Foul language comes from a foul heart

The culture of swearing that has been cultivated over time reminds me of the classic story about a frog that gets caught in a kettle of cold water that is gradually heated. At first the frog finds the cold water a haven from the outside environment. However, what the frog does not realise is that this kettle is placed on the top of a hot plate and is being heated for morning tea. The frog is lulled into a false sense of wellbeing in the gradually heating water. Rather than leap out, which the frog could have done at any time, it swims lazily around, almost mesmerized by the increasingly warm water. Contented, the frog finally succumbs to the boiling water and eventually becomes frog soup.

In the same way we appear to find ourselves in a kettle of water that is growing increasingly warm. There was a time when swearing was frowned upon. Today it is becoming more and more acceptable, even as a way of entertainment and intellectual expression. But what we do not realise, is the profound impact it has on the moral formation of people, and our society.
Because we slowly become accustomed to swearing, we need to remind ourselves about the different forms that swearing takes and also what the Bible has to say about it:

Swearing

Swearing probably has its origins in the Old Testament times when people called upon God’s name to back up an oath or a vow. This also includes the making of an obscene or ridiculous oath. During his Sermon on the Mount Jesus makes it very clear that there is no place for swearing in the lives of his followers.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.” (Matthew 5:33-36)

In this same passage Jesus offers his followers an alternative to swearing. Instead of swearing by invoking God’s name, heaven or hell, or using any kind of expletive to express the seriousness of your intention, you can merely say yes when you mean yes, and no when you mean no. No further emphasis is needed.

“All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37)

Cursing

To call upon God to cause injury to another person is related to damning someone. What Jesus thought of such curses is evident in the following passage in his response to James and John, the sons of Zebedee, when they wanted to call fire down from heaven on some Samaritans who did not welcome Jesus:

“When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village. (Luke 9:51-56)

In the gospels Jesus offers his followers radical alternatives to cursing:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45a)

Christ offers an alternative that even extends to when others choose to curse us.

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6: 27-28)

Blasphemy

Blasphemy refers to the act of expressing a lack of reverence for God. How often do we not hear people abusing the Name of God, or that of Jesus Christ! Just listen to the language in movies. During an instance in Leviticus a young man is brought before Moses after being found to have blasphemed. In the text the punishment of the young man appears very extreme, especially because today people are no longer put to death as a punishment for blasphemy, but the following passage just goes to show the seriousness of the offense in God’s eyes.

“Then the LORD said to Moses: “Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him. Say to the Israelites: ‘Anyone who curses their God will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death.’” (Leviticus 24:10-16)

Alternatively, the Psalms teach us to sing praises to God as the Creator of all things, the King over all the earth, the Redeemer of all and the Sustainer of all life. God is truly worthy of our praise.

“Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise”. (Psalm 47:6-7)

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledges that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”. (Philippians 2:9-11)

Profanity

Profanity is the use of profane language in a way that debases that which is holy. It expresses complete irreverence for anything sacred. Our bodies and our sexuality are, for instance, meant to be honoured as temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19). In our society profanity is often directed at women. Through the ages various names have been given to women that debase and belittle them. As followers of Christ we know that every human being has been created in the image of God. When we swear using profanity, we demean and debase that which has been made holy by God. In Leviticus there are a number of references to things that must not be profaned because God has declared it holy.

“Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:12)

Disrespectful or foul language

It is becoming more and more acceptable to use all sorts of foul language: language spiced with the foul and filthy; strong words as if we are like God, capable of commanding the powers of heaven; words of disrespect for others, like racist or xenophobic terms; hate speech or words inciting violence and anger, slandering or false utterances aimed at degradation and hurting others. The list is endless…

“…the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil…” (James 3)

In the letter to Ephesians Paul rather encourages us:

“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” (Ephesians 3:29)

Swearing has a lasting effect on the people around us

It is often said that if swearing is a crime, then it is a victimless crime. But let us take a closer look at this statement. Just like HIV and Aids, swearing is an epidemic. It kills people. Think about what abusive language has done in your own life. Perhaps you can remember moments when your heart broke into pieces because another person swore at you by the powers of heaven and hell using words describing the most profane practices of evil, in the Name of God and the devil.

