To Swear or Not to Swear
When I was a kid, a misuse of the sacred name, "Jesus," would've gotten my mouth washed out with soap. (Ok, I'm not quite that old, but it would've been big trouble just the same.) Now, I hear kids use "Jesus" as an exclamation all the time. With their "omg"s and their "Jesus Christ!" I don't think swearing is going away any time soon. In fact, it's been going on since the beginning of language, and will be around until language (so... humanity) comes to an end.
Paul apparently didn't appreciate swearing. But then, if you read the Bible closely, and in its original language, there's actually quite a lot of swearing throughout the entire thing, even the letters of Paul. (Didn't know that, didja?) We've done a great job of cleaning it up.
Aside: Last week when I was researching a reference, I came across a prime example of this kind of cleaning up. Look at this verse from the NRSV and the KJV, and how they might be translated today:
"More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ." ~NRSV
"Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ." ~KJV
"Also... compared to knowing Christ, everything else is a waste of time. I've lost everything, and those things are not worth shit, because I'd rather know Christ." ~Me
So yes, there's swearing in the Bible. And yes, these words are from Paul -- the very person condemning swearing in today's text.
So what's going on? Perhaps Paul doesn't like to hear others swear. It's more likely Paul is not against the words themselves, but against any thoughts, words, and actions that direct us away from Christ. To be fair, Paul's swear word slip was quite in favor of living a life in Christ. The words and the energy behind it were all directed toward Christ -- toward following Christ, living like Christ, sharing the good news of Christ, and becoming better because of him.
What Paul fought against was the kind of lifestyle that directs away from Christ. When people are self-absorbed in living free with their sexuality, their money, their language, they are too focused on self to live for others or for God. So, it's not the language Paul was against, but the flow of energy and the outward expression of apathy and contempt.
What's the difference between my kids shouting, "Jesus Christ!" and my grandma proclaiming, "Oh, sweet Jesus!"? Or the difference between, "God damn it!" and "God bless it!"? On one hand, these are just words. And when they are just words, even swearing doesn't bother me. But with or without the words, I am profoundly affected by anger, contempt, bitterness, mockery, disdain, disregard, and disrespect. These bring me and those around me to a place that is far from the paradise on earth God desires for humanity.
So, go ahead and drop an F-bomb once in a while when you are joking around with your closest family and friends. But keep a level head when you're out on the road, at your workplace, or in the store. Treat others with kindness and respect. Be better.
Narrative Lectionary Text: Ephesians 5:3-5:5
But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints. Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.