This entry is about expletives, curse words ... cussing =).
I have recently crossed paths with a number of Christians who feel that it is within their "Christian freedom" to use words that are commonly considered by our society to be expletives. Advocates of this position have many different arguments, most of which cannot be applied consistently. Their arguments may go something like this: "Look Case, I know you're an ultra-traditionalist, being a Reformed Baptist and all, but sooner or later you're going to realize that cuss words are defined by society and are therefore subjective. What is a cuss word to one person might not be a cuss word to someone else. Also, when I use certain cuss words, like the "D-Word" I don't mean it in a negative sense. I would only use the word positively, thus removing the ofttimes hateful usage."
When I first ran across this type of argumentation I seriously thought to myself: "Why is it so difficult for you to understand what an expletive is? Shouldn't that be fairly obvious?" I have discovered that many do not find this obvious, so they say.
This raises the question: what exactly is an expletive? a curse word? a cuss word? Expletives are words that are deemed by a society/culture to be innapropriate. These words are commonly used to express anger or frustration. Many expletives are words with a natural meaning but are used out of context, directed towards people or events. Finally, expletives can be used to simply fill out a sentence in a careless and reckless manner.
I am thankful that Scripture speaks to this issue:
"29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29).
"Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth..." Rather straightforward, yes? But still, I can hear the objector: "What's a curse word to you, isn't a curse word to me."
How do I respond? Let's use damn
as our example. The word damn
is not in and of itself an innapropriate term. It can be used in reference to sinners who die outside of Christ as damned
to hell. Yet this usage of damn
is not an expletive. Now, if I direct the term towards a person out of anger, this would be an expletive. Also, if I use the word out of context, to fill up space, this would be an expletive. Hell
works the same way.
On the other hand, there are specific words that are deemed to be inappropriate no matter the use: the "F-bomb" or Sh**. Both are clear examples.
Going back to the text in Ephesians, cussing Christians ought to ask themselves how their vocabulary is "good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear"? Will such advocates actually defend the argument that expletives are encouraging? Are expletives edifying? And if not, what purpose do they serve?
Paul continues his thought in chapter five of Ephesians:
"3 But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks" (Ephesians 5:3-4).
Expletives can surely be included with "any impurity." What does Paul mean when he said that these impurities "must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints"? Does Paul exclude course language?
But the Apostle isn't finished. He writes: "and there must be no filthiness and silly talk." What a perfect description of curse words. They are filthy, are they not? They are silly, are they not? Did anyone catch that this directly rebukes the "I don't use these cuss words in a hateful way, but in a positive sense" argument? Because if you aren't using curse words in the way they are normally intended or understood, you are left using them in a meaningless sense. Words carry meaning. So when you open your mouth to speak, remember that you are attempting to communicate MEANING.
If you believe that expletives are just a "fun" way to express yourself, you would do well to read the next clause: "or course jesting." The objector: "Oh brother Case! You're taking this a little too far. These words are harmless! It's just a bit of fun..."
Not according to Paul. If you are using course language in a joking fashion, know that God is speaking directly to you from this text.
Besides all this course, filthy language, what are we allowed to say? "...but rather giving of thanks." If you find yourself with nothing to say, then thank the Lord. Don't fill up the time using your useless words that are offensive to God and His people.
The Apostle again continues his thought on the Christian walk beginning in verse 15:
"15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ" (Ephesians 5:15-21).
What a sweet passage! Notice Paul's exhoratation in verse 15: "Therefore be careful how you walk." Oh, that Christians would take seriously their walks with God. If there is one thing lacking in the Church today, it is a reverence for the triune Lord in all His majesty. "Not as unwise men but as wise"! Man, I could go off about this for like, ever =). But just briefly, what does it mean to be wise men? Consider verse 10: "trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord." I would love to see these cussing Christians try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord, rather than what is pleasing to their own ears. We should make the most of our time and not be foolish, then we will understand the will of the Lord. (16-17). Paul declares that we are not to be drunk, rather we are to stay in our right mind and be filled with the Spirit (18). Next, Paul gives us another item we shall add to our list of "things we should say" - "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father." I ask the objector: Where in this text is their room for expletives? When we examine verse 21, how is the use of expletives subjecting yourself to your fellow saints?
As believers in Jesus Christ, we are now His slaves. We are no longer slaves to the world. Therefore we must abandon our worldly ways, including the foolishness of the world's speech. In closing, consider the following verses from Ephesians 4:
"17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. 25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another."