This is part-two of our discussion of the Third Commandment. Last week, Dr. Spinney discussed the connection between the way we speak of God and the way we revere God in our hearts. Irreverent speech reveals a heart problem. Irreverent speech includes mentioning God in ways that are insincere, empty, purposeless, or mindless.
He also brought out a more subtle implication of the Third Commandment. In addition to covering the way we speak of God, the commandment also addresses the way we live. It obligates us to live as Godly people. Our reverence for God should be obvious from the way we treat others and from the way we worship. You can dishonor God's name simply by making Christians look bad. Thus, Christians take God's name in vain whenever they behave like unbelievers, because their behavior causes God's name to be blasphemed.
When Dr. Spinney mentioned God, he used words for God that are clearly understood by most people to be formal references to God, words we could use for God in prayer and worship. Today, I will be discussing informal references to God. I will be dealing with irreverent euphemistic speech. Euphemistic speech includes words that actually mean God but are rarely used in prayer and worship--words like gosh and golly. People replace formal references to God with words like gosh and golly to try to clean up irreverent speech. For example, many people who would never start a sentence with "Oh my God" feel very comfortable with "Oh my gosh." In this way, many Christians dishonor God every day in their speech without even knowing it. They take God's name in vain several times a day without even realizing they are violating the Third Commandment.
Now, if I had a regular habit of saying something that offended my wife, I would want her to tell me. Of course, I might not appreciate it at the exact moment she tells me. I might think she is being over-sensitive, and the tone of my voice might reveal that I am very annoyed. But once I calmed down and gave her a chance to explain, then she would be able to clarify why she was offended.
Likewise, I am sure that deep down in your own hearts, you really do want to know if you are offending God. Yet, I believe that many of you, when you first hear what I say, will think I am being over-sensitive. My comments will irritate you and perhaps even anger you. Nevertheless, I would encourage you, because of your love and zeal for the honor of God, please carefully consider my arguments this morning.
Why devote a whole sermon to this topic? There are three reasons:
- This application is usually neglected, even in Reformed circles.
- Even when this topic is addressed, it typically receives only brief and superficial treatment.
- This application so wars against the common understanding of our so-called Christian culture and tradition that it takes a lot of time to explain convincingly.
Problem with euphemisms.
There are several ways in which we treat the Name of God irreverently. For example, a person might say, "I made the incompetent mechanic return my money, by God." Here, the expression by God is used to convey intensity of emotion, but it actually means nothing with respect to God. Most likely, the person who says this is not even thinking about God. He mentions God, but he does this in a way that treats God as if he were nothing.
A more careful person might say, "I made the incompetent mechanic return my money, by golly," replacing the word God with the word golly. This sounds better to our ears, but if you look up the word golly in a good dictionary, you find it is a euphemism for God. In other words, golly actually means God; it just does not offend us as much. Euphemisms for God allow people to dishonor God's name without feeling bad about it and without offending other people. These euphemisms are used by laymen, pastors, apologists, and theologians. They use them, even while teaching and defending the very Word of God. Is God concerned about this, or am I just being petty?
As I begin to speak on this subject, I can already anticipate objections: legalism, pietism, moralism, Puritanical prudery, and the list goes on. These are merely smokescreens for disobedience, to which I respond with one question: what does the Bible say? What does the Bible say about how we are to treat God's name? Not what does our culture say, not what are the customs and practices of most professing Christians, but what does the Bible say?
I challenge you to show me any place in the Bible that grants us license to reference God in empty and careless ways. Show me any place in the Bible that permits us to treat God or the things of God as less than holy. Even in the Lord's Prayer, Jesus employs a check, lest there be any tendency towards irreverence and flippancy. After beginning the prayer with "Our Father who art in heaven," this phrase is immediately followed by "hallowed be thy name." For Jesus, intimacy was not a license for flippant and irreverent familiarity. God reveals Himself as a consuming fire, and when you treat God irreverently, you are playing with fire. "For the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain." (Exodus 20:7b)
A problem ignored.
