I’ll come right out and say it: Profanity isn’t always a sin—but it easily can be. But how are we supposed to know? Here are three principles I see in judging the morality of our speech.Share
The first principle is intent. What’s the purpose? For example, if you are furious with someone, and you tell them to go to hell (or worse), your intent is obviously to hurt the other person with your words. This kind of angry speech is always prohibited, even if no profane words are used. Jesus makes this clear when he strongly condemns hateful language: “But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.” Of course, there are plenty of other motivations for using profanity besides anger, but the point is, examining our motives will help us determine if we are sinning or not.
The second principle is degree. It is well known that some profanities are more offensive than others, such as words that have an obviously crude and sexual connotation. The f-word is undoubtedly considered the most obscene word in the English language, for example, and I don’t see any cases in which its use can be justified. Frequency is also important. If every other word in your vocabulary is a vulgarity, it’s probably a sign of a deeper problem.
The third principle is graciousness. ”Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt,” says St. Paul— which is pretty funny since “salty language” is a euphemism for profanity. Anyway, we know what the great apostle means. Our speech should literally be grace-full. It should build up the hearer. (Read more.)