Do you use more bad language today than you did 10 years ago?

Researchers have conducted scientific studies about swearing. They have wondered about the frequency that patients swear at their nurses and the significance of curse words in favorite movies and television shows. Some of their findings spark interest.

First, swearing and cursing have been getting more common over time. It is difficult to accurately track swearing, because the definition of what constitutes bad language changes and because people modify their speech if they know they are being observed. In comparing studies conducted about 35 years ago about how often common swear words are heard in public, almost all of the words were heard more often today.

Another study found that about 0.7% of the words we use on a daily basis are swear words. That is about the same percentage that we use personal plural pronouns like “we” and “our.” Combine with the fact that the average adult speaks about 16,000 words a day, the average person uses over a thousand swear words each day. Are you average?

Second, some are seeing the connection between how often we swear and the fact that we are hearing bad language more often. Years ago, obscenity laws and respect of decency sanitized much of what we consumed. We had to choose to hear and see things that were out of the norm. Today, cable channels, the internet, and social media expose us to more profanity than ever before. Familiarity breeds acceptance and usage.

Over the past couple of weeks we have spent some time looking at how we can “spring clean” our spiritual lives. Last week we focused on cleaning the catch-all drawer of the heart. Today our cleaning efforts are going to focus on what comes out of our mouths.

When we spend time cleaning the heart, a change in language should immediately follow. Jesus taught, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart, his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

Deep cleaning the language of our mouths is more than just eliminating bad language, although the choice of those words should be our starting place. Realize the issue isn’t just about the words we choose to use. Remember, Jesus urges us to look at our hearts before the actions. Have our hearts become calloused to decency? Does it harbor anger? Does it believe that no one has the right to put boundaries upon it?

Cleaning our language also includes disinfecting negative and pessimistic talk. Paul encourages the Ephesians to “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29 ESV).

What we spend our time thinking about influences the words that come from our mouths. It is no wonder Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8 ESV).

The deep cleaning needs to include the challenge to eliminate complaining. Several biblical writers challenge us to be above our attitudes. Paul writes, “Do all things without grumbling or questioning” (Philippians 2:14 ESV). James says, “Do not grumble against one another, brothers” (James 5:9 ESV). Peter urges, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9 ESV).

Before we conclude these thoughts about cleaning our speech, let’s pause for a moment at the Ten Commandments. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” Think about the words “name” and “in vain.”

There are words that identify who I am to others — husband, father, brother, teacher, leader, writer. The words speak to my actions, but my name — Tom —wraps all of those parts of my essence into a package. It is who I am.

God is called many things — Lord, Almighty, Jealous, Holy, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father — but His personal name, Yahweh, is built on the verb “I am.” God is absolute being. He has no beginning, no ending, and no dependence. That’s who He is. The word is used over 6,000 times in the Old Testament.

Can you think about — let alone say — any of those words without having passion and excitement stir within you? Can you fail to be in awe of who God is?

Don’t take that in vain. The phrase “in vain” or “vanity” is used often in the Bible. Jeremiah says, “In vain I have punished your children, but they took no correction” (Jeremiah 2:30). Solomon writes, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). We do something and it does no good; it does not fulfill its intentions.

When my son, Rob, was in junior high school, he concluded that snow on the weekend was “wasted snow.” To him, the purpose of snow was to have school canceled and to miss school. Snow falling on the weekend was “wasted snow.”

When I treat God as if His name and His work is a waste, I have taken His name in vain. How do I keep from thinking that way? Jesus hinted at an answer in Matthew 15:8-9 where He is quoting from Isaiah. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

The call of the third commandment appears clear. More than just the words we choose to use, may our hearts never be emptied of our affection and passion for the name of God! May we never replace our understanding of His depth with ideas, thoughts and images made by our own hands.

Tom May is a freelance writer who has held paid and volunteer ministry positions at several churches in the tri-state area. Reach him at

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