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Profanity and following Jesus?


To say that profanity is prevalent in our culture is an understatement.

It is difficult to find a television show completely absent of inappropriate language. It is not uncommon to hear profanity being used when out and about. Occasionally, we get yet another story of a politician being caught on a hot mic using language he would never use on the campaign trail.

Several years ago, an NFL player went Facebook Live from the team locker room during the head coach’s post-game team meeting. While the player was wrong for violating the confidentiality of a closed-door meeting, it was certainly less than flattering for his coach. This look behind the curtain seemed to reveal that the real guy in the locker room was much less clean than his press conference persona would have had us believe.

The prevalence of profanity is nothing new, and it isn’t going away any time soon – but it is troubling when we claim to be following Jesus but also use foul language.

In Matthew 12, Jesus reminds us that the words we use reveal our true character. After addressing the difficulty of taming the tongue, James laments that from the mouths of his Christian audience come both blessing and cursing. In James 3:10 he concludes, “These things ought not to be this way.”

Many preachers cringe a little – well, actually, a lot – when a person curses and then apologizes with, “I shouldn’t use that kind of language in front of the preacher.” Why do we cringe? We cringe because the person seems to be showing more respect for the preacher than for God! After all, an omnipresent and omniscient God is, in one sense, like Santa: He always knows what we’ve said.

Obviously, the best way to never have a problem with foul language is to never begin using it. But what if bad language is already a problem? How can it be overcome?

A quick internet search will reveal plenty of lists designed to help. Most include making use of a “swear jar.” You know the drill; say a bad word, and some of your money goes in the jar.

However, I propose that the best way to kick the bad language habit is to focus on one of the reasons it’s important: Beyond being condemned in both the Old and New Testaments, foul language simply doesn’t sound like Jesus.

Christians, as Christ-followers came to be called – see Acts 11:26 – are, according to Paul, ambassadors for Christ, according to 2 Corinthians 5:20. When we claim Jesus but then continue to curse, our ambassadorship suffers.

Most of us can successfully censor our language when necessary. Out of respect for the Lord, why not do so all the time? Further, imagine a day of no longer having to censor yourself because the foul and inappropriate words no longer come to mind. It is possible, and by cleaning up our language, we can better represent the Savior we claim to be following.

Philip Goad is the minister at North Highlands Church of Christ in Russellville. He is married to Marla, and they have a daughter, Kayla Thorne, who is married to Josh. They also have a son, Preston, and one grandchild, Greyson Thorne.