Thursday, April 16, 2015


To Swear Or Not To Swear?

If we define “swearing” as “to use offensive words when we speak” then two questions need to be asked: 1. Which words are offensive? 2. Offensive to whom? 

Let me start by noting that we live in an age where it would seem that almost everyone is taking offense at almost everyone else! I speak off course of the Political Correctness Movement whereby many people are afraid to express outwardly in words what they are thinking internally – just in case someone somewhere somehow chooses to be offended by their comments!

If we believe in free expression then others ought to be permitted to voice their heartfelt opinions. However, this is not to say that some pushback should not be permitted and/or expected. However, shouting “Fire!” as a joke in a crowded theatre or joking about bombs in an airport are a couple of examples of extremely poor taste and are definite stupid and offensive uses of free speech! Therefore, there ought to be consequences for thoughtless and careless use of words.

However, as we zoom-in on the issue we are trying to address, which is the use of swear words in everyday speech, when we talk about “offensive words” we generally mean “four-letter words.”

But what makes a swear-word offensive? The answer in general terms is twofold: Company and Context. Even polite people have been known to utter expletives when receiving an injury to their body! However, as we zoom-in even more, here we are attempting to address the issue of how to totally refrain from the use of foul language in all conversations and situations. How do we go about doing this?

 Well, first off we ought to refrain from using blasphemy. When God worked His grace in my heart some twenty seven years ago I found that I immediately stopped taking the Lord’s name in vain! God says in the Third Commandment, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” Exodus 20:7. I’m guilty as sin! Guilty as charged! So I stopped using the name Jesus, Christ, God etc. as swear words on account of my new relationship with God.

However, this doesn’t mean that I’ve completely ceased from all blasphemy. How so? Because, as with every one of the other nine Commandments, there are dimensions to the Third Commandment that continue to expose me as a sinner! Taking God’s name in vain includes a very long list of things I had never even thought of. These are listed in detail in the Westminster Larger Catechism Question 112. What is required in the Third Commandmend? And Question 113. What are the sins forbidden in the Third Commandment?[1]

Let’s not tie ourselves in knots over swearing! If we keep in mind that the primary purpose for God giving us the Ten Commandments is to show human beings that they are sinners, and as such are in need of a saviour, i.e., THE Saviour Jesus Christ, then we shall be set free from throwing our hands up in despair at even attempting to keep such impossible commands or any blatant refusal to try to keep them!

Jesus is the Saviour of sinners. The Law shows us that we are sinners and, used by the Holy Spirit, convicts us of the same. “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” Galatians 3:24. Elsewhere Jesus says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” John 14:15. Jesus is the same Person who, as God, gave the Ten Commandments in the first place. Therefore, how can we continue to take the Lord’s name in vain seeing as He has gone to the cross to receive the punishment we are due for breaking God’s Commandments and has paid the price in full? Surely we would demonstrate that we are ingrates if we continued to take the Lord’s name in vain.

But let us zoom-in even closer on the use of four-letter words. I once knew a man in whose everyday speech every second word or so was a swear word. Yet whenever he spoke to his mother all foul language would immediately vanish! This man would go a long way in cleaning up his act if he spoke to everyone as if he were addressing his own mother! The Fifth Commandment is: “Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12.

God is our heavenly Father. By His Spirit He is with us wherever we go. The land He is giving us is (the new heavens and) the new earth! Would we use foul language in His presence? And is He offended by our use of foul language? Well, the Third Commandment is still pointing us to the Saviour of sinners! Therefore, if you find yourself swearing apologise, i.e., confess your sin to God, knowing this: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9. “And if anyone sins, we have and Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 1 John 2:1b.

What’s the bottom line? How does one stop using swear words?

First, Take God with you wherever you go and honour God your heavenly Father by your speech. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31.

Second, Try to set lift the tone of every conversation you have by avoiding foul language. “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’” 1 Corinthians 15:33.

Third, discipline yourself! “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection…” 1 Corinthians 9:27a.

Fourth, before you use a swear word ask yourself if the God who loves you and sent His Son to die for you would be pleased to hear it!

[1] Q. 111. Which is the third commandment? A. The third commandment is, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
Q. 112. What is required in the third commandment? A. The third commandment requires, That the name of God, his titles, attributes, ordinances, the Word, sacraments, prayer, oaths, vows, lots, his works, and whatsoever else there is whereby he makes himself known, be holily and reverently used in thought, meditation, word, and writing; by an holy profession, and answerable conversation, to the glory of God, and the good of ourselves, and others.
Q. 113. What are the sins forbidden in the third commandment? A. The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God’s name as is required; and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious or wicked mentioning or otherwise using his titles, attributes, ordinances, or works, by blasphemy, perjury; all sinful cursings, oaths, vows, and lots; violating of our oaths and vows, if lawful; and fulfilling them, if of things unlawful; murmuring and quarrelling at, curious prying into, and misapplying of God’s decrees and providences; misinterpreting, misapplying, or any way perverting the Word, or any part of it; to profane jests, curious or unprofitable questions, vain janglings, or the maintaining of false doctrines; abusing it, the creatures, or anything contained under the name of God, to charms, or sinful lusts and practices; the maligning, scorning, reviling, or any wise opposing of God’s truth, grace, and ways; making profession of religion in hypocrisy, or for sinister ends; being ashamed of it, or a shame to it, by unconformable, unwise, unfruitful, and offensive walking, or backsliding from it.
Q. 114. What reasons are annexed to the third commandment? A. The reasons annexed to the third commandment, in these words, The Lord thy God, and, For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain, are, because he is the Lord and our God, therefore his name is not to be profaned, or any way abused by us; especially because he will be so far from acquitting and sparing the transgressors of this commandment, as that he will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment; albeit many such escape the censures and punishments of men.

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