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Jesus on Cussing and Cursing

August 25, 2006

Matthew 5:22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

“Raca” is an Aramaic word meaning emptyheaded fool, bonehead, imbecile.  It was a term of strong abuse, says the lexicon.  It was a term offensive enough to get you hauled before the Sanhedrin if you used it.  And yet, Jesus in his condemnation of using the term, doesn’t mind using the term.  He doesn’t say “Don’t say the R-word.”  He comes right out and says “Raca”.  That must have got his audience’s attention.

But then, as he does repeatedly in the sermon on the mount, he intensifies the moral demands of the law.  He demands even more righteousness than the scribes and Pharisees.  If you say Raca, you’re in trouble with the Sanhedrin, but I tell you that if in anger you even call someone a fool, you are in danger of hell.

Now fool isn’t a bad word.  This isn’t cussing, this is cursing.  And cursing people in anger, with or without strong language, puts you on the brink of the fires of hell.

So you see, my point in insisting that our ethics of obscenity needs to be more culturally nuanced is not to give you an excuse to use more obscenity.  Most of the times we use obscenity it is sinful because it is being used to strengthen our expression of anger or cursing. 

My concern is to say to those Pharisees, who would never use one of the seven dirty words, that you are still guilty of cursing people and if you do not repent and declare war on this sin, you are in danger of the fires of hell.

Thanks to God’s grace given to me through a Piper semon at the Together for the Gospel conference, I have a new habit.  When I become aware of something in my character that is egregiously unChristlike, I pray about it every morning and evening with my wife. 

Luke 18:7-8 will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?, Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. 

I commend this habit to you, I have never felt such strength of spirit since I began praying like this.  And this issue of cursing is the new front lines for me about which I purpose to pray morning and evening. 

If you too have been convicted, perhaps you would like to join me in memorizing these verses:

Psalm 50:19-21 “You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son. These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.

James 3:9-10 With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2006 8:56 am

    Cussing gets you judged by men (Sanhedrin), while cursing gets you judged by God. One is primarily a matter of societal norms. One is necessarily a matter of the heart, our faith, and love (both for God and brothers, cuz they’re linked).
    thanks for the memory verses.

  2. Oddball permalink
    August 25, 2006 3:54 pm

    Besides Jesus calling the Pharisees vipers, how do you square this with Paul calling the Galatians foolish and wishing the Judaizers would castrate themselves?

  3. Egana permalink
    August 25, 2006 5:13 pm

    My son has been concerned about how “mean” our family is. I don’t think we are that mean, but probably this is what he is picking up on, that we are too rough with each other, too focused on gettin what we want, instead of blessing and encourageing and serving each other.

    When I don’t get what I want, I can subtly take it out on them, because they are pretty quick to think it is their fault any way. “Mam’s angry becasue I did such and such…” But really, Mama’s angry becuase she did not get what she wanted in the last 15 minutes, and now she is snippy and sarcastic and selfishly frustrated.

    Also, listening to their own sinflu meanness to each other is so difficult, I find myself wanting to “curse” them into being kind to one another. What a rediculous situation? “Be Kind!” yuck…

  4. Egana permalink
    August 25, 2006 5:14 pm


    i like “sinflu”

    we are sick with sin, aren’t we?

  5. August 26, 2006 10:41 am

    These two posts are very convicting…and I think more so because of your openness about your own sin when you wrote both of them… Both cussing and cursing are a huge struggle for me. The cussing comes when I am extremely angry – showing the anger and wickedness in my heart as I scream at my husband. Cursing is almost a daily thing for me, I don’t even think about it. A lot of times it is the way my friends and I converse together about each other and those around us. Being reminded to think about this in the sense of my heart’s sin really hits home. Usually I’m just trying to avoid a set of words and not offend someone. Maybe this is running off topic but it reminds me of the way our christian “upright” culture tells us not to have pre-marital sex. Usually it’s just touted as this bad thing, so avoid it or you’ll be condemned. Being married and realizing the issue is tied to your heart, your relationship with Christ and with your husband in Christ…it changes how I speak about it. I dunno, maybe that’s totally off the wall but it seems to be the same – just avoid this issue, without mentioning the heart and it’s sin..

  6. Bethlen Gabor permalink
    August 26, 2006 9:17 pm

    Oddball’s question strikes me as an important one, but I can’t quite get my arms around the whole thing. I spend a lot of random minutes fretting over my tongue and the heart that drives it, but it’s difficult to put it all down. So I’ll throw out what thoughts I can express.

    Strikes me that there are some different things that go on that tend to get wrongly lumped together–I think ‘equivocation’ is the word I’m looking for.

    There are things that go on in our lives, or that we observe elsewhere, that are unjust, or wicked, or sad. Our hearts cry out for the Lord’s vengeance in some of these cases, for vindication in others, or for Him to hasten His return to put an end to the mournful things of this world. I don’t think it is wrong to honestly and fully express these things, with the caveat I’ll have in the next paragraph. Perhaps y’all saw in the news this week about the Austrian freak that held the kidnapped girl in slavery for 10 years. When the man flees the authorities, then throws himself in front of a train to escape them, I take some satisfaction from the realization that he just delivered himself into the hands of the True Judge. I have taken personal satisfaction as we dropped bombs and killed a man who was responsible for the deaths of a large number of Iraqis, including killing defenseless women, and beheaded boys of a different tribe–so they wouldn’t grow up to be his enemies. The imprecatory psalms are there for a reason, and it is no sin to rejoice in the justice of God, even as we cry out for mercy for ourselves and others.

    I have also caught myself permitting a callousness towards those who do not understand things that I do, or who do not uphold the things that I thing should be clear and simple, or who are simply in the cross-hairs when I feel irritated. I’ve rejoiced in the justice of the Lord, but I’ve also shrugged at the death and suffering of the relatively innocent, and this crosses the line. The Amalekites and the Canaanites were destroyed, and it was a good thing, but hardness of heart towards the men killed by the falling tower in Siloam (Lk 13:4) is a great sin. As is my cruelty towards others when I feel grumpy.

    All that to aim at this. When faced with something that demands hard–but true–words, it is not wrong to voice those things–though some may be offended. Well and good, but that’s not usually what I’m doing when I use harsh language, whether cussing or cursing. Usually, it’s just me being an a__hole. Truth sometimes requires hard words, but more often I use those words as a weapon in my own employ. That’s why Paul can call the Galatians foolish–because they were, and why he can wish that Judaizers (sp?) would emasculate themselve–because it appropriately underscores the destructiveness of their teaching. It’s also why most of the time, when I use the same words, I don’t have that accuracy or truthfulness, I’m just sinning.

  7. Oddball permalink
    August 27, 2006 1:35 pm

    Well said, Bethlen. Thank you!

  8. Egana permalink
    August 27, 2006 3:23 pm


    I agree completely.

    I think in my daily experience, I have few REAL causes for speaking “hard but true words.” My three little disciples need my “kind but true words” much more often. As does my sweet Gorfchild.

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