My friend wrote that when condemning "salty language," folks often refer to James 3:9:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness.I do agree that the use of foul language should be avoided. I must say, however, that anyone who uses James 3:9 as a reference for the condemnation of foul language is missing the point of this passage entirely. That verse has NOTHING to do with what we've come to call "curse words," or "cuss words." "Cursing" in Scripture is NOT saying d*mn, sh*t or h*ll. In Scripture, cursing is speaking death to yourself or another person.
Which of these two examples do you think is a curse?
b) "John is useless. He'll never amount to anything."
If you said "b," you'd be right.
There are many "Christians" who would never use a "curse word," but who speak death over their kids - telling them they won't amount to anything, or that they're stupid - or criticizing their spouse. They won't "cuss," but they'll run the pastor or their employer into the ground with their gossip. The Hebrew word for gossip is "lashon hara," which really means "evil tongue," and it's considered a form of murder.
They use their tongue to praise God, then turn around and use it to curse those who were made in God's likeness. Yeah, that sounds like James 3:9 to me. That's just the sort of self-righteousness Jesus talked about that amounts to a whitewashed tomb. Really pretty on the outside (no cuss words!), but full of death.
Cursing is something we all do. Try going a day without speaking death - without saying you hate your job, or that you'll never get that promotion. Try not telling your kids that they never listen, or telling your best friend that your husband will never change. Try going a day without saying you'll never lose that last ten pounds.
Each of those things is a curse. Scripture tells us to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:18-20), to bless others and not curse them (Romans 12:14). It tells us that life and death are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).
James 1:19 tells us to be slow to speak. That's great advice. A few verses later (1:26), James refers to the person who thinks he is righteous but does not bridle his tongue. He goes on in chapter 3 to compare the tongue to the rudder of a ship, able to steer the whole person to either death or life.
Refraining from words of death or cursing feels like the impossible challenge (believe me, I know this personally...it's a daily struggle for me), but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Yes, we're still human and will still fail, even if we are saved by grace and faith in Christ. But in watching every word that proceeds from our mouths, we begin to walk that redemptive lifestyle, to walk out our salvation in a way that will produce good fruit.
So the next time you hear someone use a "cuss word" (or use one yourself) and start to bristle about it, stop and ask yourself when was the last time you truly cursed (in the Biblical sense) - either yourself or someone else. If you're honest with yourself, the truth might be sobering. A stray cuss word seems so trivial in light of what a real curse is and what it can do. What's worse? A cuss word, or a word of ridicule? A word that offends the sensibilities, or a word that wounds the heart? Even secular psychologists understand this very biblical concept. For example, in this short secular article from USAToday, experts discuss the long-term effects that hurtful words from a parent or teacher can have on a child.
I'm a little less concerned now with the use of "cuss words," and a lot more concerned with speaking life and blessing. I want to tell my children that they can be Godly, that they can make a huge difference in this world. I want to make sure that I praise them for acheivements, for choosing to do good, to obey or listen. I want to reinforce the fact that they are a blessing, not because of how they perform, but just because they are. I want to make a point to tell my husband that he's a wonderful husband and provider, and give him concrete examples on a regular basis to build him up. I want to speak life into situations, not death. I might stumble and fall, but I'll get right back up - with Jesus' help - and speak life again.
Would you like to join me?