I recently had a facebook discussion with a Christian friend who asked what was so wrong with swearing. The discussion was interesting so I thought I’d post a summary of it here.
Colossians 3:8: But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
So how do we know what the Bible means by filthy language? Consider Philippians 3:8, what the more modern translations choose to call “rubbish” or something similar is somewhat more accurately translated "a steaming pile of excrement". Another similar example is Isaiah 64:6, which is usually translated “filthy rags” but in a more modern context could be translated "used tampon". This is not what is meant by filthy language.
It is not simply that you ought not to say certain things or use your words in hurtful ways but rather every word that you speak ought to be positive and build others up. If what you are saying is helpful and leads people to Christ then it is worthy of being spoken; if it doesn't then don't bother saying it at all.
Furthermore, the words you speak may not be harmful in and of themselves but if they are likely to seem inappropriate to others around you then you ought to use your freedom in Christ to refrain from speaking them for the benefit of the weaker folks around you (consider 1 Corinthians 8).
If you think I’m going to see you, as a Christian, using words that I think ought not to come from a Christian and the result will be to the detriment of my spiritual life then you ought to protect me by controlling your words.
People tend to think of this idea in terms of "we must censor ourselves to suit the prudes". This is looking at it the wrong way around. We should desire and choose to speak in ways that build people up and not waste our words in ways that don’t have positive effect. Rather than thinking of it as "you have to do this for someone else's benefit", consider that Christ has given you the freedom to be able to control your words so that you are capable of choosing to speak only what will be of benefit. In effect, you have the privilege and responsibility of being able to benefit people with your words; why would you spoil it with something foul?
My observation has been that most people swear, not that they choose to, but rather because they fail to consider that they should choose not to. Swearing is rife in our culture and it makes people feel like they belong to the group.
It is a very self-important attitude that says, “I should be able to say whatever I want, and no one else can dictate how I am permitted to speak”. Granted, the prevailing attitude in our society that “no one should be permitted to say anything that I might take offense to” is equally self-important. I do not advocate either position.
Sometimes people suggest they are using swear words for emphasis but in order for that to be effective it needs to be a rare occurrence (not every fourth word). In some cases the absence of a swear word would be the only thing that would draw attention. I find generally that this is simply an attempt at a justification for someone who doesn’t want to be obliged in controlling their tongue or go to the effort of considering what they are communicating.
Generally the act of swearing is disrespectful to yourself, to the people around, and also to the subject matter used for swearing. In the case of Jesus, using his name as a swear word is highly disrespectful to Him and offensive to Christians of course. Using sex as a swear word is disrespectful to a beautiful gift God has given us. I don't think that anyone really gets offended on behalf of faeces. It's foul stuff and foul language seems fairly apt to me, particularly in case of the slippery mess that ducks leave on the grass if you've ever had the misfortune...
There is a tendency amongst Christians to behave as though that kind of behaviour is beneath them and, I think at least in part, this is a misinterpretation. I don't see that swearing is beneath me inasmuch as I believe it is beneath humans to degrade themselves like that. I don't think of those who swear as lesser beings, but I do think that in making a habit of using foul language they are behaving like lesser beings and I wish they would have a little more respect for themselves.
As Christians we should have no need to be part of "the group,” a Christian should be set apart for God. No Christian can think more highly of himself or herself than anyone else because the Scripture doesn't give us that position. We are sinners saved by grace so “there but for the grace of God go I” should always be in our mind. We are not better, just forgiven, and on the path of being renewed.