The Bible instructs us, saying, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Colossians 4:6; ESV).”
Additionally, it adds, “With [the tongue] 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 salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:9-12; ESV)”
Some might be surprised to find that there is no such thing in the Bible as a list of forbidden curse words. Public television in the United States, for many years, had a de facto list of banned or forbidden words which were deemed too offensive for family viewing. The same list, or a similar list of such words, likewise is frequently deemed ill suited for “polite company.” Most preachers have had experience with someone beginning to use a vulgarity in their presence, only to catch themselves, apologize and then, not infrequently, go on substituting in what they deem to be a more “acceptable” alternative: a euphemism of some sort.
The Scriptures also advise us thusly: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20; ESV).”
Similarly, Jesus taught His followers, in His Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21-22; ESV)”
The reason that there is no list of banned words in the Bible, is that such a list would miss the point. When you curse another you are wishing ill upon them. Cursing someone is not wrong because of the precise words you use. Cursing another is wrong because of the anger being expressed. If the words convey hate, anger and general animosity, then using a euphemism does not make the words less sinful. Words come and go. Languages change. But hate from the heart is the same in every language and every culture. The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God, especially when expressed in speech which conveys that anger in an ungodly way.
We deceive ourselves if we think that using less socially vulgar words makes our speech more wholesome even as we verbally express anger and disdain towards those who have been made in the image of God.
The Proverbs remind us of the importance of choosing our words with wisdom and forethought, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver (Proverbs 25:11; ESV).” Likewise, choosing to be gentle in our speech is a mark of wisdom “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing (Proverbs 12:18; ESV).”
If we deem ourselves to be followers of Christ, if we desire to be spiritual and wise, if we want to be pleasing to God, then we are called to let our words always be gracious, well seasoned with salt, chosen according to the needs of the listener, not according to the dictates of our passions.
Again, the Bible says concerning this, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless (James 1:26; ESV)”.
It’s a serious business, this choosing of words, not at all a matter to be taken lightly by those who take God seriously. Jesus warned us, The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matthew 12:35-37; ESV)”
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.