"The phenomenon of swearing in public seems to be more wide-spread among younger generations: 74% of 18-34 year-olds admitted to swearing in public versus 48% of respondents 55 years-of-age and older. Meanwhile, studies confirm that school children are swearing more than ever before" (1)
When we talk about “swearing,” we’re talking about a word that has two different meanings. The first meaning involves someone who uses profanity or bad language. The second meaning refers to someone who makes a serious promise or a vow.
It’s this second meaning that the Bible speaks of in James 5:12…
“But most of all, dear brothers, do not swear either by heaven or earth or anything else; just say a simple yes or no so that you will not sin and be condemned for it” (James 5:12).
The idea here is that swearing shouldn’t be part of a Christian’s regular conversation with people. Unfortunately, what the Bible warns against here is pretty common in our day and age. For example, how often have you heard people use the words, “I swear…” in a sentence without really thinking about it? It happens all the time in the media and during everyday conversations between people, but the fact that it happens a lot doesn’t make it right.
Swearing is really much more serious then many people realize. You see, whenever someone says the words, “I swear,” they are actually taking an oath and making a promise to do whatever it is they are swearing to. This is why witnesses are put “under oath” and swear to tell the truth when giving testimony in a court of law. It’s also why government officials are “sworn into” office. So when someone says, “I swear,” they are making a very serious promise.
Now you may think that The Doctor is making too much of this, but Jesus taught very clearly on this subject…
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:33-37 NIV)
Although it’s common for people to back up their statements by swearing to them, think about what Jesus said in the Scripture quoted above. Jesus said, “…let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one“ (emphasis added).Believe it or not, Jesus is saying that people who swear as a part of their everyday language are actually taking the same kind of attitude that the devil does.
Now some might say, “Yeah, but ‘I swear’ is just an expression- people know that I don’t really mean it.” If you feel this way then you should consider something else that Jesus once said on this subject to the religious leaders of His day…
“Blind guides! Woe upon you! For your rule is that to swear ‘By God’s Temple’ means nothing– you can break that oath, but to swear ‘By the gold in the Temple’ is binding! Blind fools! Which is greater, the gold, or the Temple that sanctifies the gold?
And you say that to take an oath ‘By the altar’ can be broken, but to swear ‘By the gifts on the altar’ is binding! Blind! For which is greater, the gift on the altar, or the altar itself that sanctifies the gift? When you swear ‘By the altar’ you are swearing by it and everything on it, and when you swear ‘By the Temple’ you are swearing by it and by God who lives in it. And when you swear ‘By heavens’ you are swearing by the Throne of God and by God himself” (Matthew 23:16-22).
Do you get the feeling that Jesus is teaching that it’s a bad idea to swear?
Now as we said earlier, “swearing” also refers to cursing or using bad language. This is often seen whenever someone uses the Lord’s name as an exclamation or a curse word. Again, the Bible speaks very clearly against this…
“You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (Exodus 20:7 NIV).
People who use the Lord’s name in an inappropriate way should know that they will have to answer to Him for it one day.
Another word that is often misused in this way is the word “holy.” People often use the word “holy” as part of an exclamation or expression of surprise but The Doctor suspects that people wouldn’t use this word in that way if they really knew what it meant.
You see, the word “holy” refers to God’s total, absolute moral purity. It also carries the idea of being entirely separate or “set apart” from anything that is wrong or dirty. Using the word “holy” in a way that doesn’t honor God’s sacred character certainly doesn’t represent Him in the right way to others.
So, do you want to avoid getting into trouble by swearing? Would you like to develop a reputation as a person of integrity? Then remember and follow the good advice that we saw quoted earlier in James 5:12: “Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no…”
Some more good advice on swearing is also found in Ephesians 4:29…
“Don’t use bad language. Say only what is good and helpful to those you are talking to, and what will give them a blessing.”
If you develop a reputation for telling the truth, then others will respect the things that you say and you won’t feel the need to back up your word by swearing to it. In a world where straight answers are hard to come by, people will take you at your word and accept your “Yes” as “yes” and your “No” as “no” if your language is honorable and you tell the truth.
(1) Parents Television Council The Blue Tube: Foul Language on Prime Time Network TV