Honoring God’s Name
“For I am a great King,” says the LORD of hosts, “and My name is to be feared among the nations.” Malachi 1:14bNKJV
This week we look at Question 111 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “Which is the third commandment?” It gives the answer, “The third commandment is, 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.” Last week we finished our examination of the second commandment with its main focus on right worship. This week we begin to consider the third, which deals largely with how we should and should not talk.
I wonder how many people, if they were asked to come up with a list of ten laws to govern all mankind, would “waste” one of them on foul language? Now the third commandment covers a lot more than vulgar speech, as I hope to show, but the main thrust of this law has to do with how we talk. As we have previously noted, all of God’s laws flow from His holy character. That is, God does not randomly or capriciously prescribe or proscribe man’s activity, but He calls upon man to be like Him. God created man in His own image and likeness. Such is our great privilege and our great responsibility: we are like God; we must strive to be like God. The Ten Commandments reveal what God is like. The keeping of them is righteousness. Breaking them is sin. To love them is to love the good. To hate them is to love evil. Being made in the image of God, man has the ability to consciously choose to keep God’s law, not by compulsion, but out of his own love of and desire for what is good.
Historically, theologians have distinguished man being made in the image of God under two headings: the broad and the narrow aspects of the image of God. The broad aspects have to do with man’s nature: those things that make man different from the other creatures. Generally speaking these aspects comprise man’s human-ness, which was corrupted but not lost in the Fall, or else man would have ceased to be man. Thus, man, before and after the Fall, has a rational soul, which thinks, remembers, wills, imagines, and speaks. Speech is one of the marks by which man is seen to be made in the image of God. Only man speaks as only man is made a “reasonable soul” (Larger Catechism 17, 24, 37), innately using the logic that is necessary for understandable language. Accordingly, how we speak is very important to our created purpose to image God.
The narrow aspects of God’s image comprise man’s sinless character in his original created state in terms of his knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. Man wholly lost this original righteousness by his fall into sin: “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one,’” (Rom. 3:10-12). Consequently, man still has the power of speech (the broad aspects of God’s image), but in all of his speech, he serves not God but sin. Thus, the major portion of this litany of man’s sinfulness from Romans 3 is given over to a description of man’s evil speech: “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit; The poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness,” (Rom. 3:13-14).
There is a sense in which, man’s fundamental rebellion began and continues through sinful speech. The serpent deceived Eve with words. Adam and his wife sought to be excused from their sins with words. Cain used speech to protest that he was not responsible for his brother’s welfare. And the nation of Israel rejected Jesus with shouts of “Crucify Him.” In fact, before the saving grace of God converts us, all of our speech is ultimately in vain. It is all for our own glory and not to serve or glorify God. However, the good news of Jesus Christ is that we can again honor God with our lives; we can be forgiven; we can be redeemed. And this too begins with words, with our confessing of our sins and professing of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Honor God with your words today by taking time to verbally express your love for Him!