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Me and My Dirty Mouth

Does the command about not taking God's name in vain include swearing?

Anyone who prefaces a theological question by admitting she's flawed is my kind of woman! Plus, I can identify with having an unruly tongue. Whenever I bump my toe into a table or graze my bumper on the garage doorframe, the first word that comes to mind typically isn't hallelujah!

What Does God Say About This?

Regardless of stubbed toes or bent fenders, we bumbling believers must temper our language. The Bible is quite vocal on the subject, as evidenced in these key verses: "The tongue has the power of life and death" (Proverbs 18:21, NIV); "Those who are careful about what they say keep themselves out of trouble" (Proverbs 21:23, NCV); "On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:36-37, ESV); "Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift" (Ephesians 4:29, The Message); "If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless" (James 1:26, ESV).

These sober warnings emphasize the importance of being attentive to and intentional about every single syllable flying out of our mouths. Our speech should reflect the spiritual maturity of a growing relationship with God. As his image bearers, we must delete all words—not just swear words—that don't glorify God or benefit others.

Following the divine directive not to take God's name in vain, however, means more than just not coupling God's name with a bad word or blurting, "Oh, God!" in surprise. The original intent of the third commandment, "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain" (Exodus 20:7, ESV), was to forbid the Israelites from attaching God's name to purposes that weren't his, explains pastor and author Andy Stanley. We do so when we use language like "God told me" to legitimize selfish motives. Or we employ phraseology like "so help me God" to mask a lie, abusing Jehovah's perfect character as collateral for deceit.

Misuse of God's name isn't merely an accidental, irreverent slip of the tongue, but a deliberate thumb of the nose at the Creator of the universe.

How Does This Affect Me?

In my communication habits, I try to practice some advice I gave when I taught a high-school girls' Bible study. My favorite prodigal student kept confessing physical slip-ups with her boyfriend. She yearned for a pure relationship but had a difficult time being good with the lights low and romantic music on. When neither memory verses nor accountability phone calls curbed her libido, I encouraged her to imagine Jesus literally standing in her make-out room.

She called me the next morning and said happily, "It worked!" When her boyfriend had begun easing her back on the couch, she'd looked over his shoulder and pictured the Messiah. The effect had been so vivid that she'd exclaimed, "I see Jesus!" Her boyfriend's ardor had cooled immediately, and he'd scurried home without even a good-night kiss.

Similarly, we'd do well to imagine Jesus in our chat rooms. Because when our hearts and minds are filled with the Savior, our mouths won't overflow with garbage. "For out of the abundance of the heart [the] mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45, ESV).

Lisa Harper has a Masters in Theology with an emphasis in biblical studies from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. She's a sought-after speaker and has written several books, including Holding Out for a Hero: A New Spin on Hebrews (Tyndale) and What the Bible Is All About for Women: A Book of Devotions (Regal). www.lisaharper.net.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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