When I was in the depths of depression and anxiety, swearing was a habit. I managed to curb it around my family, adults, and anyone I cared enough not to offend, but unpleasant words I will not repeat here would tumble out around my friends regularly. We all swore. It wasn't "cool" – it was a casual expression of the deep-seated despair we felt. When I began receiving the care that, looking back, saved my life, I felt the need to swear slip away. I no longer felt like the world was crashing around me and therefore didn't need to express my emotions so strongly.
I have the opportunity and blessing to talk to many teenagers who are currently experiencing the same emotions I experienced several years ago. When they swear, I understand and don't ask them to stop. Words have a purpose and oftentimes, the words teenagers seem to casually throw around are chosen intentionally to demonstrate the feelings they do not know how to otherwise express. I never want to limit how a person feels they can convey themselves to me, especially when we are discussing something as serious as emotions.
However, to ignore the Scripture's words for the sake of “expression” would be a mistake. In Ephesians 4, Paul says that “That, however, [sin] is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (emphasis added)
It's hard to miss that message. Paul doesn’t beat around the bush when he tells new Christians to put aside the old ways and step into the new, glorious light of salvation. While letting the occasional swear word slip to demonstrate passion to a close sister in Christ isn’t damning, it’s important to remember that our lives are our witness. “Saved by grace” doesn’t mean much if your words consistently fail to uplift those around you.
James continues this message in his book, instructing, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (emphasis added)
Again, not that hard to follow. James’s point is pretty clear – so why is it so much harder to follow? Arguments could be made for peer pressure, societal norms, or simply habit. But the truth lies much deeper than the surface.
We simply do not prioritize the Word of God above the word of man.
The words coming out of our mouths are more important to us than the words from God. We may study the Bible and pretend to treat it as holy, but Deuteronomy says that, “…He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” (8:3) When you speak, how much of what you say reflects the heart of God? How much is idle talk that serves very little kingdom purpose? Until we are truly humbled in our understanding of God’s presence in our lives and the very essence of what He has done for us, we will never truly grasp the role of our words as reflections of His goodness.
The tee shirt from which I took the title of today’s blog post – “I love Jesus but I cuss a little” – is well meaning, but it misses the point. To love Jesus is to consistently work towards the holiness our perfect God demands.