In the church I visited the other week, the pastor showed a video of his friend John’s recent experience of paragliding in the Alps. The video camera had been attached to John’s helmet, so we were able to see what he saw and hear what he heard. The scenery was stunning, mountains and fields and pine forests rolled out beneath him in a breathtaking panorama. Then John guided his ‘wings’ in to land. But it quickly became clear that he had slightly misjudged it, and was about to have a close encounter of the extremely painful kind with a pine tree. I’ll leave you to imagine, for a moment, what he said loud and clear on the video.
In a recent article for Christianity Today, Carolyn Arends addressed the issue of what she termed ‘cussing Christians’. “It’s cool these days,” she noted, “to be a Christian who swears. It gives the curser an ‘I’m into Jesus, but I’m not legalistic’ badge.” Although rightly pointing out that using language that expresses an attitude of contempt for a person or situation is a damaging and not-very-God-like attitude, her piece misses some other key elements of why the term ‘cussing Christian’ should be an oxymoron.
A few years ago a young lady for whom my friends and I had been praying for some time gave her life to Christ. She immediately started telling people how God had changed her, removing the anxiety that she had always struggled with, and giving her a new sense of worth and purpose. She embraced the idea of discipleship and asked lots of really good questions about the implications for her lifestyle of being a follower of Jesus. One time she asked us in an anguished voice, “But why do I have to give up swearing, too?” She was half joking; giving up swearing didn’t rank anywhere near as high on the list of sacrifices as giving up sleeping with her boyfriend, but it was a genuine issue.
To our shame, none of us had a ready response. It wasn’t till later that I realised one very good reason is that as a Christian your life is no longer all about you. This girl knew she shouldn’t do things that hurt others or hindered her own spiritual growth, but she wasn’t yet fully aware of the idea that her life was to glorify God and be a witness to others. Did her language bring glory to God? Did it bear witness to a transformed life?
Remember John, swooping uncontrollably towards an immovable object, high above the Swiss Alps? I’m going to tell you what he blurted out in his moment of stress. Are you ready? He said, “Oh dear!”
Back in the chalet that evening, the group he was with gathered around to watch the videos all the participants had taken that day. They watched with glee as they anticipated John’s accident, and they were completely blown away by his response. They could not get over the fact that when caught up in the moment of fear and dread, the thing that blurted out of his mouth was ‘Oh dear’.
The ribbing and teasing eventually gave way and opened the door to genuine questions, and John was able to tell this mixed group of friends and strangers about his faith and how God has utterly transformed his life. He didn’t have to work hard to convince them of the truth of the claims of Jesus – though some then asked him where they could learn more – because he had unconsciously demonstrated Jesus’ power to change lives and hearts.
In Matthew we are told that “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart” (Matthew 15:18). If the words that bubble out of your mouth when faced with impending pain or, like Carolyn’s example in her article, when you miss your turn en route to the orthodontist are ugly, dirty, bad words, not clean, pure ones, what does that suggest about the state of your heart?
Through not uttering a swear word when everyone would have given him license to, John was able to share Christ with a group who might otherwise never have heard the good news. Surely that’s worth cleaning up our mouths for?
Picture Credit: Parapendio a Sillian-Heinfels by Giorgio___is_OFF (Creative Commons)