However, many think this problem is insignificant. The world certainly does not understand why God's name should be honored. More and more, the media ignores the sensibilites of Christians when it mentions God.
In contrast, I had higher expectations of the Evangelical community. Several years ago at another church, I taught a group of boys that they should honor God's name by avoiding euphemisms for God. However, one of the boys was encouraged by his father to disregard my comments. His father, a leader in the church, said as long as people do not really mean God, their euphemistic references to God are not sinful. In other words, he said it is okay to pepper your conversations with references to God as long as you are not thinking about God when you do it. I fear that this is a common misunderstanding in the Evangelical community.
What about the Reformed community? I expected reverence for God's name to be emphasized in preaching. However, when I went on the Internet to read and hear what the Reformed community had to say about the Third Commandment, I was very disappointed. Hardly anyone exposed the most frequent violation of that commandment: the mindless use of references to God to express emphasis and emotion. So I respectfully emailed some of the writers and preachers, asking them whether the irreverent use of euphemisms for God was wrong. Most of their answers revealed they did not consider this problem important.
The Puritans and the Reformers.
Then I turned to the Puritans and the Reformers. I read some of the writings of John Calvin, Thomas Watson, and Richard Baxter. In contrast to the contemporary Reformed understanding, I was happy to find that at least some of the Puritans and early Reformers had shared my concern.
Thomas Watson writes that we take God's name in vain "when we use God's name in idle discourse. He is not to be spoken of but with a holy awe upon our hearts. To bring his name in at every turn, when we are not thinking of him, to say, 'O God!' or, 'O Christ!' or, 'As God shall save my soul' -- is to take God's name in vain." Watson also identifies some of the euphemisms of his day including faith and by the mass.
John Calvin writes, "The name of God is everywhere profaned by introducing it indiscriminately in frivolous discourse; and the evil is disregarded, because it has been long and audaciously persisted in with impunity." In other words, it was a longstanding, unpunished cultural practice. The same is true today. We have such a longstanding tradition of irreverence for God's name, both in the world and in the church, everyone thinks it is normal.
Back to the Bible.
So I went back to my Bible. Regardless of what the world around us considers to be normal, I wanted to know what God considers normal. What does God say about how we should honor His name? That is what we will investigate this morning. Please turn in your Bibles to Exodus 20. We will be looking at the seventh verse. In that verse, we will be looking mainly at two phrases "in vain" and "Name of the Lord."
From the King James version we read in Exodus 20:7, "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain."
This morning my primary goal is to convince you that our common usage of euphemisms for God, further aggravated by our employment of minced oaths for cursing, is a violation of the Third Commandment. My argument relies primarily on three things:
- The definition of the phrase "in vain."
- The definition of the phrase "Name of God."
- The response of God to irreverence in biblical history.
First, let us consider the meaning of these words: the phrase in vain. Some of you may have the New International Version. Their translation of Exodus 20:7 reads, "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name."
This translation is accurate. It combines the word take and the phrase in vain into one word: the word misuse. Nevertheless, by doing this, the translators leave out important information.
We would certainly agree that any taking of God's name in vain is a misuse of that name. But the word misuse does not by definition convey the way God's name is misused. In contrast, the word vain, rightly understood, does.
Strong's Greek and Hebrew Dictionary describes the word vain in terms of three words: emptiness, vanity, and falsehood. When we use euphemisms for God without meaning God or thinking about God, we are guilty of using God's name in empty ways.
However, one of the most comprehensive definitions comes from George Boardman. In 1889, Boardman, who had previously served as president of the American Baptist Missionary Union, gave a series of lectures to students at Princeton regarding the Ten Commandments. He said this concerning the word vain: "It may either mean falsely, insincerely, deceitfully, or it may mean emptily, frivolously, profanely. Accordingly, we shall not go astray if we study this prohibition in the light of both these meanings."
The first three words--the false, insincere, and deceitful use of God's name--especially pertain to dishonest oaths and perjury. The last three words--the empty, frivolous, and profane use of God's name--especially pertain to irreverence and blasphemy.
