One of the things I love most about the Bible is that it does not always give us specifics; it gives us principles. This is actually really helpful! The Bible does not have a list of words that it tells us not to say (people would just come up with new words anyway); the Bible tells us not to curse. James 3, which is talking about the importance of holding teachers and leaders to a higher standard (3:1), talks about the struggle of taming the tongue (3:3-8). James says that out of the same mouth come praise and cursing – and that should not be (3:10).
So what is a “curse”? Each culture has a set of words that are designated as curses, swearing, or bad words. The designation is of course arbitrary – letters aren’t evil, but put certain four of them together and you have something that is a “bad” word. Christians can argue about the arbitrariness of how culture designates what makes a “bad” word, but the Bible makes it totally clear – we aren’t supposed to say these words. The Bible does not give specifics, but gives the principle. This is where wisdom comes in. We need to have wisdom to understand the words our culture has decided are “bad”. The cultural designation may be arbitrary, but the biblical command from God is not. The wisdom is understanding that that Christians are supposed to do MORE than what our culture has understood is “good”. Jesus taught us to do more than the minimum morality – not just “don’t murder”, but don’t be angry, don’t call names, don’t curse (Matt 5:21-22). There is no point in telling people how Jesus changes life and can grow us holy if we are swearing in the meantime. There is no point in proclaiming a higher standard in Christ if we can’t even measure up to the cultural standard. Our fight is not against the arbitrariness of what our culture has designated as a “bad word”; our fight is for the Word of God and the love of Christ and people accepting Him and following Him. Swearing does not further the fight; it does not advance the Great Commission.
James 3 also talks about wisdom – it is pure, and willing to yield (3:17). Jesus says we are not to even call people “fool” (Matt 5:22); Paul says no unwholesome talk is to come from our mouths, only what is useful for building others up (Eph 4:29), and that obscene talk and coarse and filthy jokes are not for the people of God (Eph 5:4; Col 3:8). The Bible doesn’t give a list of which words not to say. God gives a principle – don’t use words that are “bad”.
I am no stranger to bad words. I heard them growing up, I even got written up in school for swearing – in 2nd grade! (I had to have my mom sign a note – that was quite embarrassing.) I also played football with coaches who elevated swearing to an art form. I am not offended by bad language, and I have been around it my whole life. But when I gave my life to Christ I decided to work on my language. For some years it went better than others, but I knew this is something God wanted me to work on – because changing my mouth changed my thoughts and then changed my emotions. Eventually a Christian friend who played football with me decided to hold each other accountable, and eventually we both stopped swearing – in the middle of the football season. That was tough, but possible. I have fallen back into swearing a few times since high school, but have been able, with help from others, to stop swearing again. As a pastor I am not perfect, and I do make mistakes – even in swearing. But I want my words to be about the love of Christ, and building others up. I want to live much higher than the morality of our culture – to the life and love of Christ – with every breath I take and word I speak.