Sins of Speech (Bible Study) – Part 1

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]


Not all oppressive Christianity comes in the form of rules imposed upon Christians. Oppressive Christianity also comes in the form of Christians’ anti-biblical behavior toward others. Some anti-biblical behavior is opposed by the church, such as adultery. I feel no need to address sins like these, because nearly all churches are on the right track by opposing them. However, other sins are often committed and even promoted by churches, such as abusive speech, greed, pride and judgmentalism. Amazingly, churches commit and promote these sins despite the overwhelming attention the Bible pays them.
It’s important to list all these verses to demonstrate how important our speech is in God’s eyes. We need to divert our focus from the man-made rules of the Christian faith and direct it toward the following verses.

The Lord’s Name
Exodus 20:7, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”
Context: This is the third of the 10 Commandments.
Analysis: While nearly all of the Law addresses our behavior toward others, the first three commandments address our behavior toward God. God wants us to admire, adore, and respect Him for creating us and the universe. All the good we enjoy comes from Him. We are not to take Him for granted; therefore, we are not to take His name for granted.
Webster’s first definition of vain is “having no real value or significance; worthless, empty, idle, hollow, etc (1).” When we carelessly use God’s name, we behave as though God is insignificant and worthless. How can the One who created us be worthless? Without Him, we would be the ones having no worth, because we wouldn’t exist.
It’s surprising that this law receives no additional attention in the Bible. One reason for this might be that the Israelites took this law seriously from the beginning. In fact, they avoided saying His proper name altogether. They usually referred to Him as “the Lord.”
It’s unlikely that the breaking of this law was a problem when the gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire in the first century, because the Romans had never heard of God. We modern-day Americans, on the other hand, grew up knowing and hearing God’s name, so we tend to use it carelessly. This is especially true among those who lack a personal relationship with Him and esteem Him to be insignificant or worthless.

Exodus 22:28, “You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people.”
Context: This is one of many laws that follow the 10 Commandments.
Analysis: What does it mean to curse someone? Thanks to the term curse word, many of us think it means to speak to someone by using one of a handful of words that are said to be profane. However, in the Bible, to curse a person usually means to call damnation or some other ill fate upon them. Biblical curses have nothing to do with the technicality of which words are used to convey the curse. All that matters is the meaning of those words.
As for cursing “a ruler of your people,” how many of us break that rule? Again, we Christians may avoid using foul language when doing so, but even when we call a leader “evil,” we violate this command, because we are effectively damning that leader with our words, saying that he or she is of Satan.

Leviticus 20:9, “Is there anyone who curses his father or his mother, he shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother, his blood guiltiness is upon him.”
Context: Numerous, unrelated laws are listed in this portion of Leviticus.
Analysis: Those whose mothers and fathers neglect or abuse them find this verse difficult to accept. Nonetheless, God knows that children must submit to parents if they are to be raised to love others well. If children show disrespect toward their parents and fail to obey them, society falls apart.

Psalms 10:7, “His mouth is full of curses and deceit and oppression; under his tongue is mischief and wickedness.”
Context: The psalmist beseeches the Lord to bring justice upon the wicked and rescue the oppressed.
Analysis: Notice that curses are interconnected with deceit and oppression. What do all three have in common? They ruin peoples’ lives. Our curses of others oppress their souls. It doesn’t matter whether we call someone a curse word, call them an idiot, or tell them they’re useless, our words chip away at the foundation of their sense of self-worth. Those who are down on themselves tend to be less productive for God and in loving others, because they feel that there’s little they can contribute.

Proverbs 20:20, “He who curses his father or his mother, his lamp will go out in time of darkness.”
Analysis: Why does the lamp go out in the time of darkness for the one who curses his or her parents? Is it simply that God will punish them? Or is it because failing to love parents can have practical, negative effects on a person’s life? It might be that failing to follow parents’ instruction will lead to an undisciplined lifestyle. Or it might be that parents will refuse to lend a hand to their children who disrespect them.

Ecclesiastes 10:20, “Furthermore, in your bed-chamber do not curse a king, and in your sleeping rooms do not curse a rich man, for a bird of the heavens will carry the sound, and the winged creature will make the matter known.”
Context: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes contain miscellaneous sayings which are often unrelated to the verses that precede and follow them.
Analysis: God warns against cursing someone in private as well as in public. Of course, this verse uses hyperbole; birds don’t carry messages that they hear to others. Nonetheless, it never does good to speak evil of another. Even when we do so our hearts,
people can sense it.

