Gone are the days when my kids considered “stupid” a bad word. I wish I could go back to when they were innocent to cuss words, but the world took that innocence away. Just like it did for me years ago, and as I’m sure it did for you, too. We live in a society of potty mouths, where people curse and take the Lord’s name in vain unrestrained.
Culture says cuss words are simply words. They aren’t that bad and using profanity doesn’t mean we’re wicked; we’re simply using slang. Or words to get a point across. Or to add to the humor to a joke. But is this true? And what does it matter to us as believers?
Consider what the Word says vs. what the world says about cuss words.
According to God’s Word, the world has it wrong, and believers should take this seriously. Because, you see, Matthew 15:18 (NIV) says, “…the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.”
Our words reveal our heart’s condition. Period. Crude, rude, foul, demeaning, and hateful language shows our true character. And for a Christ-follower — someone setting an example and sent on a commission from Jesus to make disciples — this simply “should not be.”
James 3:9-10 (NIV) states, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”
We cannot send up praise to God with the same tongue we use to cuss and take the Lord’s name in vain. If we do, we’re hypocrites.
I’ve been one. I’ve had a corrupt heart, thinking my words weren’t hurting anyone, then praising God minutes later. But I decided not to be that person anymore. And I’m willing to bet, if you’re reading this right now, you too desire to be good and true and wholesome.
But how can we counteract a culture that uses this type of language? How can we break our bad habits and keep our words clean in our everyday life?
I don’t have a concrete, easy answer, but I’d like to offer a few places to start.
1. We must stop taking the Lord’s name in vain.
The third Commandment says, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Deuteronomy 5:11 NIV)
Very literally some of God’s first orders are to give His name the proper reverence. I’ve found many, Christians and otherwise, are unaware they’re committing this sin with a common, flippant phrase. So, what is it?
Most would agree that yelling, “Jesus Christ!” when they’re angry applies here…and this may rattle some cages or stir some hearts…but the other expression is, “Oh my God.”
Take a day and count how many times you hear this. The problem is that unless we’re saying something directly to God in prayer or praise, as in, “Oh, my God, how you’ve blessed me today,” we’re taking His name in vain. It’s an affront to cry out His name otherwise.
Our society uses this phrase when we’re angry, happy, sad, and even shocked, but unless we’re calling out directly to Him over these emotions, this saying is inappropriate. Ask Jesus if you’re using this expression, and others like it, incorrectly. He’ll reveal to you if you’re needing to change up your words. An easy fix to avoid this is to say, “Oh, my goodness,” or “Oh, my gosh.” Start there.
2. We must stop allowing cursing on our screens.
YouTube. Cable. Netflix. Prime. Hulu. Facebook Live. Video games. Kindle… The list of ways humans consume screen time goes on and on. As an adult, it’s nearly impossible to watch shows where foul language is nonexistent. And let’s not be naïve, we will hear profanity outside our homes. But under our roofs, we can obey God and shield our families’ ears from cuss words.
And this is why it’s important—the Bible says, “Each tree is recognized by its own fruit… A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:44-45 NIV).
What goes in will come out. When we fill up on TV shows and movies where the characters have terrible potty mouths, we’ll be prone to using that language in our everyday life.
How can we do this practically? For me, my next Netflix binge possibility has to pass a test. The first three minutes or so of a show will tell you all you need to know. If, after that short time frame, expletives have been used with the frequency of the spin on a windmill, you can bet it’s a wiser choice for you, as a Jesus follower, to turn it off. To eliminate that binge before it starts. But, as I’ve said, it’s impossible to avoid completely. My husband and I love certain adult shows where the characters cuss from time to time, but we never watch these shows within the listening ears of our kids.
To take it further, when my son clicks on a video from a YouTuber he’s unfamiliar with, he knows the video has one chance. If the YouTuber cusses or takes the Lord’s name in vain, my son doesn’t watch that user again. It’s become his norm. He takes it upon himself to make that decision without me having to step in most of the time. He has a foundation which values and respects the name of Jesus, and he knows his parents try not to speak, watch, or listen to cursing, so he respects these boundaries.
Pay attention to what’s on your screens. What you hear, you will repeat. What your kids see you watching, they will watch. Let’s keep it as clean as possible.
3. We must guard our mouths.
God’s Word makes it very clear that we should watch what we say, going so far as to claim that if we don’t, we’ll end in ruin (Proverbs 13:3). Thankfully, Proverbs 21:23 NIV says, “those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.” So, by filtering our words, we’re actually protecting ourselves from catastrophe. That should be enough for us to be careful with what we say.
I envision a soldier standing guard at my lips and fighting back any curse that tries to pry its way out. And as I allow God’s truth to resonate and change me, I imagine this warrior becoming bored because my convicted heart has established a stronger filter. This means less and less potty mouth words threaten to slip out.
That’s what I want to believe, but it’s challenging. It means we have to think before we speak at all times, which takes tons of practice to become our default setting. It also means we may need to apologize to those around us and to God for those times we absentmindedly cuss or take the His name in vain. Practice makes perfect — no, not really. We won’t be that until we enter into heaven with Jesus. But practice does make us better, and that’s what Jesus and our loved ones deserve.