Let me clarify a few terms:
- Empty. We use God's name in empty ways when we speak of God without meaning God.
- Frivolous. We use God's name in frivolous ways when we use it without necessity, for example, just to add emphasis to our speech.
- Profane. We use God's name in profane ways when we treat it like something common, something less than holy, or something that does not require careful use.
Let me also clarify what I mean by irreverence and blasphemy:
- Irreverence. Webster speaks of irreverence as "lacking proper respect in speech or action." He also speaks of irreverence as "characterized by a lightly pert quality or manner." This definition describes our common flippancy, where we speak of God as the Man Upstairs or Daddy God. It also impugns jokes and puns about God.
- Blasphemy. Webster speaks of blasphemy as "the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God."
As you can see, by definition blasphemy could be understood to include all forms of irreverence. However, most people use the word blasphemy for only the most flagrant infractions. This morning, rather than try to distinguish between the two terms, I will use the word irreverence for everything from the most minor infractions to the most flagrant blasphemy.
Nevertheless, perhaps it seems unfair to lump euphemisms and minced oaths with more blatant and vicious forms of irreverence. To illustrate why I do this, let me ask you a question. Suppose you have two children. Which child would hurt you more, the child who sasses you to your face or the child who uses your name as a by-word behind your back? I think we would be greatly offended by both. Would you use the names of your grandparents as by-words? Would you use the names of your parents in empty and frivolous ways? Surely not. Should we not, then, be even more careful in the way we use God's name? Perhaps these euphemisms for God are not as faultless and harmless as we might be inclined to think.
Adam Clarke in his commentaries writes that the Third Commandment "necessarily forbids all light and irreverent mention of God, or any of his attributes . . ."
Matthew Henry writes that the Third Commandment forbids us to use God's name as a by-word.
George Whitefield speaks of people who "though not guilty of swearing in the gross sense of the word, yet attest the truth of what they are speaking of, though ever so trifling, by saying, Upon my life,--as I live,--by my faith,--by the heavens, and such like: which expressions, however harmless and innocent they may be esteemed by some sorts of people, yet are the very oaths which our blessed Lord condemns . . ."
The Westminster Shorter Catechism states that the Third Commandment requires "holy and reverent use of God's names, titles, attributes, ordinances, Word, and works."
All these sources seem to agree that when we use the Name of God in empty, frivolous, or profane ways, we take God's name in vain and, thereby, violate the Third Commandment.
Name of God.
The next phrase we want to examine addresses the concept of the Name of God. In the Bible the phrase Name of God includes all the ways God reveals Himself. George Boardman writes, "God's name not only signifies all his various titles--that were little to say: it also signifies his nature, his attributes, his character, his authority, his purposes, his methods, his providences, his words, his institutions, his truths, his kingdom; in short, all that God is, all that God says, all that God does, all that God bids. Thus comprehensive is the phrase Name of God."
An example of this is found in 1 Kings 8:20 where Solomon's Temple is described as "the house for the name of the LORD, the God of Israel."
Another example is where God says to Moses in Exodus 33:19, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. . ."
Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology writes, "In the Bible a person's name is a description of his or her character. Likewise, the names of God in Scripture are various descriptions of his character. In a broad sense, then, God's 'name' is equal to all that the Bible and creation tell us about God."
Today I am going to focus on just four aspects of the Name of God:
- The Name of God revealed through identifiers
- The Name of God revealed through attributes
- The Name of God revealed through activities
- The Name of God revealed through the Word of God.
The Name of God revealed through identifiers.
The most common English formal identifiers for God include: God, Lord, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Jehovah, and Yahweh. We also have several informal words for God. A couple of the most common are golly and gosh. The Online Etymology Dictionary describes golly as a "euphemism for God, first recorded 1775, in a source that refers to it as 'a sort of jolly kind of oath, or asseveration much in use among our carters, & the lowest people.'" Similary, the word gosh dates back to 1757 as an alternate pronunciation for God. The word lordy is a euphemism for Lord. Common euphemisms for Jesus include geez and gee whiz. The English language has a rich repository of euphemisms for God.
