One of the things that shocked me the most when I started college was the vast amount of swearing and cursing that goes on in society. Probably due to my homeschooled upbringing, I was never exposed to swearing as a child. It wasn’t until I started attending my local community college at the age of 16 that I found out just how many curse words there are. I then realized that some of the movies I’d watched in the past* and enjoyed were full of cursing too; at the time I’d watched them, I didn’t have any ideas those curse words even existed.
I thought the cursing at my community college was bad, so you can imagine my shock when I started attending a major university, the University of Texas at Austin. For reference, this school was rated the #1 party school in the world a few years ago. Everywhere I go here, whether I’m in class or walking down the street, people are cursing with no care in the world.
I was doing homework in my study lounge one day when two people nearby started a conversation with each other. I kid you not, every other word from their mouths was a curse. They weren’t even talking about something horrible that had happened; they were nonchalantly chatting about their favorite video games. I sat there grinding my teeth in actual physical discomfort; however, there was nowhere to go. I knew the rest of the study lounge was full of the same kind of talking.
Another time, I was working on an assignment with two classmates. After a while, they began talking to each other about a female friend they had in common. They started objectifying her and using all sorts of crude terms to describe her at her expense, each expressing his desire to have her as his girlfriend, and worse. I waited for a while in hopes that they’d stop talking; when they didn’t, I was forced to make an excuse to leave. The worst part is, at least one of those two guys was a self-proclaimed Christian.
These are just two of hundreds of similar situations I’ve been forced to go through over the last two years. I used to hope that once I was through with college, I wouldn’t have to experience this issue any more; however, I’ve heard from many older believers that the swearing doesn’t stop when people get a job and career. I’ve come to realize that cursing has simply become a natural part of speech and life to many people, an issue not worth batting an eyelid over.
The question is: What should a godly man or woman do in such situations? Since everyone else swears, is it fine for us to swear? Some might make the argument that we need to move in accordance with the times: in past cultures, swearing was considered wrong, so Christians were not to do it, but now that it’s accepted, Christians are fine to do it.
I don’t believe this lie for one second. The Bible is absolutely clear that Christians are to keep their mouths completely pure and holy. Here are just a few out of dozens and dozens of verses to back up my opinion:
- Ephesians 4:29 – “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.”
- Matthew 15:11 – “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.”
- Colossians 3:8 – “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”
There are countless more verses like these, all of which make it undeniably clear that Christians should have no part in speaking idly, crudely, or profanely about anyone or anything. The thing is, the only reason for someone to swear is if they have evil stored up within their heart. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34b). This verse makes it clear that if we store up evil in our hearts, our mouths will naturally speak evil and profane language.
What should we do instead? If we fill our hearts with the Holy Spirit and God’s love, we will bring forth “rivers of living water” (John 7:38) that will bless the people around us. “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6). You cannot claim to be religious and yet not restrain your tongue: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
All these verses talk about how a believer should never curse or swear, but what about all the non-believers around us who swear? What do we do about them? Of course, we cannot force them to follow our beliefs. In the first situation I talked about earlier, the people swearing were not in my “jurisdiction,” a circle of people with whom I have authority. I didn’t even know them. In that particular situation, the best thing for me to do was to simply leave and pray fervently for the people involved.
In the second situation, where the two people were my classmates and one was apparently a Christian, I should have either graciously asked them to tone down their vulgarity or else found a way to steer the conversation into “safer” waters. Later, I should have privately confronted my friend who claimed to be a Christian and gently explained to him why Christians should never speak the way he did. Unfortunately, when this situation actually happened to me, I did neither of these options, but simply left. For this, I am extremely sorry and have prayed for the strength to do the right thing in the future.
The fact is, there will always be swearing around us. That’s just how the fallen world is. However, we, as believers, should NEVER grow accustomed to and used to it, much less participate in it. (Tweet) We should feel a mental and physical discomfort when we hear profanity. Most of the time, we can’t do anything about it because the people involved are not in our circle of authority; however, we must never cease to pray for them and ask God to reveal himself to them.
Even more, we should set an example in speech and life for the people around us. As Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” [emphasis added]. When we meet God at the Day of Judgement, let us not have any evil speech to condemn us. “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).
In the end, the only one we should desire to please is God. I would rather have the approval of God and the disapproval of man than the disapproval of God and the approval of man.
“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” -Psalm 19:14
P.S. One thing I absolutely hate is when people, especially believers, substitute little “safe” phrases for curses. For instance, instead of saying the F-word, they’ll say something like “freak.” Or instead of the S-word, they’ll say “shoot.” Even if they didn’t say the exact bad word out loud, that’s what they meant in their hearts, so they are just as guilty as if they’d said the curse word out loud.
* The fact that I watched these movies was not my parents’ fault; they didn’t know about all the curse words either. Before you watch any movie, I recommend you look it up on PluggedIn; this site will explain all the bad things to look out for in movies, including language, violence, and sexuality. If you can’t find a movie reviewed there, you can also look it up on IMDB and read the Parent’s Guide.
My sister recently shared this post on FB, and I just wanted to say thanks for addressing this common problem. It’s something I have been very aware of since starting college myself several years ago, and much to my dismay, it is harder and harder to stay calloused and not respond in kind when you hear that kind of language every day. I needed this reminder. So again, thanks!
Thanks for the kind words, Rose! I fully agree; it is incredibly easy to grow calloused and desensitized to the language around us, and we should make every effort to prevent that from happening.
It’s my first week of college, so I’m dealing with the same thing. Your post really encouraged me and reminded me that there are ways besides privately stressing out to deal with having to be around so much cussing. Thank you so much!
Thanks for that, Caroline! Yes, that first week of college is quite eye- and ear-opening (and not necessarily in a good way)! I’ll be praying that you learn how to deal with it in an appropriate manner. Also, try to find some good friends who don’t swear!