You’re having a rotten day, you’re late to work, and you spilled coffee on your shirt. Then, just as you’re about to walk into a meeting, your briefcase bursts, and papers and folders tumble to your feet in disarray.
What do you do? If you’re tempted to respond with a curse word, you’re not alone.
Curse words — also known as swear words, profanity, cursing, cussing, or using “taboo” or “foul” language — can be a common reaction for people when they are in stressful situations. On the surface, perhaps they seem harmless enough.
After all, uttering something unmannerly is considered to be far more acceptable than another kind of emotional outburst, such as punching a wall or collapsing into a temper tantrum.
Still, cursing, especially as a stress reliever, is still an emotional outburst, and it can signify poor emotional control or improper, coarse behavior. This begs the question: how should Christians respond to cursing as a stress reliever?
The short answer: cursing is a sin, and Christians should avoid it.
What Are Curse Words?
Cursing includes profane, offensive, or taboo words (such as those with a sexual or body reference); taking the Lord’s name in vain, or an utterance or wish expressed that harm will come to another person.
None of these are good or represent God in any way, nor do they glorify him.
Why Do People Curse?
An article titled “The Pragmatics of Swearing,” by psycholinguist Timothy Jay and cognitive psychologist Kristin Janschewitz, notes the main purpose of swearing is to express emotions, especially anger, and frustration.
Another article, “Think Swearing Isn’t Big or Clever? Think Again,” by psychologist Richard Stephens, suggests that people use curse words for stress relief, for humorous impact, or for linguistic or intellectual effect, citing studies that show curse words can serve as a natural pain reliever, reducing or minimizing pain in situations such as childbirth or simply holding their hand for an extended amount of time in ice-cold water.
What Does the Bible Say about Cursing?
First, when it comes to taking God’s name in vain, the Bible clearly discourages this. Exodus 20:7 includes as one of God’s Ten Commandments that people “shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”
God is great, and his name is great and holy, deserving only of respect. Misusing God’s name is generally considered a use that brings dishonor to God or on God’s character.
Cursing others is also condemned in the Bible. As we’re told in James 3:9-10, “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.”
Finally, the Bible has the most to say about profanity. Colossians 3:8 urges God’s people to “rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”
Ephesians 5:4 condemns “obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking,” and 1 Peter 5:8 urges us to be “alert and of sober mind,” for the devil is always seeking a foothold.
Proverbs has much to say about profanity and evil talk, including that “the words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18) and that “the tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21).
And Psalm 34:12-14 urges, “Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”
Why Do Christians Curse?
Some Christians curse because they don’t know any better. Perhaps they were raised in a household that curses and has not yet read the Bible in full, so they do not understand that cursing is not in alignment with the sort of gentle, humble, self-controlled spirit God wishes to cultivate in each of us.
Others do know better but are spiritually or emotionally immature, prone to emotional and verbal outbursts that immediately make them feel ashamed.
Still, others are influenced by the world and think it’s culturally acceptable to curse because of what they see on TV and in the movies or in the workplace.
But the fact remains that cursing represents either a lack of self-control or the use of disparaging, vulgar language unfitting for a representative of the Lord Jesus Christ.
What Should We Do Instead of Cursing?
As Paul says, we are “ambassadors of Christ,” and our behavior must showcase the “righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).
Paul also tells us that the fruits of the Spirit include love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
In Ephesians 4:29, Paul 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.”
Only what is good should come out of our mouths. As followers of Christ, we should reflect the light of Christ within us, and cursing does not do this.
As Romans 12:2 tells us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Cursing is part of the pattern of this world. It does not love, encourage, or point to God in any way but rather appeals to the evil, wanton, vulgar, and foul within us.
Think about it: most people who curse have the sense not to do so in front of small children or polite company when we are supposed to make a good impression.
If we do have a habit of cursing, whether regularly or on occasion, resolve to stop, as you would stop anything you know to be offensive to God’s spirit.
Choose not to do so and pray for help. Try to surround yourself with people who do not use curse words, and try not to watch television shows or listen to music with cursing.
What Should Christians Do if Someone Curses in Their Presence?
First, choose not to participate in profanity. Decide ahead of time not to curse. Serve as an example of someone who does not use profanity, whether in times of stress or humor.
If you are forced to spend time with people who use profanity, try your best to tune it out and not be influenced by its negativity.
If the profanity is offensive, you might also consider speaking out against it. Choose your battles. We are sent into the world to be light in the darkness. If someone is using racially disparaging curse words, this might be a time when you choose to take a stand.
If your cursing coworker or classmate is not a Christian, expecting or asking them not to curse might not be the way to start drawing them to Christ.
You could begin to share the gospel in other ways. But if they are a Christian, you might gently let them know profanity isn’t in keeping with God’s will — and why.
The Bible makes it clear the tongue has great power. In James 3, we’re taught that just as a bit can control a large horse or a rudder can steer a ship, a forest fire can start from just a tiny spark (James 3:5).
As James writes, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6).
So, guard yourself, and don’t for a moment think such a seemingly tiny infraction is “no big deal.” Anything not in line with the Lord is a sin.
For further reading:
Will We Be Judged for Every Empty Word Spoken?
How Should Christians View Cursing?
What Does the Bible Say about the Tongue?
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Jirapong Manustrong
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.