren’t good. Would you please forgive me? And when you hear me say those again would you point that out to me in a loving and gentle way.”
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