Romans 3:14, “Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, The poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness….”
Context: Paul uses Old Testament quotes to demonstrate that all people sin and, therefore, need justification through faith in Christ.
Analysis: Here cursing and bitterness go hand-in-hand. Have you ever noticed that people who frequently use foul language and put down others are always miserable, always bitter? Their own anger toward others ultimately proves self-destructive.
Paul’s use the words “open grave” and “poison” relay just how serious cursing, bitterness, and deception are. Today we fail to acknowledge the life-ruining nature of abusive speech. A husband who hits his wife just once is a criminal, but the man who verbally abuses his wife for years is deemed innocent, even though the verbally abused woman bears deeper emotional scars.

Romans 12:14, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not.”
Context: Paul urges the Christians to live a life pleasing to God.
Analysis: A curse is the opposite of a blessing. When we bless, we call on God to love the object of our blessing; when we curse, we call on God to damn the object of our curse. So our cursing of others is the equivalent of pronouncing our own damnation on them.
Many of us Christians find it acceptable to curse those in power. Not only does the Bible forbid that, but this verse even prohibits cursing those who directly harm us.
Why does God command us in this way? Perhaps because good can never come from cursing others. Even if they never hear our curses, the evil we speak of them reinforces the hatred in our hearts. We must extinguish our hatred before it flares up into something more powerful than we can handle. Catching ourselves before we speak evil of someone is an excellent way to do that.

James 3:8-9, “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God….”
Context: Verses 1-12 proclaim the power of speech and the importance of controlling it.
Analysis: Again, these verses mention no illegal words, but count any judgmental or hateful speech as a curse.
These verses apply as much to us Christians today as they did to those who initially received this letter from James. The modern Evangelical church focuses on praising God, on having worship services Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, etc, and yet remains hard-hearted toward most of society, judging those who live differently as enemies. Often, these feeling are expressed through judgmental speech that is, essentially, cursing.

Perverted Speech
Proverbs 8:13, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way, and the perverted mouth, I hate.”
Analysis: What do pride and arrogance have to do with the perverted mouth? Today, we define the word perverted as sexually-oriented speech. However, the biblical definition is broader.

Proverbs 10:31-32, “The mouth of the righteous flows with wisdom, but the perverted tongue will be cut out. The lips of the righteous bring forth what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverted.”
Analysis: For the perverted tongue to be cut out, it must be both worthless and dangerous. Unlike the mouths and lips that flow with wisdom and bring forth what is acceptable, the perverted tongue belongs to the mouths of the wicked. Just as the wicked harm others, so does their perverted speech.

Proverbs 15:4, “A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit.”
Analysis: Here we have further biblical proof of the power of words. When we speak as God commands us to, we uplift the spirit of those who hear us. But when we speak in a manner that defies God’s commands, we destroy the self-esteem of others and help cause their destruction.
This verse gives us the bible’s definition of perverse speech: it is speech that crushes the spirit. Perverse speech has little or nothing to do with sex in the Bible; rather, it has everything to do with hurting others.

Proverbs 16:28, “A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends.”
Analysis: One manner in which perverse speech harms others is by destroying relationships. Why does God define such behavior as perverse? Because God desires for us a society in which we love one another well. Anything we say that hurts others is perverse in God’s eyes, because He defines perversion as anything that strays from His will.

Proverbs 17:20, “He who has a crooked mind finds no good, and he who is perverted in his language falls into evil.”
Analysis: Crookedness and perversion are basically the same thing. The original meaning of both is that they stray from the path God wants us to follow.
People with crooked minds are often the same ones who use perverted speech. According to this verse, these people find no good. Have you ever noticed that people who speak evil and use harsh language tend to be miserable and negative? They find the bad in everything, but take the good for granted. This is also true of Christians. Even though we refrain from using curse words, many of us find fault with just about anyone. This verse speaks of us as much as it does foul-mouthed non-Christians.

Proverbs 19:1, “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than he who is perverse in speech and is a fool.”
Analysis: This verse defines perverse speech as the opposite of integrity. What is integrity? The dictionary defines it as being of a whole and perfect nature or as being moral, honest and sincere. So we can conclude that perverse speech is imperfect, immoral, dishonest and insincere. Again, it’s not just sexual speech.

