What does the Bible say about swearing?

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Though it may seem strange, one of the main ways an unbeliever can tell if someone is a Christian is in the way they conduct their speech. Unfortunately, it is getting harder and harder to tell these things nowadays as more Christians are beginning to conform to the ways of this world. They often will point out there is nowhere in the Bible where it says “thou shalt not swear” or anything to indicate that swearing is wrong. But is this true? After all, it’s not like they’re hurting anyone (arguably) and is it really that big of a deal? They’re right in noting that the Bible doesn’t say anything outright about the use of swear words, but there is, however, a great deal about the subject nevertheless.

USING GOD’S NAME IN VAIN

There is little debate over whether or not it’s a sin to take the Lord’s name in vain. The Bible is very clear on this (Exodus 20:7; Leviticus 19:12; Deuteronomy 5:10-11; 6:12-13; Psalm 139:20-21; Matthew 5:33-37). But what does this even mean? What exactly is taking God’s name in vain? Well, there are multiple answers to this question…

Because God’s name is so indescribably holy, to use it in any other way than to bring Him glory is seen as using His name in vain. God’s many names reflect His attributes and characteristics, as well as His majesty and glory as an all-powerful God. They, in many ways, tell us what our Creator is like, who He is, and what He does. There are three main ways in which people use God’s name in vain:

  1. Using God’s name as a “curse word.”: Even when we’re angry, hurt, frustrated, violent or whatever the case may be, it’s no excuse to use God’s name in vain. This is using God’s name in an irreverent manner and is highly offensive to Him. This is more popularly known as blasphemy. The basic definition of blasphemy is this: “the act of cursing, slandering, reviling or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God.” 1 Timothy 6:1 says: “Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.” We’re to abstain from behaviour that blasphemes God’s name and teaching.
  2. Swearing an oath: Jesus stated in the New Testament that believers were not to bind themselves in an oath but to instead simply have their “yes mean yes” and their “no mean no” (Matthew 5:33-37). The only reason people need vows is when telling a lie is a possibility, but as Christians, we aren’t to lie in the first place. Therefore, the need for vows is null and void since our words are enough and our honesty and truthfulness should be known to those around us. To do otherwise is offensive to God.
  3. Not living out your faith: This is perhaps the one many Christians are guilty of. This is when someone prays to God, professes to follow Him, and yet, doesn’t do what He commands. To say they love God and continually think, act, and speak in a way that displeases God all the time is taking His name in vain (Luke 6:46). This is a dangerous place to be in since this might mean a person who does this was never a true believer to begin with, and thus, are in jeopardy of hearing these dreaded words from Jesus; “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21-23).

SWEARING THAT ISN’T GOD’S NAME

So it’s known using God’s name in vain is definitely forbidden, but what about words that aren’t God’s name? For instance, the words we so often hear when at work, shopping, at the movies, in the parking lot, in the army, on the farm, or hanging out with non-Christian friends etc… like if someone drops down the f-bomb or something. There’s so much influence from the world onto Christians when it comes to this issue, and eventually, some Christians adopt the world’s way of thinking. If a Christian ever thinks of uttering such words, they should probably ask themselves this question beforehand, “will what I’m about to say bring glory to God?” (1 Corinthians 10:31). If the answer is no, then it’s probably a good idea not to speak at all.

THE POWER OF THE TONGUE

One of the things the Bible speaks a lot about is the power of the tongue. What is meant by that is we as humans possess a lot of influence through the power of our words. Hitler used his words to start the holocaust, and people every day use their words to end marriages, friendships, and reputations. By the same token, however, the tongue can be used to bring peace, spread good knowledge, and also encourage the weak. It can be why someone chooses not to commit suicide and bring hope to a despairing person. The Bible says “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21). As Christians, there is a responsibility to have a tongue that produces life and peace; to represent Christ in order to draw people towards Him (1 Peter 1:14-16; 2 Corinthians 5:20; Colossians 3:17). Swearing is no exception.

THE DANGER OF CONFORMING TO THE WORLD

Why is all this important? Because what comes out of our mouths is a reflection of the heart. Luke 6:45 says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” The words we say should be an accurate reflection of what we think and what we do. We aren’t supposed to be hypocrites by saying we love God and hate man as is so often the case:

“but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:8-10).

James made the analogy saying how it is unnatural for a spring to flow both fresh and salt water at the same time. The same is with Christians. It is unnatural for both good and evil speech to come out of their mouths (James 3:11). If a Christian starts to think it’s okay to start swearing to be more accepted by the world, then this shows many signs of danger:

  1. It shows the evil in the individual’s heart (Luke 6:45). Since the world is full of words of death and destruction, it makes no sense for a child of God to be speaking likewise. It is unnatural for a stream to flow both fresh water and salt water!
  2. It shows their willingness to conform to the ways of the world (Ephesians 5:6-11). It may start out as swearing but can easily spark more conformation towards the world’s way of thinking.
  3. It shows they may not be a true believer (Matthew 7:21-23). This is not always the case, but if someone can’t tell if a person is a true believer because of how they think, act, and speak, then one can question whether they’re truly saved or not.

Fortunately, there’s a solution to this problem. All it takes is a will to change and the Holy Spirit. Having a will to change results in actually reading and applying God’s Word in the person’s life. This means meditating and soaking in Scripture so as to fill the heart with grace and love instead of listening to what the world deems important. Secondly, asking the Holy Spirit to help with this struggle is also vital. “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3). Make it a mission to encourage others and seek for opportunities to speak words of life to those around you. We must rely on God alone to create in us a new nature (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:9-10).

Applicable Verses:

  • Proverbs 10:11 The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
  • Proverbs 15:4 A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
  • Ecclesiastes 10:12 The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor, but the lips of a fool consume him.
  • Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
  • Ephesians 5:4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
  • Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
  • Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

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