You might wonder why we have so many. Some believe that when the Puritans and others cracked down on blasphemy and swearing, people resorted to euphemisms and minced oaths to avoid punishment. Euphemisms allowed blasphemers to keep their bad habits without getting into trouble. There was also religious social pressure. Profane swearing had ceased to be regarded as acceptable behavior in polite company. Euphemisms allowed people to dishonor God without offending bystanders.
But do these words really dishonor God? After all, when you change the spelling of a word, it is a different word, is it not? Slight changes in spelling sever their connection to their original meaning, right? No, in the dictionary, these euphemisms still mean God. For words are vehicles for conveying ideas. The words "God" and "golly" both are vehicles for conveying the idea of God.
Some people try to baptize their speech by using just the initial letters of words, rather than the actual words. For example, one young Christian was in a social fraternity where, in the course of planning the next party, the leadership decided the beverage of choice would be Green, God, followed by the word damn. When the Christian objected, the leaders agreed to change the name to Green GD, and they giggled gleefully over their clever diplomacy, while the Christian sat amazed and speechless.
Someone might challenge: what if I am not thinking about God? The very fact that I am not thinking about God when I employ these words clears me of irreverence. To dishonor God, I have to be thinking about Him. There is no such thing as passive irreverence; it has to be deliberate.
Oh, but there is such a thing as passive irreverence. Indeed, passive irreverence is precisely what most people practice. Few are the people who literally raise their fists against the God of heaven. No, they simply live their lives as if God did not exist. They ignore Him. And they do the same thing in their speech. When they use names for God without meaning God, they empty the Name of God of its meaning. They suck the divinity out of these words. Any reference to the Name of God that is not done with reverence, whether it is direct or euphemistic, violates the Third Commandment.
This is how we take the Name of God in vain in the context of identifiers. Now let us consider the Name of God in the context of His attributes.
The Name of God revealed through attributes.
The most precious attribute of God is His holiness. In the broad sense, holy merely means set apart. But when used in reference to God, the word holy transcends everything we know in this world. Used in this sense, Webster employs these words, "Characterized by perfection and transcendence: commanding absolute adoration and reverence." That is why in Isaiah 6 God is not just holy, but He is holy, holy, holy. Yet, how often do we hear expressions like "holy moley" or "holy cow" or "holy mackerel?"
Now, I can anticipate the objection: I am not talking about God, I am talking about moles, cows, and mackerels. But that is part of the problem. Whenever an oath is taken in a legitimate way, it is to be done only in the Name of God, and there you are, trying to excuse your unnecessary and profane oaths by directing them towards moles, cows, and mackerels.
We also know God is good, gracious, and merciful. Yet, how often do we hear these words employed in euphemistic ways? Of course, there is a legitimate use of these words that has nothing to do with God. We might speak of a gracious host, a very good sandwich, or a merciful policeman. There is nothing wrong with using these words in this manner. These are merely adjectives used in reference to people and common things.But what about these expressions:
(1) Merciful heavens, how could you do such a thing?
(2) My goodness, you were the best player on your team.
(3) Goodness gracious, what happened to you?
Do you see the difference? In these examples, the attributes of God are serving as euphemisms for God. They are merely substitutes for more direct references to God.
In my own life, this is where I am most likely to slip up. Often, seemingly before I can engage my brain, my mouth slips into automatic, pouring out expressions such as "my goodness" or "my word."
Yet, not all such emotional outbursts are sinful. For example, the word wow is an emotional outburst that implies nothing about God. First recorded in 1924, according to the Online Dictionary of Etymology, it means to overwhelm with delight or amazement. Other emotional outbursts include the words oh and ah, words that are used even in the pages of scripture. There is nothing wrong with using these words.
Most euphemistic emotional outbursts occur at the beginning of a sentence. Therefore, if we just try to be careful in the way we start our sentences, we can eliminate many of these irreverent euphemisms from our speech. Unfortunately, this will require us to engage our brains before we open our mouths, but so does scripture. Christians should not be known for their quick one-liners. As written in Matthew 12:36-37, "I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned."
