I grew up in the suburb of NYC where four-letter words are mastered by middle school. Swearing doesn’t feel like swearing when your teachers use them, your youth pastors whisper them, and strangers scream them from sidewalks. I learned to eventually tame my tongue in college—not because of any personal conviction but out of a social conscientiousness that emerged when living in the South. I already loved Jesus, despised sexual humor, and (thought I) understood the indecency of cursing. However, my roommates knew that if a plate of pasta ever clattered to the ground, an expletive would emerge.
A few years later, I was transitioning into building a career off of my writing. I was getting serious about developing a book, and my involvement with Kingdom Winds had increased. One day, the Lord tapped me on the shoulder— in the midst of ministry work— to say, “I will not share your mouth.”
Saltwater vs. Freshwater
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. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and saltwater? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield freshwater (James 3: 9-12, ESV).
Saltwater or freshwater. This was what the Lord reminded me of, and this was what He was asking me to choose between. As long as I coughed up filth in secular fun, He would not use the same mouth to speak of His glory. It was like I was kissing the enemy and I had to choose a side.
I believed this conceptually but was still disappointed nonetheless. I understood the wickedness of intentional cursing at someone. But what if it was used in jest? What if it could be a lighthearted punchline? I went to the Lord with this concern of losing comedic capital, and I felt Him say, “Rachael, I’m not ever laughing.”
“Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving,” says Ephesians 5:4 ESV. I always figured that “crude joking” was reserved for sexual humor, but the more He convicted my heart, the more I realized Satan had blinded me with humor. Laughing at curse words meant laughing with the enemy. It would never be pure joy.
Normalizing Some, Vilifying Others
Interestingly enough, our culture has categorized swear words into ‘badness’ levels; some words are considered filthier than others. “Oh, come on. It’s not that bad.” However, if sin is sin, and all sin keeps us from the Garden, why do we only wave a yellow card at certain phrases?
An easy litmus test is to consider such vocabulary on the lips of our children. Psalm 8:2 says, “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger” (ESV). According to God, toddlers have just as much currency in verbal warfare as we do. If we don’t want our five-year-old nephew whispering a four-letter word, why do we extend occasional permission to ourselves?
“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,” (Eph. 4:29 ESV, emphasis added). I would argue that this includes substitute curse words, too. The sentiment of a word matters more than the letters of the word. Even though some remarks may not cripple our neighbor’s ears, we must ask ourselves if any expressions contain polluted value.
Our mouths cannot be a spring of both saltwater and freshwater. God can’t share us, and He won’t share us. It is time for our lips to choose a well—and stay there.
Featured Image by Charles Deluvio