But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless.
Today we continue to look at Question 113 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the Third Commandment?” The fourth part of the answer states, “misinterpreting, misapplying, or any way perverting the word, or any part of it, to profane jests, curious or unprofitable questions, vain janglings, or the maintaining of false doctrines.” Last week we examined how our fallen nature always denies God’s goodness to us. This week we consider the sin of speaking foolishly and of misinterpreting and misusing the Word of God.
No one likes to be misquoted. When someone takes our words out of context or applies them in a way we did not intend, immediately we want to correct him and say “That’s not what I said!” or “That’s not what I meant and you know it!” Especially when we have spoken clearly or when the person who quoted us had firsthand knowledge of our words, we are all the more inclined to cry out against the injustice done to us. Truly, that is the word for it: injustice. Because our words reveal our hearts, it is palpably unjust to misrepresent someone by misquoting them. Consider. It is right for us to judge others and to be judged by our words. If my words are rude, I should be judged as a rude person. But by the same token if my words are kind, I should be commended for my kindness.
However, when my words are misrepresented people will judge me wrongly. Therefore, when someone misquotes you or when you misquote someone, injustice has occurred. In fact, when our words are intentionally perverted, we have been attacked. Often, much more serious and lasting harm results from the torturing of our words than from the tormenting of our bodies. Yet, even when we misquote someone unintentionally we have done injustice. We have done it accidentally, which is surely better than doing it on purpose; still, we are responsible to be careful to accurately quote others, just as we desire others to correctly cite our words. Consequently, when we are not sure what someone said, or how they said it, then we should say so, in order to avoid doing injustice to them.
Now, since all of this is obviously true for human beings, how much worse is it when people, even accidentally, misquote or misrepresent their Creator God? Not only is God infinitely higher than we are, and His words infinitely more important, but God has spoken clearly, both in nature and in Scripture. Therefore, if we have misunderstood God, the ambiguity is our fault; it is not and can never be God’s! And where we are not able to comprehend what He has said then we must be silent. Thus, the Catechism notes not only misquoting and perverting, but also making “profane jests” or asking “curious or unprofitable questions” about God’s revelation. Such vain speech does not promote good morals or reverence towards God, but on the contrary contempt for God and discord among men. “Vain janglings,” which is a quote of 1 Tim. 1:6 in the King James Bible and is rendered “idle talk” by the New King James, represents a similar kind of irreverent speech.
When we consider the great gift of rational language and the ability to speak we should be fearfully thankful! That God would make us like Him in that we, of all of the creatures that He has made, speak with words that must be logically connected and arranged so that we can express meaning, have knowledge, and gain understanding should cause us to drop to our knees in awesome wonder! If we truly reflected on this inestimable privilege we would be ever vigilant to not to use our words to spread evil and falsehood, or even to belittle this tremendous gift by crude language. Our words are formed in our minds but they reveal our hearts. May God grant us such hearts that would be so full of love for and reverence of His holy Name, that people would see them by our godly speech!