Praise the LORD from the earth, You great sea creatures and all the depths… Beasts and all cattle; Creeping things and flying fowl;
Psalm 148:7, 10
Today we return to our examination of Question 113 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the Third Commandment?” The fifth part of the answer states, “The sins forbidden in the Third Commandments are… abusing [God’s name], the creatures, or any thing contained under the name of God, to charms, or sinful lusts and practices; the maligning, scorning, reviling, or any wise opposing of God's truth, grace, and ways.” Last time we looked at the sin of speaking foolishly and of misinterpreting and misusing the Word of God. This week we consider the broad scope of this commandment.
Have you ever considered how broad the Third Commandment is? When reading this section of Question 113’s answer, it is more difficult to know what this commandment does not cover than what it does! It is easy for us to see the sinfulness of having good luck charms, or trinkets of blessing. Likewise, we understand immediately how “sinful lusts and practices” are evil, but if in fact this particular commandment is meant to include prohibitions against the abusing of any creature, or against the act of in “any wise opposing of God’s truth, grace, and ways,” then it seems we must conclude that every sin, in addition to perhaps breaking one of the other specific commandments, also necessarily breaks this commandment. For example, any act of stealing by definition breaks the Eighth Commandment, yet such an action also is an abusing of God’s creatures and therefore it is also an act of taking God’s name in vain. We could demonstrate this same conclusion for murder, adultery, image-making, etc. Any sin that abuses one of God’s creatures, or opposes His grace or truth is also a sin of taking His name in vain.
How so? Remember that a person’s name often refers to or includes his reputation. If a doctor’s patients consistently do not get better, he will quickly get a “bad name” and will probably lose his business. Likewise, any carpenter or builder knows that the quality of their works will impact their reputation for good or for ill. This kind of transfer from one’s actions to one’s character is good and right. We should be judged by our works. It is the kind of judgment we should welcome from others and we should make ourselves. It is judgment according to truth. As Jesus instructed: “You shall know them by their fruits,” (Mark 7:20). We are supposed to know others according to the fruits of their doings, even as we should be known by the things we have done. This is judging and being judged rightly, according to truth, according to what each one has earned and deserves, whether for good or for ill. Now what does all of this have to do with the broad scope of the third commandment’s prohibition against taking God’s name in vain? God is the ultimate Creator of everything that actually exists. Every object or being that ever was, is, or will be exists by the will and power of God. Thus, every creature in some sense reflects the attributes and character of God in that it was made by God for a good purpose of His. So long as we recognize God’s ownership, submit with grateful hearts to His wise order, and make a proper use of God’s creatures as we seek to fulfill His will for our lives we honor His name. Thus, I honor God’s name when I take dominion over (read “kill”) the insects and vermin that make their way into my house, in order to protect myself and my family from the harm they can bring. However, I need to recognize and praise God for the fact that these same creatures are a good part of His creation and serve to help keep this sinful world free of decaying flesh as they recycle organic matter back into the soil where it can be used again by living creatures. Contrarily, I should not go out of my way to destroy living creatures or to take some sadistic pleasure in finding ways to torment them. Thus, I can appreciate the good that maggots do in the creation, even as I do everything I can to keep them out of my food!
Accordingly, to mock or to despise these lowly creatures of God as things only and always revolting and gross is to take God’s name in vain by attributing revulsion and grossness to Him! We would not be able to live long in this world were it not for the necessary, good work done by maggots and other vermin. And we must remember that the grossness of their work is entirely due to man’s sin. They are cleaning up the mess that we made. God has mercifully created these creatures as suitable workmen to help ameliorate the harmful effects of man’s sin in this world. Take some time today to consider how some of the most harmful or dangerous things in this world serve the good purposes of God, and thank Him for them. By doing so, you will honor and glorify His great name!