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It's Not About What You Say, But How You Say It

Daniel Tan

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)

Christians are known to have a fixation over swearing. Or rather, we have a fixation over not using what society has deemed ‘swear words’. This differs from culture to culture, from language to language and from person to person sometimes (we'll come back to this later). We are often held in mocking regard by others (especially the more immature) on how we are so holy and righteous for not using swear words.

At the same time, Christians can sometimes be condemned for being hypocritical; despite refraining from the use of swear words, we can be equally toxic through the words we use. So here's the point that I want to make: it's not about what you say, but how you say it. The famous verse that is used to talk about swearing is Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come from your mouths”.

For sure, swear words are definitely in the league of unwholesome. But let's read on. The verse goes on to say, “but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs”. In other words, unwholesome words refer to anything else other than what is beneficial for building others up. The original word in Greek, ‘sapros’, refers to something that is rotten, useless or corrupted; yet out of context the meaning remains unclear. It is only if we look at the verse on the whole that we understand Paul's instructions.

Paul isn't just saying: don't swear. After all, the swear words we use now hadn't even been invented back then. Rather, it's about not letting harmful words leave our mouths. As Christians, we are held to a higher standard. It's not just about being holy in the colloquial sense and refraining from using swear words. It's about being holy in the biblical sense of setting ourselves apart and not using our words to tear down others.

Instead of arguing whether or not we are allowed to swear as Christians, what we should be assessing is the content of our words. Regardless of what we say, what we mean is even more important. You can say the most 'benign' sounding words but have the most malicious of intents. That doesn't make it right.

See, swear words are relative. They differ in language, culture and individual. Some people have a lower tolerance for words while others have a higher tolerance. It's important not to stumble others with our words (1 Corinthians 10:32); even if you think it's alright, it doesn't mean that you need to risk the faith of others. I don't have to go into why people who find a compulsion to swear every other sentence seem to be uncouth to the general populace either.

As Christians, rather than judging ourselves based on how low we can go, let's try to set for ourselves a standard on where we should be instead. It's not about how much can we reap the benefits of being a Christian while compromising the least on worldliness. It's about how much we can embody the principles of being a Christian while being in the world.

Daniel Tan

Daniel is currently and forevermore will be a student and a learner, trying to delve into the deep conundrums of life and seeing where the path leads. He enjoys linking different things in life back to God through strange and seemingly random connections.

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