“I don’t think bad words are really that bad.”
A lot of us may be tempted to agree with this comment I once heard a girl make, wondering if “bad words” really are bad. Some Christians won’t say curse words, but they’re okay with watching movies and listening to music that has language in it.
Where should Christians draw the line, and why are bad words, um, bad? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
#1: Think About What You’re Really Saying.
It can be helpful to remind yourself of what you’re actually saying when you use a swear word. Saying “hell” can quickly desensitize you to the horrific reality of the place itself. It’s a dangerous thing to forget that hell is a real, eternal, and terrible place. The word “damn” means “to send to hell,” which is not something Christians should take lightly. And using God’s name itself as a curse word is extremely common, which is blasphemous and profane. If you stop and think about what you’re really saying, you’ll probably want to rethink saying it.
Even words that aren’t considered offensive swear words can start you on the path to bad language. I know kids who use abbreviations and replacements in order to soften their language, but “freaking” isn’t a whole lot nicer than the real f-word, if that’s what you mean when you say it.
God cares about your heart and your intentions. If you use a replacement word when you actually mean a swear word, then what you’re doing is just turning another word into a bad word. In the end, what matters isn’t so much the word you use, but what you mean when you use it.
#2: Don’t follow people, follow God’s Word.
On Christian radio, I once heard a DJ use the phrase “give a d**n.” Christians in the secular music industry have been known to use language in their songs. Keep in mind that just because a professing believer is doing something, it doesn’t make it okay.
It can be tempting to go along with the crowd, especially if there are some Christians in that crowd. But remember that your real role model is Jesus, not other believers. You can learn from others, but we can’t just follow along with everything they do.
#3: Be On Guard.
Profanity can sometimes be very hard to spot. I remember finding out (with disappointment) that Adele’s song Rolling in the Deep contains a bad word. Not all secular media is necessarily profane, but as Christians we should beware of subtle expletives slipped in. And not only of the words being used, but of the ideas and worldviews being expressed. Words are powerful conveyors of ideas and expletives aren’t the only things we need to be on our guard for. When we approach media of any kind, the question isn’t only, “Are there any swear words in this?” (though that is an important question), but “Is it edifying? Does it line up with Scripture?”
“A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” (Galatians 5:9) Leaven is yeast, and yeast is a powerful little thing. I can make five loaves of bread at a time, and only need a few tablespoons of yeast! Just a little bit works through the whole batch of dough, and affects all of it.
It’s the same with things like foul language. Just a little bit can start working itself through our whole lives, and before you know it, you may be caught in a bad habit of using language you didn’t intend to start using! As 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us, we should always be watchful, because Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
Even “clean” versions of explicit songs can be dangerous. After all, it gets you wondering what word is supposed to go there…Your brain automatically fills in the gaps. Especially when, you know, the artists do that thing where they only cut out half the word. Whether there’s a swear word or a bleep there, your mind is still being taken to the same place, and it’s not a good place.
#4: Use Your Discernment.
Okay, but what if it’s a really good movie, but it’s got some language? I ask you: Is it really a good movie then? Top Gun: Maverick is an interesting movie, if you happen to like fast planes and impossible missions with imminent deadlines. However, the over-the-top language, to me, drowned out any “cool” or redemptive qualities the movie might have had. (Which honestly, isn’t many.) I can’t tell you what words are “too bad,” or how many bad words is too many, but I can bring to your attention Romans 12:2.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” This means that as Christians, we are supposed to hold out against the world’s pressure. What is more important than watching a popular movie is following God. You get to decide what you’re exposed to, and in order to do that, you need the Holy Spirit to help you use discernment. We are to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.” (Ephesians 5:11) Why do we change our standards for the sake of entertainment? Why do we think it’s okay to have fellowship with darkness for the sake of a movie or TV show?
#5: Use Your Words for Good.
Christians should be set apart from unbelievers, so that it is evident by the way we live that we follow Jesus. We should stand out so that people wonder why we’re different, and we can explain that we live to please God. Matthew 15:18 says: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart—and this defiles a person” and Matthew 12:34 says, “For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
What is in your heart is usually obvious by how you live, and especially by what you say. That’s why we should be careful about what we allow into our hearts (Proverbs 4:23). Be on guard against “little” profanities that slip into your life, and choose to be different.
Instead of using swear words, or crude replacements, we believers can use our words to be positive, godly, and encouraging. I always think of the silly saying, “Is that the mouth you kiss your mother with?” But really, are we allowing both vulgar things and lovely things to come out of our mouths? Ephesians 5:4 warns us not to let “filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting” (sounds like quite a list of possible profanities!) into our lives and then offers a contrast a few verses later: “Speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs…giving thanks always.” (Ephesians 5:19)
James 3:10-11 says: “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 salt water?” If a spring can’t produce both salty and fresh water, why should we use our mouths to produce both foul and sweet words?
#6: Set An Example For Others.
People are watching you. Okay, that sounded creepy. But seriously—how you live matters: the way you dress, how you treat people, what you listen to, and yes, what you say. God calls us to live holy lives and “be holy, for [He is] holy.” (1 Peter 1:16)
After all, 1 Timothy 4:12 reminds us: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Notice that the very first thing listed here is speech. You can choose to show others how God wants us to live, and how He wants us to talk. And if someone asks you why you don’t use swear words, you can tell them about your faith.
I am praying that God will give you the courage and strength to be different and hold to your standards. Yeah, maybe it means not listening to that new album everyone’s singing along to. I know it can get hard, but in the end, making godly choices and following God’s Word is always worth it.