Friday, January 28, 2011


Please notice the question mark after that 3-letter combination. It’s because I was asking, “Why The Frown?” Isn’t that what you were thinking?

What? You were thinking of something else? And I probably offended you, too. That’s why you were frowning at me…

Now that I have your attention, I’d love to dialog a bit about cussing.

If you are my friend IRL, you know that I’ve been trying to decipher the Bible’s stance on “bad words” as I look to teach my own children. (It's been pretty funny at times!) Cussing is just one of many taboos that I’ve been considering lately.

Why? I don’t want to be the parent that sets up all sorts of Pharisee rules and leaves my kids to believe that our family rules are equal to God’s law. For example, they might think not taking your shoes off at the door is a sin. Then they’ll go to their friend’s house, where they keep their shoes on at all times, and will either: 1. Be puffed up with pride, that at least WE take our shoes off at our house! Or 2. Realize that people have different rules and start to become very fuzzy about the reality of sin.

So here’s where I’m going with this post:
  1. Are there any words that, if said, are always a sin?
  2. What’s the Point?
  3. Actual Cuss Words CAN be a sin.
  4. The Two Truly Sinful Words (sometimes).
  5. The Bottom Line.
1. Are there any words that, if said, are always a sin?

My answer is no. The problem with calling any specific word a “sin” is that depending on where you are, the rules change. I was talking with a boy last fall who was reprimanded by his teacher for saying some silly cussing substitute like golly gee in giving praise to another child’s work.

What about the less offensive S-words? Like Stupid. That’s a bad word in most houses I know of with small kids. As a little girl, my dad was shocked when I looked at the worms on the driveway after a rainstorm and said, “There are a lot of those suckers!” In this case, no one would say that the word “sucker” is always a sin. So why then is that S-word deemed ok, but the other, 4 letter S-word, is viewed by some people as sinful?

We have certain family members who have grown up using the S-word and consider it a normal vocabulary word. In fact, we joke that on my husband’s tombstone, we’re going to write, “The lucky little S--- beat us to Heaven!” Cultural norms differ based on where you are, so it is impossible to declare any word a sin at all times.

2. What’s the point?

It matters because if we declare that a word is a sin, then in our legalism, we can clean up the word, change it around, and make the same sentence ok. We say it is better to call someone a stupid jerk but not an F-ing A-. We can be angry and yell “Cut the Crap!” instead of “Cut the S---.” (For a good laugh regarding this, check out this sarcastic blog post.

But the reality is that regardless of the words you say, the actual sin being committed is the heart problem. My daughter could yell at her sister, “You are a silly nincompoop!” and the heart sin there is as wrong as if she’d said the BIG words.

And that’s why I think this is important. I don’t want my kids cleaning themselves up on the outside to be acceptable in our Christian, home-school, suburban culture. I don’t want them to be creating rules God hasn’t made so that they feel like “better people.” I want them to be transformed from the inside and love others as Jesus told them to.

Jesus said, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean." (Matthew 23:27).
I’ll never forget when a little girl came up to me, I was in my 20’s, and said, “Hey, do you know that heck is another word for hell? You shouldn’t say it.” She obviously thought I was sinning and wanted to rebuke me, but in that context, I think the real sin issue was her disrespectful attitude toward adults…

We need to stop repenting for cussing and just cleaning ourselves up externally. We instead need to be changed from the inside out.

3. Actual Cuss Words CAN be a sin.

“What?” you ask. “Didn’t you just say the opposite?” There are three main arguments I’ve found for times when cussing – saying the words - is a sin:
  • If you think it is a sin. If your conscience still says after reading this, “I don’t care what you say, Becky. Saying F--- or S--- or D--- is sinful,” then for you, it is sinful, for to go against your conscience and say them would be an act of rebellion against what you believe to be sin. (I Peter 3:13-16)
  • If you have been told not to say them. If your parents or teachers or employers have told you to not say certain words, even silly words like golly gee, then to say them is disobedience. The real sin to confess wouldn’t be the words, but the disobedience and rebellion in your heart. (Ephesians 6:1)
  • If the people you are around will be offended. I Timothy 3 says that an overseer must be above reproach, respectable, and have a good reputation. I Corinthians 13 says, “Love is not rude.” We are to look to the interests of others, we are to speak words that build them up, and we are not to use rotten, unwholesome words. (Ephesians 4) Of course, as I’ve already said, the definition of “unwholesome” is flexible, so in general, be courteous of your audience and don’t make a habit of exercising your freedom to cuss to the detriment of others.
4. The Two Truly Sinful Words (sometimes):

