Everyday Swearing

Posted on February 15, 2013 · Posted in Communication, Culture, Worldview

The world swears when it is ungrateful and angry at the way life unfolds. Anyone who thinks he deserves to have life unfold as he pleases is bound to be frustrated and discontent much of the time. People who don’t get their own way in life begin to feel resentful and sorry for themselves. Self-pity is a powerful, negative attitude that gives rise to many, many excuses for sin. Self-pity is a direct rejection of God’s control. It is saying, “I don’t like what you’ve done in my life, and I absolutely will not be content! I can’t change it, so I’ll just be angry and miserable.” Thus, swearing is considered a justifiable response to unfair treatment. It is a way of letting others know that you have been wronged. This brand of self-pity is an ugly trait.

 

That is why it is dangerous for you to define the sin of swearing by a list of inappropriate four letter words. The real danger is that you will simply replace these unacceptable swear words with a list of words that are “okay” words that you may use instead. Let’s look at Ephesians 5:4, in which Paul describes language that he says is unacceptable. 

 

“Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”

 

Ephesus was a cosmopolitan city, like many of our modern, major cities. Its people considered themselves sophisticated. The speech of the Ephesians had woven itself into the life of the church to the point where Paul had to address the issue specifically. Ephesians 5:4 contains an interesting put off / put on comparison. In the first part of the verse Paul directs that there should be no obscene, foolish talk. Again, he specifically states that there should not be any coarse jesting. The Linguistic Key to the New Testament provides some key definitions for these terms:

 

Obscene talk—shameful, filthy or obscene speech

Foolish talk—laughing at something without wit

Coarse jesting—the word implies dexterity of turning a discourse to wit or humor, and lastly deceptive speech, so formed that the speaker easily contrives to wriggle of out its meaning or engagements. 

 

The language Paul condemns is a broader category than what we generally define as swearing. The truth is, God has a higher standard for our speech than simply “not swearing.” What does He want from us? Is it acceptable to use slang that substitutes euphemisms for profanity?

 

The “put on” response to swearing is gratitude. Notice the end of Ephesians 5:4. Paul says that gratitude should punctuate your speech, not swearing. This contrast is striking. It is not simply replacing one set of words with another set of words. God wants your grateful heart. He wants your faithful, trusting heart. He wants your submissive, humble heart. When He has these things from you, swearing will not be an issue. If your talk acknowledges that God has sovereign control over your life, and that He is working all things together for your good, you will express your gratitude, not your frustration or rebellion.

 

If your everyday talk is ungrateful and complaining, you are, in effect, swearing, even if you don’t use swear words. The impact on your children will be the same. If, on the other hand, your everyday talk expresses gratitude and acceptance for God’s Providence, you will have no need for the kind of language described in Ephesians 5:4. Both your words and your attitudes will honor God, not defy Him.

 

The point is that if you are not dominated by gratitude as Paul says you should be, then your attitude will mimic the world around you. You will unwittingly prepare your children to fall prey to the temptation of swearing and lack of gratitude. Without gratitude, there is no real defense against swearing or the ungrateful, self-pitying attitude that swearing represents. This is the message that Paul gave to the Ephesians. This is the message God wants you to give to your children.


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Jay Younts
John A. (Jay) Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger, and is a ruling elder serving at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He has written Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, Finding the Right Track, the In Touch With Paul stewardship series, and What About War. He has studied and taught about biblical childrearing for 30 years. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.