At this point you may be throwing up your hands and asking, "What then should I say? I have tried to avoid ungodly expressions by choosing polite euphemisms, and now you are telling me that even these euphemisms are wrong. What, then, am I supposed to use?"
The Name of God revealed through activities.
We will get to that in a few minutes. But before we get into that, let us examine another context in which we take God's name in vain. We take the Name of God in vain in terms of his activities. God is not only the God who is, but He is the God who acts. Just as his attributes have been used irreverently, His activities have also been profaned and slighted through euphemisms.
One of God's activities involves blessing people, and He does this for all kinds of people. Even the wicked enjoy, at least for now, many good things from God. These blessings are always undeserved, for God is debtor to no one--no one, that is, unless he sneezes. And what follows a sneeze? "God bless you." This phrase is used by the kindest people, and I hate to bring this up, and yet I must say that unless you really mean this when you say it, you are using God's name in a vain and empty way, never mind its superstitious heritage--the protection of a person's health during the vulnerability that was thought to accompany a sneeze. We are expected to say "God bless you" in polite company, but this does not make it right. It trivializes the blessings of God, and it profanes the name of God by connecting it to a superstition.
Another activity of God engages His power to sustain all of life. The God who created all things by His word is the same God who sustains all things, even as Paul preached at Mars Hill, "In Him we live and move and exist." Yet, how often do you hear God's sustaining power trivialized through vain expressions, for example, "As I live and breathe," used just to add emphasis.
Another activity of God engages His mercy to save souls. Surely from Man's perspective, this is one of the most wonderful thing God does. Yet we trivialize God's saving activity in expressions of surprise like "As God shall save my soul" or "Lord have mercy" when we do not mean it.
One of God's most somber activities requires Him to judge the wicked. Every day God sends unrepentant, rebellious men and women to hell. Hell holds the fastest growing population in the universe. Yet, unending terror and unmitigated sadness awaits each new arrival. Surely, people should fear this, but they do not. Why? Partly because we have so trivialized hell. For every offense ranging from mild teasing to the most contemptible infractions, we tell people to go to hell. Sometimes we do it playfully; sometimes we mean it.
Furthermore, we treat hell like a hot pepper seasoning, using it to spice up our conversations with expressions like "hell yes," "hell no," and "what the hell." And if our speech is restrained by the presence of more polite company, we substitute euphemisms for hell such as heck and Sam Hill.
We do even more. We usurp God's power as if we would, ourselves, send people to hell. We have many minced oaths for the word damn including: blame, blast, confound, dang, darn, dash, dern, etc. These are said to be minced oaths, because they do not offend our ears as much as the word they stand for. The force of the idea has supposedly been reduced through minor changes in spelling. Even Christians--people who use these words all the time--mistakenly believe God is appeased by these minor changes in spelling. Meanwhile, a dying world grows increasingly indifferent to the judgment of God.
What then is the remedy? Should we just make up better euphemisms, euphemisms where the association with God is more clearly broken? Should we just find gentler replacements for our minced oaths?
Sentence patterns that begin with emotional outcries could be improved. Euphemisms like My goodness could be replaced with words like wow, oh, ah, way to go, etc.
However, many sentence patterns should be completely eliminated from Christian speech. Consider these examples:
(1) The next ____ ____ hawk that attacks my chickens is going to be shot.
(2) Where in the ____ did you put my car keys?
(3) How in _____ _____ am I supposed to read this?
Now, did not your minds quickly and easily supply irreverent or obscene replacements for these blanks? It was not hard at all, was it? Is it not clear, then, that these kinds of sentence patterns serve as place-holders for irreverent speech?
We need to get rid of them. Trying to stop taking God's name in vain without getting rid of sinful sentence patterns is like trying to stop using marijuana without getting rid of the paraphernalia. It is like trying to stop visiting pornographic web sites without removing the names of these sites from your favorites directory.