The Ten Commandments say we are not to take the name of the LORD in vain, so saying God or Jesus in any way other than to speak about Him or to Him is a sin. I draw a hard line here. For that reason, I have instructed my kids to not say gosh. I have made it clear that the word gosh is not a sin, but it is so close, they could slip, and they don’t want to do that. (I need to work on not saying it myself!)

My husband was playing Rockband w/ some friends recently, and there were words flying around, but when he heard a J/C, he stopped the game and said, “Hey, I’m ok with bleep bleep bleep bleep and bleep, but when it comes to my God, I am not ok with misusing His name…”

For fun, here’s an interesting take on this by the drama group Onetimeblind: "Oh My Larry."

5. The Bottom Line:

Don’t worry. You won’t hear me swearing all the time (in public); I’m not going to write church dramas filled with cussing; and my kids are not going to have the mouths of sailors. I have explained to them that people think many different words are rude, and therefore it is not loving to say them. Also, we are to always speak kind, uplifting, gentle expressions to our friends and family, regardless of the word choice.

However, when a child recently called a TV Show (that will remain nameless) stupid, and another child tattled about it, I had to side with the “cusser.” She was right. The show was stupid – pointless and worthless, and not worth our time. But the tattler? She should have gotten in trouble for slandering her sister. (Proverbs 10:18b).

So the next time I step on a LEGO, I could say, "Darn LEGO," or I could say, "Damn LEGO," or I could say, "Ouch." But I don't think I'll be repenting for any of them, except maybe my outburst of anger.

This thought process was sparked partially from a post by Abraham Piper on his blog 22 Words:

“Social customs define what’s taboo. Therefore, saying taboo language is uniformly sinful implies that our social customs uniformly align with God’s will.”

So feel free to comment with your opinions regarding cussing. Just remember, keep it nice! :)


jackson said...

Great points Becky - I especially agree with the main issue being the heart. If we are loving God and one another we will consider our words. That being said, when I bonked my head on the cabinet door yesterday I just yelled really loud (no one to hear me except God and the dog). I could've used my favorite go-to word (the C word), but it didn't seem to be as readily on my tongue this time. Maybe because I have been really focusing more on prayer and being more consistently in His Word lately. "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks". It really hurt,(and it was really stupid- oops there's the S word!), but I felt at the moment God understood my very real physical pain...and maybe that was enough for me to not have a need to verbalize it! I try not to use anything that might be considered a cuss word in my dis-cuss-ions, but sometimes I think God hears my 4 letter C word as "h-e-l-p!"(p.s. my word verification below this box is "stinker"-is that a cuss word?haha!)

David T said...

Regarding taking the name of the Lord in vain, I take a literalistic view: The name of the Lord (YHWH/I Am), should not be used for vanity. "I am on my way to the store", "I am turning on the stereo", "I am a Doctor" (when medical attention is needed), are okay, but "I am the greatest!" and "I am a doctor" (when desiring to make people look up to you for being a doctor) are no-nos.
It makes a lot more sense to me that God would take a stronger view against self-aggrandizement (self-idol-worship) than he would casual remarks that started out as actual meaningful phrases (people back in the day really did make quick prayers asking God to damn someone or something).

Also, check Matthew 15:11 for more regarding curses in general (beyond the above).

REM said...

Grudem wrote a decent piece to Piper on when he cussed at a conference once:

There's always a need to apply wisdom toward all our speech. I say that as dude who still happens to cuss, even though I think my frequency/context/intent/recognition of it look different since following Christ.

Depending on the context, it is difficult to determine whether a certain word is just cultural, incidental, unnecessarily excessive, accidental or just flat out sin at times. The big idea is that good words need to come out of our mouths (See Proverbs 17 and 18 for a TON of examples).

I personally think the lion's share of our effort should be on moving toward using many acceptable words in a good way with good intent, rather than the proper application of words that are questionable to rotten. At that point, we could whittle our cussing problem down to dealing with the less important usages. I have yet to reach that goal (Just plug your ears when I fail)!

I hear you on rather hearing a million insincere "#%!&"'s than hearing one insincere "Jesus". Truth to that.

Sherri said...

I'm proud of you for taking this on! I've never been one to struggle with or be interested in cussing. I grew up with a father and grandfather who were raised in the south - an occasional d--- or h--- thrown into a conversation was commonplace and cultural to some extent. I'm also not overly offended by it. Perhaps that's good since my husband is an "admitted cusser." :) But, you're right when you say that as Christians we so often try to clean up the outside of the cup without examining our hearts and letting God, through Jesus, by the power of His Holy Spirit change us. This applies to SO MANY more areas than "unwholesome words." The word wisdom comes to mind...

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Prov.1:7) The Bible lists very specific sins that separate us from God. There's no question that we, in our depravity, desperately need Christ's forgiveness to cover those - past, present and future. However, how much of what we call "sin" really should be categorized as WISDOM? I listened to a Mark Driscoll talk that explained this so well. ( Is it a sin to say bleep, bleep, bleep - maybe not, but is it wise? Is it wrong to eat doughnuts all day when your doctor says that you are 100 lbs. overweight and need to clean up your diet? Maybe not a clear cut sin, but it's not wise. Is it wrong to be "spirt led" when it comes to finances - not having a plan, a budget, life insurance, college fund, etc? Again, not wrong but perhaps not the wisest way to live. I could go on and on with examples from our everyday lives that illustrate this difference between sin and wisdom. Cussing is an area that is a bit more exposed. But, if we are honest, all of us have areas of life that call for us to make wiser choices.

"Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise..." (Eph. 5:16) In the context of this passage Paul is saying Christ's "light" will expose the deeds of darkness. Ultimately, the sin in our hearts will be brought to light and we will be accountable. So, there is a connection between sin and wisdom. But, only God will be able to bring that to the surface and expose those areas of our hearts. I wonder though, how much time we waste on pinpointing those areas in others? How much time do we as Christians spend presuming others' heart motives based on the words they say or what they do? How often do we give in to the "approval junkie" or perfectionism mentality of examining every word we say, how others receive those words, what they think of us as a result, etc? How little time do we spend communing with our Lord, accepting His grace and giving that grace freely to others? "Love covers over a multitude of sins." (I Peter 4:8)

This is where the freedom comes in for me! I am not condemned by any one instance of saying the wrong thing or doing an unwise deed. There is therefore now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Rom.8:1) Hallelujah! We serve a God who sets us free from the bondage of legalism and rules! What's more is that He gives us His Spirit - a helper to guide and direct us every moment of every day! Oh, to live in Christian community in such a way where we don't look to those extra-Biblical rules to define our growth, but one in which we look to Christ - the author and perfector of our faith - pouring out grace to one another and overlooking those areas in which we still are being refined and sactified. I have SO FAR to go in this. True freedom! Freedom to say bleep? Not sure - perhaps each of us will have to decide that for ourselves!

Becky said...

jackson: ROFL about the stinker word verification. :) Thank you for sharing your story.

Ryan: Thanks for the Grudem link! Good stuff, as usual. I also really appreciated your comment, "I personally think the lion's share of our effort should be on moving toward using many acceptable words in a good way with good intent, rather than the proper application of words that are questionable to rotten."

Sherri - what an encouragement! As you know, I'm also trying to look to HIM and not my progress. Praying for more WISDOM. :)