Let me begin today’s post with a clarification. There’s a modern trend that says that Christians should be free to cuss in order to be “authentic.” I am not advocating that trend in this blog post.
But I do want to warn against putting too high a priority on having clean language, because over-emphasizing language implies that being a Christian means we need to “clean up our act.” When that happens, we force ourselves not to cuss. We keep our cusswords bottled up and we stifle any vulgarities from coming out of our mouth.
But the problem with stifling ourselves is that it prevents us from dealing with the underlying heart attitudes of envy, anger, etc. which often do spew forth in cussing.
Matthew 15:10-20 talks about the interplay between our outer stuff and what is in our hearts. Here, the Pharisees were ticked off at Jesus because he criticized their emphasis on conforming to outer rules of behavior. Specifically, they asked why Jesus did not follow their handwashing rituals.
Jesus replied by saying that the heart is more important.
“ But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” (Matthew 15:18-20)
I think Jesus’ words suggest that when we try to throttle cursing by our own willpower, we are putting on a nice outer appearance while avoiding dealing with the evil stuff which lurks beneath.
Take a guy I’ll call Seething Sam, who has quite an anger issue. Usually he has enough will power to bottle up his anger but eventually he spews enraged expletives when he does not get his own way. But what if, instead of trying to put a lid on things, Sam repents of being an angry man?
If he repents, Sam can stop suppressing his evil thoughts and start to see how Christ’s way can renew his mind and begin to replace his evil thoughts. He begins to understand how the spiritual gift of self-control works. Instead of Sam struggling to put a stopper in his bottle, Jesus, by grace, replaces the vicious and murderous thoughts he is bottling up with the freedom to love, edify, encourage, be patient, etc.
As that kind of gradual grace-fueled biblical change proceeds, Sam’s volcanic eruptions of vulgarities become less and less frequent.
In my church we have a group of men in a Christian community called Battleground who are very helpful in achieving change. How so ? The group is not interested in portraying a nice Christian image where our bad stuff is all bottled up or secret. Instead, we are seeing that curing cussing (or any area of our Christian life that needs repair) is like dealing with a weed. Do we only cut off the leaves on a weed or do we choose to pull it out by the roots ?
Good news : When we repent and want more than the mere appearance of righteousness, the Lord graciously transitions us from mere outer change to deep-rooted, spirit-filled heart change.