No, these sinful sentence patterns have to go. In fact, this is the biblical solution. For example, this is exactly what Jesus said to do regarding rash swearing. As written in Matthew 5:37, "Let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; and anything beyond these is of evil."
Jesus is using hyperbole to tell us to simplify our speech. One way we can simplify our speech is by saying more precisely what we really mean: Oh, what a surprise; Ah, I didn't know that; What, are you serious; or well, okay then. None of these expressions require us to misuse God's name. All of them employ simpler and more precise speech.
Now, if this is the remedy for sentence patterns that support rash swearing, would this not be the remedy for sentence patterns that take God's name in vain in other ways?
Someone might object: surely you are not telling us to change the English language! We have to have these sentence patterns in order to express ourselves.
No we do not! If we can learn to avoid cliches in our formal English papers, we can learn to avoid euphemisms for God and minced oaths in our speech. And even if we must speak a little slower, better that than sin against God.
Consider all the languages that do not use these sinful sentence structures. Indeed, it is to our shame that many other cultures, cultures that have not known the true God nearly as long as we have, do not use these patterns, even after their people convert to Christianity. I contacted an Arab friend, and he assured me this is not done in Arabic. I contacted another friend in India, and he assured me this was not done in the Kanada language or in Tamil. I also understand that this is not practiced among Polynesian peoples.
Yet, among Europeans and Americans, people who have had access to Christianity for centuries, we have special language structures for irreverence, and we have special euphemisms and minced oaths for managing our guilt. What a sophisticated culture!
Of course, the Jewish culture was sophisticated too. Boardman explains why Jesus restricted their swearing: "The scribes in interpreting these Mosaic statutes had resorted to all sorts of sophistry. For example: they taught that, so long as men did not use the express name of God in their oaths, their oaths were not religiously binding." Thus, they could, without sinning, break any oaths where they had not used the name of God.
How does this sound to you? Does this sound like something that would please God? Not to us, but it did to them. Why? They had a long-standing tradition. Their consciences were corrupted by traditon. What about us? Why does it seem okay for us to curse and misuse God's name as long as we change the spelling a little bit? Tradition. We have a long-standing tradition of doing this.
What does the Bible say about living by tradition? In Romans 12:2 it says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."
Our guide for how we speak of God must not be our tradition, for the familiarity of tradition has corrupted our consciences by making us comfortable with irreverent speech. No, our consciences must be retrained, transformed, and renewed by God's Word.
The Name of God revealed through His Word.
So far we have talked about taking God's name in vain with reference to His identifiers, His attributes, and His activities. Next, we consider how we take God's name in vain with reference to His Word. This is where I especially have to hang my head. I have sat in your midst and told jokes about the Bible, many of them in the form of puns. You know some of them: "The first baseball game," "The first female economist," "The first firemen," etc. Worse than this, I have sat in your midst discussing a passage of scripture and while discussing a difficult passage, I have offered off-the-wall interpretations just to be funny--light hearted fun at the expense of reverence for the inspired word. I deeply and sincerely regret doing this. For the Name of God extends to the Word of God, and we must treat it as holy.
God's zeal for His name.
Does God care how we treat Him? Ask Nadab and Abihu what happens when we fail to treat God as holy. A flame is a flame is a flame, but not when God tells you to take that flame only from a special place. In Leviticus 10:1-3, we find that when the priests Nadab and Abihu mixed incense with strange fire, "fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them."
Does God care how we speak about him? Ask the young man who blasphemed God during a brawl in Leviticus 24:13-16. Ask him how it felt to be stoned. Ask his mother how it felt to lose her son.
Does God care how we treat Him? Ask the people at Corinth who were abusing the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:27-30. Ask them what it was like to bury their fellow church members.
Is God offended by our irreverent expressions? Ask Hymenaeus and Alexander what it was like to be turned over to Satan because of their blasphemy. (see 1 Timothy 2:20).
And there are many other passages I could cite, passages just like these, clearly showing that God has often dealt severely with people who have not taken him seriously: people who have treated him with irreverence.
