Words are meant to communicate a message.
I overheard a conversation once between a pastor and a girl who was raised in Australia where her parents were missionaries. The pastor said a word (I can't recall what it was, "booger" or "bloody" or something like that) which was perfectly innocent in the U.S., but the girl was rather shocked and said it was quite offensive in Australia. This reminded me once again how silly the whole "cuss word" concept seems at times. They are words, and words aren't necessarily good or bad, they are just ways of communicating what we want to say... right? Well, it is very true that words are for communicating a message, but as Christians we need to ask ourselves what message we are communicating? And that message can be "bad" if we aren't careful.
Well, let's not forget the famous passage from the Bible regarding our conversation:
(Ephesians 4:29) "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers."
The question is, what is "corrupt communication?" I have a feeling when the Bible refers to someone being a "whore" or a "harlot," it is communicating a very strong message. Is it ministering "grace" to the hearer? How about when the Bible speaks of "dung" or "piss" (I hesitated to even use that word just now because I was taught it was very vulgar); or what about "bastard," "damn," and "hell?" Should we change these words in the Bible to be less offensive? Should we use them in our regular conversation?
Obviously, "strong" words are used from time to time to make a point. Without a few of these strong words, our vocabulary would be quite boring. So, Christians who were raised not to use strong words have created their own: "Stinking, " flipping," "crud," "dang it,"... need I go on? It seems important to us to have some of these stronger words in our arsenal, to the point where we even pick them up when studying another language. Often, young people will learn the bad words as some of their first vocabulary words. We want to know what they are and add them to our list of "colorful" words to say. Like an artist will use a bold color here and there to stand out in contrast from the rest of the painting, we too want such colors to paint our conversation.
But when the words are used too frequently, a person just sounds uneducated, like they don't know how to use any other words. One wonders if people even know what the words mean when they hear them in certain contexts. Suddenly, like a painting with too many colors begins to look like vomit on the page, so the person spewing profanity after profanity out of their mouth makes it hard for a person to even listen to them.
Adults should be "adults."
I have taught my kids to be very careful when choosing their words. For years they couldn't say "butt" (somehow that one has made its way into our conversation from time to time). They still aren't allowed to use any form of the Lord's name, flippantly, even in an abbreviated form ("gosh," "golly," "Geez"...) as I feel these are irreverent. And I suppose the list could go on and on of words we have taught our children not to say. Why? Because they are thought of as "bad words" by our society. That's right, these words are not just considered "bad" by Christians, but they are "bad words" in the world (and this is why bad kids will pick them up so quickly--they want to be "bad" so they use "bad" words).
I once finished a run and was returning to my truck which was parked at a nearby skate park. There were young kids on their skateboards there (around 10 to 12 years old). It was obvious to me that these kids were deliberately (and even a little uncomfortably) using every bad word they could think of. It seemed like every other word was a profanity, and I don't think they realized I was walking by listening to them practicing their "adult" language. I shouted from my truck "Hey! Watch your mouths. You know you are being bad, now quit it!" Two of the kids literally ran away and the ones that remained had eyes like saucers.
It is interesting to me that this is often called "adult" language. Here I am calling out kids for using these words because they are inappropriate, yet where do you think they learned them? Probably from listening to adults...the same ones that tell them not to use these words. If a family movie uses certain words enough times it will go from a rating of PG to PG-13 really quickly. The parent is supposed to make sure it is suitable for their children to watch because it has "adult content." Sounds strange to me. Seems like it should be called "childish language" that parents tell them to grow up and stop using. Kids like to be inappropriate. They make weird noises with their mouths that sound like someone is passing gas and their moms tell them to cut it out. If dad goes around making that sound people would say "grow up." Perhaps it is because adults should know that there is a time and a place for certain things, and children don't know what that time or place is.
A few things to consider:
So, as Christians, how do we know what we should say and when it is OK to say it?
1. I think we would do well to eliminate as much possibly offensive material as we can from our vocabulary so that it doesn't distract from the message we are supposed to be sharing to the world.
1 Corinthians 8:9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
1 Corinthians 9:27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
2. If a "bad word" is used for the express purpose of being inappropriate and getting a laugh, it makes sense that it probably shouldn't be used by a Christian.
3. If you would not want your kids to use the word then you shouldn't use it either!
4. At the same time, I don't think we need to water down the message of the Bible. If it uses "strong language," it is for a purpose, and we shouldn't be afraid to speak the word of God boldly. Some times it takes some "strong words" to speak with authority.
Titus 2:15 "These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee."
The bottom line is that our speech should be communicating the right message. This message can be bold and authoritative, but it should never be inappropriate or "bad." Some people will get "offended" no matter what you say or do, so it isn't really about offending or not offending, it is about being godly and wholesome. Provoking people to do right and not to be "bad."