Titus 3:9-10, “But shun foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law; for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.”
Context: Paul instructs his understudy, Titus, on church management.
Analysis: Finally, the Bible labels a factious person as perverted. Biblical perversion creates strife and disputes; it drives people apart and tears down the church. The righteous person builds and strengthens relationships. He or she avoids pointless arguments and anything else that tears people apart.

Quarreling & Contention
Proverbs 17:14, “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so abandon the quarrel before it breaks out.”
Analysis: Disagreements are a part of life. God never commands us to agree with one another on all matters. We are free to share our views with each other, especially when our views can improve someone’s relationships with God and others. However, God forbids quarreling. Why? Because heated debate creates enmity between its participants. This verse tells us that the resulting strife is unstoppable once it begins, just like a dam bursting. Once it lets loose, the momentum builds and the destruction is devastating.

Proverbs 20:3, “Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel.”
Analysis: Again we see quarreling and strife mentioned together in the same holy breath. To be honorable in God’s eyes, we must refrain from all quarreling, because all quarrelling leads to strife.

Proverbs 21:19, “It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and vexing woman.”
Proverbs 25:23, “It is better to live in a corner of the roof than in a house with a contentious woman.”
Proverbs 27:15, “A constant dripping on a day of steady rain and a contentious (‘quarrelsome’ in the NIV) woman are alike.”
Analysis: Being alone is difficult. God designed us for companionship with other people. However, having a quarrelsome companion is an even worse fate than loneliness. Loneliness is hard on the spirit, but quarreling crushes our spirits. It fills us with bitterness and stress that smothers the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Proverbs 22:10, “Drive out the scoffer, and contention will go out, even strife and dishonor will cease.”
Analysis: Most of us love to make others laugh. Laughter is great for the soul when it’s in line with God’s will. However, scoffing is the equivalent of mocking. When we scoff or mock others, we create laughter at their expense. Even if we mock someone away from their presence, we lead people to lose respect for that person. When we lose respect for others, we stay away from them rather than befriend them, and those we disrespect suffer alone.
I know from personal experience that scoffers create resentment among those around them. People feel free to fire back at the scoffer, since the scoffer is willing to “dish it out,” and since people see the scoffer as heartless and deserving of being mocked. Naturally, when people fire back, the scoffer isn’t content to let the conversation end, so he or she fires back with more scoffing. The insults fly back and forth, and even if the participants say it’s all fun and games, resentment builds between all involved. From this resentment comes the contention, strife, and dishonor of which this verse speaks.

Philippians 2:14, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing….”
Context: Paul explains how God is at work in the lives and conduct of Christians.
Analysis: When we grumble about our lives, we effectively argue with God about the life He has given us. We as Christians are called to look on the bright side as much as possible. Rather than complain about our lives, we need to appreciate how good we have it, even when we don’t have everything we want.
Have you ever been unhappy with your life, and then found yourself in a much worse situation due to health, employment, or personal problems? You then think to yourself, “If only I could go back to the situation I was in before my life took a turn for the worse. This time I would appreciate it rather than complain about the minor problems I had (compared to what I’m currently experiencing) at the time.” Unfortunately, life can always get worse, so we need to give thanks over the good things God has given us, rather than grumble and argue with Him.

1 Timothy 6:3-4, “If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions….”
Context: Paul warns Timothy against false teachings.
Analysis: This verse convicts me personally as I love to address controversial issues with the messages that resonate throughout the Bible. I love to persuade others and lead them to the truth. I don’t know why, exactly. I think it’s because I can’t stand to see people practicing and promoting anti-biblical behavior in the name of Christ. This verse is a word of caution to all of us when we address such issues.
Of course, those whom Paul writes about apparently disagreed with him and the other apostles, even though they had the best knowledge of what Jesus was all about; whereas, we Christians today disagree with each other about what the writings of the apostles (and other Bible authors) have to say to us today. None of us ever knew Jesus directly.

Titus 3:1-2, “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one [‘speak evil of no one’ in the NRSV], to be uncontentious [‘avoid quarrelling’ in the NRSV], gentle, showing every consideration for all men.”
Context: Paul instructs his understudy, Titus, on church management.
Analysis: While Proverbs presents us with numerous warnings against quarreling and contention, Titus 3:1-2 presents God’s alternative – speech that’s “gentle, showing every consideration for all men.” There’s nothing wrong with having theological disagreements, especially since we don’t have Jesus or the apostles with us for guidance; but we must be gentle, courteous and respectful in our discussions.