The Second Commandment
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.
What does this mean?
We are to fear and love God, so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God’s name, but instead use that very name in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God.
Christians are fodder for the media. News shows regularly invite Christian pastors to comment on current events. What I’ve found distressing is that the particular pastors who are invited to reflect on the latest dispute over bills and events say things about my God that are strange to me. I hear about a God who is judgmental without mercy, and who picks and chooses whom HE loves, based on a select few disqualifications. I hear about a God who has abandoned his earth to the greed of the mega-businesses. I hear about a God who chooses sides. Then I hear that Christians in this country are being persecuted because they have to allow freedom of religion to their fellow citizens. I hear about a God who stopped breathing in about 30 CE. The God I hear about is ancient history, not the God who walks with and loves all people. I hear about a God who condemns the “least of these.”
So, does that describe me? Do I forbid certain kinds of people to have the same religious freedoms and rights I have? Do I hate people who have problems or ideas different from mine? Do I think I’m better than anyone else because I worship Jesus? Do I avoid people who don’t meet my standards? Do I blame people for their own troubles instead of reaching out to them? Do I make other people feel bad about themselves because they don’t live like I do? (Honest answer: sometimes.)
That’s the funny thing about being a Christian. There are a hundred ways to live and proclaim your Christianity, but, honestly, the Christians with the biggest mouths make it awkward for me to claim in public that I am a Christian. Why? Because to some of my friends and acquaintances, that means I’m narrow-minded, mean-spirited, prejudiced and anti-everything. To them, I’m a damp blanket on good party.
So what can I call myself? I like to think I’m open-minded (my husband will tell you otherwise, but I try), that I am generous, and accepting, and curious. Is that being a Christian? Well. Was Jesus open-minded? Was Jesus generous? Was Jesus kind? Was Jesus accepting of everyone? Well, he was hard on the Pharisees, but he still talked with them and dined with them. Was Jesus anti-everything? Whom did he ostracize? The adulterous woman? The Samaritan woman? Judas? He could have kicked Judas out long before the Last Supper.
I bring this up, because I think when we use our Christianity to prove that we’re better than everyone else, we’re breaking the second commandment.
When I research, I tend to use resources from the twentieth or twenty-first century. However, my favorite source for today was first published in 1792. Thomas Watson was a eighteenth century English non-conformist Puritan preacher and author. Eighteen of his books are still in publication today. I’ve been studying his writings on the Ten Commandments. At first, I skipped over him, because his writing is so old. However, his careful and thorough explanation of each commandment has given me a much greater understanding, which I am happy to share with you.
According to Thomas Watson, the Second Commandment has two parts: 1. A negative expressed, that we must not take God’s name in vain; that is, cast any reflections and dishonor on his name.2. An affirmative implied. That we should take care to reverence and honor his name.
Do you remember studying this commandment in your youth? The impression it left on me was that I was to not swear. So for a long time, I tried not to say, O my God! or even Gosh! because that was a form of God’s name. By the time I finished college, my swearing vocabulary was equal to my literary vocabulary. It has been a constant worry ever since. Of course, I was careful not to swear in front of my parents or my children. My children’s everyday language seems to have not been influenced by my concerns. And as a linguist and semanticist, I can theorize that words are just words. But, in fact, we know that words have meanings which have power.
Watson says that there is more to this commandment than swearing. It is about how we speak about and to God.
I want to share seven of Watson’s points.
—>When we speak slightly and irreverently of his name. —When we speak slightly of God or his works, he interprets it as a contempt, and taking his name in vain. That speaks to our automatic response of OMG or Oh, my God to just about any amazing event or statement. Can we ever break ourselves of that? What could you say instead? Or how about saying, “God damn!” when something goes wrong? Or do you ever say “Jesus!” when you are disgusted or impatient? I’m doing better at saying, “Rats!” when things go wrong. But I haven’t found a substitute for “Oh, my God.” Except for “Holy Crap!” which really isn’t an improvement.
—>When we profess God’s name, but do not live answerably to it, we take it in vain. When we let everybody know that we are church goers by our words, but not by our actions, we are abusing God. If I badmouth the neighbors, if I am rude to the clerks and cashiers, if I cheat on my taxes, if I lie about my actions….that’s not being honest about how I say I feel about God.
—>When we use God’s name in idle discourse. Here is a story told by a waitress to a new employee:
“Sundays are the worst,” one of the servers explained to me. “That’s when the church crowd goes out to eat.”
“What’s wrong with the church crowd?” I asked.
“Oh, honey,” she said. “They’re usually the most demanding, and they’re always the worst tippers. I guarantee you, if you see your table praying before the meal, you can mentally subtract a third from your tip.”
