My View on Swearing – Thoughts from a Lunchtime Conversation

So in a recent church service I was at, the message for the day was this: “whatever comes out of your mouth reveals what is in your heart.” In the same message, we discussed Matthew 7, verses 16 thru 18: “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” I think I can sum most of this up by saying simply, the condition of someone’s heart will influence their actions, and one’s actions are what are seen by others.

With all this in mind, I want to talk about swearing in this post. Honestly, it’s a little bit of a grey area as far as whether it’s sinful to do it or not. Any Christian school I’ve been in, when I’ve heard people swear, I can’t exactly quote any Scripture and say, “No, this verse says you’re not allowed to say that word.” The Bible isn’t exactly explicit on that, though I believe it is very implicit, but I’ll get to that shortly.

I’ll begin by saying that, as a Christian, I don’t think it’s right to swear, especially when it is directed at another person. That’s my ground rule. Let me also be the first person to offer up that I am far from perfect in this realm. I’ll get frustrated or stressed about some situation and accidentally let something slip under my breath. So by no means am I trying to tell you something with the idea that I am any kind of master.

I will also say that this is something I’ve worked on a lot. I’ve said a lot of regrettable things in my life, but one of my rules is to not do it directed at another person in anger and, for the most part, I’ve done well at that, though still not perfect.

To help illustrate why I want to talk about this, let me paint a picture of a situation that happened recently. I was at lunch with two friends, and we prayed together before the meal. As I opened my eyes from praying, I happened to notice an elderly couple at a nearby table watching, I watched as the lady looked towards her husband, pointing at us and saying something with a smile. In my head, I knew she was thinking and saying the classic, “It’s nice to see people praying before a meal.” I felt very proud of this moment because I felt our faith was reflected well.

However, as the meal went on, my two friends occasionally swore throughout, all over the spectrum of severity: from some more “minor” offenses up to the f-word. I’m not going to lie, I felt saddened; ashamed. I felt like if that same couple who saw us pray together had heard some of what was said, they would have been confused and just thought we were fake. I felt fake.

I tried to brush it off and just tried to focus on the small victory I felt I had of having not sworn during this meal. After all, when other people are swearing around you, I feel like it’s very easy to swear as well, almost as if to blend in. I know that’s when I’m most guilty of it. But the epitome of feeling fake happened when, as this couple was leaving from their meal, they stopped at our table with warm smiles, the kind all grandparents are masters of, and told us how great they thought it was to see three young men pray before their meal. Part of me felt proud, part of my heart sank. I wondered what they would have thought of us if they had heard the nature of the whole conversation.

That thought has bugged me this whole week, to the point that I am here writing of it now.

First, why do I believe what I believe on swearing? Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Now, does it say “don’t swear” or list off words that we aren’t supposed to say? No, it doesn’t. I have to concede that, to my knowledge, the most straightforward the Bible gets on swearing is to not take the Lord’s name in vain (though I also believe that commandment to be dual-purposed, see my other post if you’d like to know more). But if you’ve ever had someone swear at you, I mean, really dig into you while swearing, you know how hurtful that is.

Swearing, both doing it and being around people who swear a lot, has been really harmful in my past. Sometimes, when I hear certain things, it reminds me of that pain. So you never know what responses certain words can evoke in others, no matter how innocent the usage. For me, I think the easiest rule is to just avoid the risk altogether of saying something that could potentially cause a negative reaction to somebody else.

Can it be easy to just let something slip under your breath so that only you hear it? It’s so easy and to think it has no impact. But once again, your words reveal where your heart is. I feel as though this just falls under the spiritual discipline of self-control as well. We do know that the Bible tells us that those who have proven that they can be trusted with little will be trusted with much (Luke 16:10). So if you can effectively practice self-control over what may be something small in swearing, it is a small step on our much bigger path – a path that is not our own.

Now, I’m in a type of work environment with the construction industry where it is not uncommon for just about everybody to swear. Sometimes, I do get uncomfortable. Sometimes, I have sworn so that I can “fit in.” Every time, I regret it afterwards. So I’ve decided I want to strive to stand out. I want to cause people to notice something different about me. It won’t be my doing, it will be the influence of God in my life, reflected outwardly.

I don’t write this post to blame anyone or point any fingers, because God knows I’d have more pointed straight back. But I write this to encourage you to take a step. To strive for the betterment of ourselves and one another. Speak what is uplifting and encouraging. And, as always:

To God be the Glory.

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