Summary and conclusion.
At the beginning of our discussion, I said I wanted to convince you that our common use of euphemisms for God, further aggravated by our employment of minced oaths, violated the Third Commandment. I have attempted to do this in three ways:
- By showing that the phrase in vain includes anything we do that treats God's name as nothing.
- By showing that the phrase "Name of God" includes every way in which God is revealed, including euphemisms for God.
- By showing God's zeal for His honor through recalling how severely God has punished people who have treated Him irreverently.
No doubt, I have failed to convince some of you that the empty usage of euphemisms for God is wrong, and that is okay: people who love God often still disagree on many things. Nevertheless, I would ask you: if I cannot convince you that this is sinful, can you tell me why it is righteous? Can you explain to me why we should speak of God in empty and careless ways? Remember Romans 14:23: "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin."
When I first began working on this sermon, it really made me sad. It was very depressing to realize how often and how thoughtlessly I had violated the Third Commandment. But then something else happened that lifted me up. I realized that in spite of my sin, God has continued to bless me and surround me with good things. As a result, not only am I more resolute than ever before to clean up my own thoughts and speech, but I now have more appreciation for the grace of God than I have ever had. Won't you join me.
After studying this commandment, gone for good is any idea that I could ever deserve any kindness from God, even as a believer. But at the same time, greater than ever before is my love for the God who has blessed me anyway, the God who has met me every morning with fresh provisions of mercy and grace and strength.
The Puritans are often accused of morbid introspection. Introspection is, indeed, morbid when it ends in you. But when it draws you to Christ, when it makes you see more clearly the contrast between what you deserve and the blessings He gives you every day, it is good introspection. May a clearer vision of our sins fuel the fire of our repentance and fan the flames of love and gratitude for the God who continues to forgive His people.
In addition, may we be even more empowered to forgive others. Most of the injuries we receive from people have to do with insults, affronts, and assaults upon our intelligence and character. In other words, people take our names in vain. And it really hurts when they do this. When this happens to you, try to remember the countless times and ways you have taken God's name in vain. Remember and forgive your enemies--every one of them--from your heart, just as Christ commands. Whether or not there is ever a verbal exchange between you, you still must always forgive from your heart.
Some of you have never known the forgiveness Jesus offers. Every day you are taking God's Name in vain by irreverently denying His right to rule your life. You are playing with fire, and some day you will have it in full measure. Please, seize the day while the day remains, for there is no promise of tomorrow. Cry out to the God who is pleased to save souls. Surrender your life and your heart to Jesus.
Some of you, although you are Christians, are presently engaged in fierce, ongoing battles against unrelenting temptation. Despairing of your many failures, frustrated that your mind is so slow to yield to the Word of God, this sermon must seem like one more giant boulder to add weight to your already heavy burdens. "It is too much," you want to cry. But do not despair. Never is Christ more beautiful than when beheld in contrast to your darkest perception of your own sin. Never is the freeness of His grace more appreciated than when you see how little you deserve it. Meanwhile, how brilliantly His glory shines through your darkness, lighting your steps, directing your path, and giving you both the power and the will to fight. In His strength, keep fighting. Never give up. This is not a fight for salvation--Jesus has already accomplished that. This is a fight for obedience from the heart--conformity to the character and demands of God--and God is worthy.
And to everyone, I ask you: Is not God worthy? Yes, it is an inconvenience to have to keep a tight reign on our tongues. Yet, what is revealed about us if we refuse? If we are not willing to be careful in the way we speak of God, what does this reveal about our hearts? For there is a sense in which people seem to bow before the statue of personal liberty, the liberty to say whatever they want, while slighting the very God who made this liberty possible? Who but Satan himself could have conceived of working in the hearts of people to get them to use the name of their God as a by-word. Carefully thought out, nothing could be more unnatural. Nothing could more swim against the current of reason and piety.
In closing, hear these words from James 1:26, "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless." (NIV) Those are not my words but the words of scripture. May they leave their mark upon our hearts. Amen.