In a society increasingly more free in its expression, it is natural to wonder whether or not it is actually wrong to cuss. After all, one might wonder about the origin of the list of “bad” words, and discover that list is quite subjective and even artificial. So is cussing wrong, and what is the Biblical perspective on it?
There are a few verses that really raise the standard, that remind us it’s not about whether a word is on a bad list or not, its about how our speech meets the goals God has for us:
Ephesians 4:29-30 is the most direct: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
This passage raises the stakes, in that it explains that any words that are not edifying are unwholesome – even if those words are not on a “bad” word list. Also, it reminds us that God cares about our speech, and He is grieved when we aren’t being gracious to those He intends for us to build up.
Colossians 4:6 reminds us that our speech should be edifying. Even if we aren’t saying “bad” words, we can be destructive. So the idea is not simply to not say bad words, but to say things that are edifying, that build up, and that honor the Lord. This verse changes the question from “What words am I not allowed to say?” to “What can I say that would honor the Lord and encourage others?” “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” – Col 4:6.
Philippians 4:8 reminds us that our focus should be on things that are praiseworthy. In other words, our minds ought not to be in the proverbial gutter. There is, perhaps, a time to deal with coarse issues, but they certainly should not be our focus: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” – Php 4:8.
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Another is Hebrews 10:24: “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
We ought to be constantly thinking about how to encourage one another. Surely we can come up with more effective ways to build one another up than using language many perceive as offensive. Further, our speech ought to be intended for encouragement. We need to be deliberate in trying to accomplish something positive with our words.
James 1:26 adds how important it is that we be able to bridle our tongues. If we can’t control what we say, then of what (practical) use is our “religion?” James 3 is all about the importance of using our speech wisely, and notes that “from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh” – Jam 3:10-12. James is encouraging his readers to understand that inconsistency in our speech is unreasonable. We ought to produce the kind of speech we are designed to produce – the kind of speech that is a blessing to those around us.
Words matter, and the purpose and effect of our words matter. Rather than being focused on what words we are or are not allowed to say, lets recognize the elevated standard that Scripture provides, and let’s consider how we can honor Him with our speech, and how we can encourage each other.
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