How we speak says a great deal about us. People can gauge the quality of our Christianity by our speech. We all know the Third Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7). What we do not seem to know—or care about very much—is the remainder of the verse: “for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” “No problem,” you say, “I don’t curse or swear.” Are you sure about that? I often hear Christians violating this commandment without any apparent guilt. Perhaps it’s a matter of ignorance. Let me explain.
First of all, although it should be obvious, Christians must not use the name of the Lord in vain. Many of us do, however—and I especially hear it from young people. Perhaps the most pervasive response to shocking news is the phrase, “O my God.” Except in earnest prayer, we need to eliminate this phrase from our speech completely!
Then again, many of us use minced oaths or profanity and don’t seem to understand the significance of what we’re saying. In some cases these apparently innocuous slang expletives actually are euphemisms for God’s name. For example, when you use the words “gosh,” or “golly,” you are using a slang substitute for the name of God. “Jeepers” is the same kind of substitute for Jesus. Other such words are an abuse of the attributes of God. How many unsavory nouns have we attached to the adjective “holy”? Cows and mackerels are not holy; only God is holy. Even worse is attaching the attribute of holiness to scatological—in other words, bathroom—language. I also remember my grandmother, whose constant expletive was “O mercy!” Or you sometimes hear, “God Almighty!” Then there are other words that concern spiritual matters. For example, the very sobering reality of the destiny of the unconverted. The world has trivialized the horrible words “hell” and damn” by using them as casual profanity; yet many Christians don’t hesitate to use the euphemisms “heck” and “darn.”
Even more sobering are the euphemized oaths many Christians use: “by God,” “by golly,” and “bejesus,” which means “by Jesus.” These are oaths sworn by God’s name, and He does not take this lightly. We also sin grievously when we swear by false gods, such as when we say “by Jove” (the chief Roman deity, Jupiter). Remember what James writes, repeating something the Lord Jesus himself said: “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no, no; so that you may not fall under judgment” (James 5:12). Yes and no are enough. We don’t need oaths. So what should we do?
- Educate yourself and your family as to what these slang words mean. Never use words the meanings of which you do not know. Then,
- Exercise the discipline of self-control. Learn to think before you speak, and stop using these words. You do not need these kinds of oaths and euphemisms. Insist on the same discipline from your children, and don’t listen to them when they say, “Aw, Mom . . .”, or, “Come on, Dad! There’s nothing wrong with those words!” If you can, avoid environments where this language is pervasive. God’s word says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4;29). Also, “there must be no filthiness and silly talk or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Eph 5:4).
As children, many of us learned the little song that includes these words: “O be careful little tongue what you say. For the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little tongue what you say.” Beginning today, my friend, may every word you say meet with the Lord’s approval!