Standing nearby, the manager cracked a smile. “They already gave at church,” he said. “They don’t have any money left.”
Or my big pet peeve. How can one be anti-abortion and anti-child welfare and pro-death penalty all at the same time? Or try this one: How can people say “Jesus loves everybody” and then throw a fit when someone says “Black Lives Matter?”
—>When we worship him with our lips, but not with our hearts.
These is why I change our bulletin with the church seasons. I love the predictability of using the same liturgy out of the hymnal each week—it’s always there; it requires no effort on my part to get ready for the next service. But—it can become just a bunch of words repeated without thought. My purpose in our order of service is to make you think.
—>When we pray to him, but do not believe in him.
Do you ever pray just because you’re “supposed to?” I’m guilty of this. Sometimes my prayers are not backed up by more than wishful thinking. There have been a few times when I prayed at someone’s bedside for healing with despair in my heart. God showed me; the person was healed. That happened twice in the ER.
—>When in any way we profane and abuse his word—-quoting scripture out of context. Perhaps this is how we most often abuse the Bible. We want to pick and choose verses without considering their literary historical and sociological context. For instance: Women shouldn’t speak in church.
In 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Paul wrote: “As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (vv. 33-35). Oops! I’m in trouble!
Here’s the thing. Paul was writing to one congregation about one situation. Like many pastors, to avoid confronting one person directly, he lumped everyone into one anonymous basket. Some of Paul’s most valued congregational leaders were women.
—>That bring Scripture to countenance any sin. Spare the rod and spoil the child, for instance. How many times has that verse been used to justify beating a child? Not spanking; beating. Or “the poor will always be with you.” That verse has been used to justify ignoring the poor by implying that nothing can be done about poverty. In fact, the way I see it, the poor always being with us means we’ll always have plenty to do.
—>That adulterate the word, and wrest it in a wrong sense. Such are heretics, who put their own gloss upon Scripture, and make it speak that which the Holy Ghost never meant. As, for instance, when they expound those texts literally, which were meant figuratively.
Even Jesus spoke in parables and metaphors and similies. Perhaps we need to understand the difference between what is literal and what is true. John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
We know Jesus is not a plant; he is a human being. But we know that we are connected to him and that our faith flourishes because of our connection with him. Thinking about the close connection between the vine and the branches of a real plant helps us to understand how closely we are connected to Jesus and how important Jesus is to us.
Why is the Second Commandment so important? In Romans 2:24, Paul warns the congregation that “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you.” It seems that when non-believers saw the followers of Jesus behaving badly, they associated their behavior with their God and their beliefs. If Christians behaved badly, what was the point in converting to Christianity?
That’s the feeling I get when I watch the celebrity Christians on the news shows. That’s why God is viewed by non-Christians as mean and hateful. That is why God’s followers, we Christians, are viewed by non-Christians as mean and hateful. So. God has a bad reputation.
What can we do about that?
Well…that means we have to be deliberate and intentional in our actions, in our words, in our relationships, not just on Sunday, not just when we sit in the privacy of our homes reading our Bibles. We have to consciously choose to act like Jesus is watching us every minute, even when we’re at work, when we’re camping, when we’re at a ball game, when we’re talking about the news—-we have to be constantly reminding ourselves that we really do want to be like Jesus. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, can’t laugh, can’t relax. Jesus did all those things and so can you. But remember this: God’s reputation depends on what you do and say. God’s reputation is your responsibility. Amen.
Romans 2:17-24Contemporary English Version (CEV)
17 Some of you call yourselves Jews. You trust in the Law and take pride in God. 18 By reading the Scriptures you learn how God wants you to behave, and you discover what is right. 19 You are sure that you are a guide for the blind and a light for all who are in the dark. 20 And since there is knowledge and truth in God’s Law, you think you can instruct fools and teach young people.
21 But how can you teach others when you refuse to learn? You preach that it is wrong to steal. But do you steal? 22 You say people should be faithful in marriage. But are you faithful? You hate idols, yet you rob their temples. 23 You take pride in the Law, but you disobey the Law and bring shame to God. 24 It is just as the Scriptures tell us, “You have made foreigners say insulting things about God.”
Matthew 5:33-37Contemporary English Version (CEV)
33 You know that our ancestors were told, “Don’t use the Lord’s name to make a promise unless you are going to keep it.” 34 But I tell you not to swear by anything when you make a promise! Heaven is God’s throne, so don’t swear by heaven. 35 The earth is God’s footstool, so don’t swear by the earth. Jerusalem is the city of the great king, so don’t swear by it. 36 Don’t swear by your own head. You cannot make one hair white or black. 37 When you make a promise, say only “Yes” or “No.” Anything else comes from the devil.
Other interesting articles: