Careful What You Say

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

Have you paid close attention to your speech recently? Many of us say things that should embarrass us if we truly understood what we said. The words that we chose to express ourselves are important. According to Matthew 12:32-37, we will give an account to God for every idle word that we speak. Let us make sure that we understand what kinds of words that God finds unacceptable.

Respect and Reverence for God

God is the creator of all. We exist solely because God decided to allow it. God is our Lord. Therefore, we ought to speak of Him respectfully. How would you speak and act before a world leader? Doesn't God deserve even more respect than we give the President of the United States?

In Matthew 6:9, Jesus gives his disciples a model prayer. He begins with "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name." Hallowed means to hold something holy, sacred, or revered. Under the Old Law, God told the Israelites not to take his name in vain (Deuteronomy 5:11). Taking God's name in vain is to treat it as useless, a part of idle speech, or to ruin the respect of His name. The Hebrew word for vain comes from a word that means to rush over something or to be careless with it. In Leviticus 19:12, there is a warning not to profane the name of the Lord. To profane something is to pollute or defile it. Using God's name as a cuss word is one way we can profane His name. A more subtle way we can profane God is by claiming to be a follower of God, but living in wickedness. The Israelites were guilty of this according to God in Ezekiel 36:22-23.


In English, "cursing" has two definitions:

  1. invoke or use a curse against.
  2. utter offensive words in anger or annoyance.

[Oxford Languages]

I will be focusing on the latter definition.

Cursing is making light of something, bringing it into contempt, or giving it no respect. Evil or wicked talk is also referred to as cursing. Paul tells us in Romans 3:14 that those under sin have mouths full of cursing. This is something that, unfortunately, I have illustrated for me by the people I come into contact with every day.

While people in the world look lightly on cursing, God does not. Under the Old Law, cursing one's mother or father was punishable by death (Mark 7:10). Solomon warned about the hazard of cursing the king or a rich man (Ecclesiastes 10:20). This is what Shimei did to David when he was fleeing Absalom.

"When King David came to Bahurim, behold, there came out from there a man of the family of the house of Saul whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera; he came out cursing continually as he came. He threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David; and all the people and all the mighty men were at his right hand and at his left. Thus Shimei said when he cursed, 'Get out, get out, you man of bloodshed, and worthless fellow! The LORD has returned upon you all the bloodshed of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the LORD has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. And behold, you are taken in your own evil, for you are a man of bloodshed!'" (II Samuel 16:5-8).

Shimei showed no respect for his king. He treated David with contempt.

When we stub our toe and mutter words to the effect of condemning the object we hit to eternal punishment, we are cursing. We are treating a very serious matter lightly. Hell is a place of punishment for the wicked. As Christians, we spend our lives trying to keep ourselves and others out of Hell. Do we then causally condemn a chair to Hell because we foolishly struck our foot against it?


In I Timothy 1:9, Paul gives a list of those who are wicked. Included in that list is the profane. As we mentioned before, the definition of the word profane is to pollute or to wound. Christians ought not to speak like this! "But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth" (Colossians 3:8). The Greek word behind "abusive speech" "is found throughout antiquity often in the sense of obscene speech." [The Complete Biblical Library].

Paul defines in Ephesians 5:1-7 three categories of speech that are inappropriate for Christians:

  1. Filthy talk: Discussions that are obscene or shameful, such as speech with sexual content or inappropriate words regarding sex.
  2. Foolish talk: Talk that is absurd, stupid, or dull, such as senseless chit-chat, gossip about people's sexual exploits, or talking about inappropriate subjects (bathroom "humor").
  3. Coarse jesting: Vulgar jokes, such as jokes that include sexual situations, sexual innuendos, or sexual punch lines.


Now, most of you have read to this point and are thinking: "I never have been guilty of these things!" However, we must be careful not to judge things by the world's standards. There is a broad category of words that the world views as a polite way to curse. They are referred to as euphemisms. A euphemism is substituting other words to make something sound better than it really is. For example, calling a garbage man a sanitation engineer is a euphemism. Now, a sanitation engineer sounds pretty good, but they do the same job as a garbage man. Euphemistic cursing is so common that most people use these words without realizing what they are really saying. Here are some examples:

Taking God's Name in Vain:

  • Gosh, Golly, Goodness: Euphemisms for God
  • Gee, Gee-whiz: Euphemisms for Jesus


  • Darn: Euphemism for damn
  • Heck: Euphemism for hell
  • Dog gone it: Euphemism for God damn it


  • Shoot: I find the definition of this word so bad that I'll just invite the curious to look up the word in Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.

This list is by no means complete. In fact, the use of euphemistic curse words is so common that I strongly urge you to look up every interjection you use before opening your mouth. See if the use of the word is something you will be willing to give an account of before the Lord on Judgment Day.

Bridling the Tongue

A perfect, or mature, Christian has control over his tongue (James 1:26). However, it is not something that comes easily or quickly. In fact, it is probably the hardest task that a Christian must face (James 3:3-12). Let us each resolve to clean up our speech and season it properly, so we can appropriately speak to the world (Colossians 4:6).

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