The Difference Between Harsh and Foul Language

In one scenario (and in many others), we see Jesus again confronting the Pharisees. However, in these confrontations Jesus wasn’t flipping any tables but was also not mincing words when it came to how He felt about the Pharisees. Ponder these piercing words Jesus speaks to the Pharisees: “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).

When Jesus called them “brood of vipers,” He was pointing out that they were deceitful, manipulative, wicked, and dangerous. If modern Christians were around when that happened, they might’ve scoffed that Jesus used such harsh language and might’ve even told Jesus to repent. What we don’t comprehend is that language isn’t inherently evil.

Yes, there is some language Christians should never use, like our modern-day cuss words. We are told to not let any “foul language . . . come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). The fact that many Christians attempt to give a reason why cussing is permissible astonishes me. To me, this is a clear command to not use any bad language. It couldn’t be more explicit, even in context.

It is quite evident that “brood of vipers” wouldn’t fall in the category of foul language even though it’s strong language. As Christians, we must not be afraid of using biblical language when we’re having a conversation with somebody.

This is another issue that comes up: using strong language just because we can. I see this definitely within Reformed circles for some reason. There’s this inclination to use foul or strong language simply because it’s deemed “cool,” or because we have “liberty.” That is quite silly. Not only might you be doing a disservice to your witness by using that language, but you’re also being prideful in that you’re using language like that just because. We know that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45), so we must evaluate our hearts if we find ourselves being loose with our language.

Just because Jesus used harsh language doesn’t give you the liberty to use foul language.

Bottom line: we must do a heart check when it comes to using strong language. What is our motive behind doing so?

Is it helpful to the context? Is it necessary? The questions shouldn’t merely be “Is it sinful?” but “Is it beneficial?” I think it’s hard to argue that using a four-letter word is ever beneficial to a conversation, let alone in the context of evangelism.

More importantly, will it glorify God? These are questions we should wrestle with, as we must remember to do everything—definitely speaking—to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). And how you answer will play a huge role in your witness.

We must remember context when thinking about using the language that Jesus did—or something similar to it. It’s not always necessary. Imagine using foul language—or even harsh language—when having a conversation with a recent convert who struggles with cussing. What example are you setting? This goes back to thinking of others’ interest before our own. Just because it’s biblical doesn’t make it helpful in a particular situation.

This article was adapted from my book Gospel Smugness: Displaying Christlike Character in Evangelism available now on Amazon.

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