Cursing Without Curse Words

Do you curse others?  I don’t mean whether or not you use curse words, since I think that we all – even those who struggle with this vice – know that those aren’t a good idea (see Exodus 20:7, Ephesians 4:29, and Colossians 3:8).  Instead, the questions is whether or not you curse others.

Reviewing the dictionary definitions of the verb form (“to curse”), the two main ideas that I’d like to look at here are:

  1. “Invoking” (or calling down) evil on someone, to be inflicted by a higher power.
    • This higher power might be God, where we call on Him to strike down or withhold blessings from another person or group.
    • It might be a “lesser higher power”, like society’s opinion, or our friends’ esteem.  We might want others with authority or influence to harshly deal with those we curse.
  2. Actually being the instrument by which bad things continue to happen to someone else.
    • This could look like choosing to not forgive someone, so that your behavior continues to punish them for what that they have done (even after they have admitted their fault, repented from doing it again, and apologized).
    • It might involve a malicious attitude that spreads to others, regularly bringing up this person’s shortcomings to ensure that they remain socially cast out from your circle of friends.
    • Or, this may be as blatant as actively doing things to harm another human being, regardless of whether or not they have done anything to you personally.

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The Bible talks about the diverse – and often inappropriate – things that we say.  It cautions us about our tongue (i.e., our speech) in verses like the following:

Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! James 3:9‭-‬10 NLT

In a world that seems to be thriving on attacking others and tearing them down, there are countless news articles, TV segments, social media posts, and daily conversations that fundamentally boil down to cursing others.  Think about the latest article you read, watched, or listened to: Were the authors striving to call down the wrath of a higher power (whether that was God, government, or popular opinion) on someone they opposed?  Did the story focus less on correcting sins in someone’s life and more on tearing them down as a human being?  Was the person delivering the message seeking to bring harm to another individual’s reputation, authority, or even physical well-being?

This is a far cry from the Bible’s instructions, where those in the church are to attempt to correct a fellow believer’s behavior with a private, loving one-on-one conversation, followed by a discussion within a small group within the local congregation, if necessary (see Matthew 18:15-17).  Outside of loving church discipline (or when discussing those who don’t profess to follow Jesus), our messages can rationally identify an incorrect worldview or doctrine, and offer the truth instead.  Our goal might instead be lovingly addressing beliefs or behavior that could harm those who follow along, because we want the best for them.

To be sure, there is a time and a place to speak the truth, even if it reflects poorly on others who are fighting against it.  Jesus called certain religious leaders of His day a number of things (as recorded in Matthew 23), from “whitewashed tombs” to “blind fools”.  Not every statement that identifies a problem in someone else’s character, behavior, or message is necessarily cursing them.  This is especially true when we are objectively evaluating (or “discerning”) the teaching of someone with influence, where the consequences of wrong ideology can harm others, too.  (Having said that, Jesus – who was also God – may have indeed been pronouncing curses upon the Pharisees, but He had the advantage of knowing their hearts, as well as their message.)

However, when those who follow Jesus forget that our tongue is to be used for glorifying God, it is all too easy to fall into the temptation of moving outside of God’s instructions in the Bible, and to run right off the cliff into sin.  When the same tongue that praises God is used to curse His creation out of hatred or vengeance, we’ve fallen into the trap that James warned about.

So, how do we tell the difference?  I propose some questions for us to ask of ourselves (including, of course, myself).

  • How do our conversations about others’ shortcomings compare to Jesus’ (including His words in Matthew 23)?
  • Do our discussions show people a better way (the peace that God offers and the reconciliation that Jesus brought, for instance) or do they merely rail against evil?
  • Is our conversation loving, or are we letting unrighteous anger, hate, malice, revenge, or other inflammatory emotions cloud our judgment?
  • Are we correcting or condemning?  Is it our goal to restore truth, or to tear someone down?
  • Are our prayers (for those we talk about negatively) meant for their good, or for their destruction?
  • Are we seeking to be like those that Jesus called blessed in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12)?  Similarly, do our conversations (at least, the side of the conversations that we control) reflect the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)?

I’m not here to police your individual conversations.  Clearly, the examples of righteous anger and frank speech in the Bible confirm that we shouldn’t ignore sin, nor that we should never call it out.  However, I do want to be part of the solution of helping fellow Christians (including myself) to use our words as God wants us to, and I am firmly convinced that God’s instructions to us are the basis of determining what that should look like.

So, won’t you join me in evaluating and “pruning” our collective conversations, as we seek the salvation and reconciliation of everyone with God?  May our words glorify God, not just during a worship service, but in everything we speak and write.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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