What makes bad language bad?

Seventy years ago, in Gone with the Wind, Clark Gable uttered the first curse word in a popular movie. How things have changed! What was shocking in 1939 has become common place, even casually accepted, today.

In training your children, it is important for you to understand what makes words inappropriate. If you focus only on what is wrong you will miss the mark of bringing honor to God. For example, you compile a list of words that are “bad.” In their place you have a list of words that are acceptable alternatives. For example, words like darn, shoot, heck and doggone it, are seen as acceptable alternatives to their similar sounding bad counterparts. So, when you can’t find your keys, instead of using an unacceptable word, you use the corresponding acceptable word to express your frustration. But does the substitution of words rise to the standard of doing all that you do in the name of the Lord Jesus?

Consider this scene: your six-year-old son is carefully observing your search for the keys. As time passes your search becomes more frantic. You say, “Where are the _____ keys?” You fill in the blank with a word from the acceptable list. If your child sees a parent who is increasingly frustrated, angry and irritated, the language from either list is a symptom of a deeper issue.

Fast forward to the afternoon – you hear angry words coming from the playroom. You come in and see your six-year-old angrily storming around the room looking for a favorite toy. He says to his sister, I can’t find my darn truck! You correct your son and tell him he should not be angry and that if he is calm he will have a much better chance of finding his truck. He looks back at you with a look of confusion and, perhaps, exasperation.

You walk off thinking you have given helpful instruction. However, the real instruction took place in the episode with the keys in the morning. What happened in the afternoon was hypocrisy.

This is an example of at least one way to provoke your children to anger (Ephesians 6:4). What was overflowing from your heart in the hunt for the lost keys? Was there confidence in God’s care? Was there trust in God’s sovereignty over something as seemingly mundane as misplaced keys? Was there any thought of showing your child that being short, irritable and frustrated with lost keys is okay for parents but not okay for children?

Using a word from the accepted list does not really address the primary heart issue. And, if you mentally congratulate yourself at not using a bad word, the real issue – lack of trust in God – has been buried in misguided self-righteousness.

Don’t settle for merely substituting one set of words for another in an attempt to make your language pleasing to God. Rather, look to your heart, then to your mouth.


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