Swearing silences and hurts other people:
Show me a man who looks like a cowering puppy … and I’ll show you a man who was beaten with fists while growing up. It could have been the literal fists of a violent father, but it could also have been the fatal punches of swearing.

Show me a woman with drooping shoulders, sunken eyes and who is in and out of emergency rooms; a woman who tries to commit suicide and hides out in her house like a mouse; a woman with stomach ulcers and headaches; a woman who is easily driven to tears … and I’ll show you a woman criticized and destroyed by abusive language and insults, by obscene curses and by the flogging of another person’s tongue.

Show me the children whose hair does not shine (a child whose hair does not shine signifies that things are not well); children who still wet the bed at the age of ten; struggle at school and get involved with drugs, alcohol and into all sorts of other trouble … and I’ll show you thousands of children who are scolded, sworn at and exposed to abusive language. Show me the drop outs and problem children … and I’ll show you children who regularly have to hear their fathers’ thundering voices telling them how little they are worth.

Swearing leads to damage, tragedy, loss, destruction and even death. Marriages end up on the rocks, relationships between children and their parents deteriorate, and children’s potential is destroyed.
But the one who swears also becomes a victim. That person becomes unclean:

“What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean’, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean’” (Matthew 15:11)

People’s respect for the person that swears diminishes. Disciples of Jesus do not swear.

Peter – the disciple who swore
Simon Peter is the perfect example of someone who can tell you exactly what swearing can do to your image as a follower of Christ.
Peter would probably tell us that he swore because he was backed into a corner. He would say that he swore because he was powerless, scared and alone. It was the only way that people would believe him and leave him alone. This was no situation for niceties; it called for strong language.

Peter swore in the middle of the night, shortly after Jesus was arrested. He ventured into the courtyard of the high priest’s home. One of the high priest’s servant girls saw him and said,

“You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus” (Mark 14:67).

Peter realized that he was in trouble and that he would be tried with Jesus if he was not careful. His response,

“I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” (Mark 14:68).

But the girl was as tenacious as a terrier and pointed him out to the others present: “This fellow is one of them.” Some of the others also got involved:

“Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” (Mark 14:70).

Finally he succumbs to the pressure. He begins to curse and he swears,

“I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” (Mark 14:71).

Clearly Peter forgot Jesus’ teachings about never making an oath. If sin can be trippled, Peter manages just this. He curses and swears so that everyone will to stop staring, which eventually leads to his denial of Jesus. Only when the cock crows for the final time, he realizes with remorse what he has done:

“Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.”

And he broke down and wept.

Jesus forgives the person who swears. Jesus offered Peter grace. After his resurrection he reached out to him in love and grace:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”  “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” (John 21: 15).

Peter denied Jesus three times and three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. At the end of the painful conversation Peter shouts out:

“Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you” (John 21:17).

Jesus does not just forgive. Peter stands with his head in his hand in His holy, unavoidable presence. And he knows: the Son of God knows everything about me. He knows the origin of my swearing. The fault lies deep inside. I am dirty and sick where nobody else can see and if the pressure increases, the puss comes out. You can have the same life changing experience that Peter experienced in Christ’s presence. Christ will also forgive you.

Practical steps to stop swearing
1. Kneel down in God’s presence and admit that you sometimes/often/always swear.
2. Ask God’s forgiveness because you have sinned against Him, the King of heaven and earth. Ask Him to help you to glorify and honour his name. Mention the names of people that you have demeaned, damaged, ruined and criticized through your swearing.
3. Ask Jesus to wash the inside of your heart with his powerful, cleansing blood. Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice for this very purpose (Hebrews 9:12-14).
4. Believe that God has heard your prayer. You can believe it because it stands in the Word of God: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
5. Ask the Holy Spirit to take over control of your life. Reflect often on the fact that the Holy Spirit lives in you. Pray to the Spirit. He leads us to new paths and to a new, constructive behaviour: “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:13).
6. Go and ask forgiveness from those you injured with your cursing and swearing, even though it will be difficult.

Michelle Boonzaaier

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