This is post 3 of 10 in the series “TEN FOR OUR TIME”
Ten For Our Time: When Profanity Takes Precedence
God has a name. His name is holy. It is not holy because anyone made it holy. It is holy simply because it belongs to Him. What is truly amazing is that God has given us His name. God, out of love for us, has made His name known to us. Of course, the fact that we have access to His name does not make His name any less holy. In fact, that is why when God gave us His name. He also gave us a commandment—the third commandment. God said, “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.” Here in other words is what God means by that, “I give you My name that you may have access to Me, but you must never abuse or misuse My name. You must never trivialize My name or treat it lightly. You must never make My name an expression of meanness or of meaninglessness, for if you mock My name, you mock Me.” That’s what God says. Yet everyday of our lives we hear God’s name profaned, abused, misused, or trivialized. I believe that I am far within the mark when I say that of all the Ten Commandments this third commandment is the one most frequently broken.
Consider, for example, how we abuse God’s name in profane language.
In the Gospel of Mark, it is quite clear that Peter cursed. Peter used profane language. Now I want us to understand that while the third commandment is speaking of something much deeper than simply using curse words, the use of profane language is certainly included within the prohibitions of the third commandment. Make no mistake at this point, cursing is wrong, and I’ll tell you why it’s wrong. There are several reasons why people employ curse words in their language, and none of the reasons is particularly good. Reason number one: some people curse in an effort to manufacture a sense of security. They want to appear tough, unafraid, with it, together. They do not possess a sufficient sense of inner strength, a sufficient sense of inner security, and so they try to make up for that by coloring their language with profanity in order to give it the ring of authority. I have been in more than my share of locker rooms, and it has become my observation that a man, who fouls the air with his language, is a man who is revealing his own doubts about his manhood. You see, it is only when people feel insecure about themselves that they try to make up that lack by using profane language. You notice the next time you hear a person using curse words—look at that person carefully and see if you do not agree. Reason number two: some people curse in order to give the appearance of being mature. Cursing a blue streak, they think, makes them appear to be sophisticated. Our movie producers today tell us that they place profanity in profusion in their films. Why? So that the film will get an “R” rating which means it is considered more sophisticated and mature. Now I have to tell you, my beloved people, as honestly as I know how, I have never yet seen a man or a woman with obscenities spewing out of his or her mouth who looked and sounded sophisticated and mature. Actually, it simply reveals just how childish and immature they really are. Reason number three: some people curse because they cannot find any other way to forcibly express themselves. They are so short in their own learning; they have mastered so inadequately this language of ours that in order to deliver power to their speech they have to employ terms which are unclean and uncouth. Cursing is actually a sign of ignorance and people who curse need a dictionary as much as they need a Bible. So please remember, dear friends, that people who use profane language are revealing some most unflattering truths about themselves. But you and I are the children of God. God made us, and we have the power of knowing that we are His. I remember hearing the story about a young French prince who, in the process of his education, was being taught by some older men how to curse. He answered, “I will not do it. I am the son of a king. I will not do it.” He was saying that his royal nature forbade him from doing such a contemptible thing. Dear friends, when we are tempted to use bad language, we need to remember that we are children of the king, and we have the royal blood of Heaven flowing through our veins and therefore we will not do it!
Yet, having the knowledge that cursing is a bad thing, and it is wrong, I must go on to point out that this third commandment goes much deeper than that. The commandment says that we are not to mock God in any of our speech. We are never to abuse or misuse His name. We are never to dishonor or trivialize His name. I hear people say “Oh God,” or “My God,” or “Jesus Christ” as an exclamation, or as an expression of surprise or despair. I shudder every time I hear it. That is trivializing the name which is above every name. The third commandment says that God not only doesn’t like it, He doesn’t forget it when it happens. President Woodrow Wilson was the son of a Presbyterian minister. He told of how one day, in his father’s presence, a rough talking man swore using God’s name in vain. Then, realizing that the minister was there, this man said, “Oh, I’m sorry, Sir, for offending you.” Woodrow Wilson’s father looked at him and said, “You haven’t offended me, but you have offended God.” You see, our profanity in words and careless speech is a clue, a symptom of a much deeper problem. Our words are not so important in themselves, but, like headaches, they are hints of something deeper. God’s word to us is this, “When you can begin to use My name so casually and carelessly it means that you really don’t have the appropriate sense of awe and of love for Me.” Yes, so many times by the words we speak and the way we speak them, we trivialize the name of God. We profane God’s name in our language, and by so doing we offend the Almighty. For God says quite clearly, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”
But consider, also, how we abuse God’s name in profane living.
In Mark chapter 14, Peter not only turned the air blue with his bad language, but he then committed the ultimate violation of the third commandment. He screamed his denial of even knowing Jesus. Sadly, many people today do the same thing. You see, when we are baptized into the Christian faith, either by our choice or by the action of our parents, we are baptized into the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. We are completely enveloped by the name of God. He writes His signature upon our lives. By so doing He promises that He will lead us through the days of this life, and that He will lead us ultimately into the life that is to come. In return, we promise to honor God’s name by the quality of our living. When we fail to live up to that promise, then we mock God. We dishonor His name. Do you know that the Ten Commandments appear in three different places in Scripture—once in Deuteronomy and twice in Exodus? In Exodus 34, this third commandment appears in slightly different form than it appears in Exodus 20. In Exodus 34 it reads, “Thou shalt not come before the Lord thy God empty.” You see, to treat God’s name as if it has no impact on our daily living; to treat God’s promises and commands as if they are meaningless to what we do every day; that kind of living is empty. That is taking God’s name in vain. We speak of Jesus as the Light of the world. We need also to remember that He is the Lightning of the world. In the glare of His power those who deny God’s name by the selfishness of their living, and those who deny God’s promises by the sinfulness of their living will be revealed. They will be exposed, and God will not hold them guiltless.
In order to make the point, I want to share with you a true story. It’s a bit stronger than I would normally use from this pulpit but I need a strong story to make a strong point. Do you remember a couple of years ago when Fort Lauderdale was the most popular place for college students to gather on Spring break? Well, there was a campus minister there named Larry. He was there to conduct some worship services on the beach, to help out with some counseling, to be a peace-maker when needed, to be an influence for good in the midst of circumstances which were not always good, to exercise a quiet witness for Christ amongst those rowdy college students. One day Larry was walking along the beach. He saw a young man wearing a tee shirt. On the tee shirt were printed these words “Help_Stamp_Out_Virginity.” Larry walked up to the young man and engaged him in conversation. They talked a bit and then talked some more as they walked along the beach enjoying the sights and the sounds of the surf. Then Larry said to this young man, “I like your tee shirt.” The young man smiled and said, “Thanks.” Larry said, “In fact, I like it so much that I want to make a suggestion to you. When you get home, I want you to take that tee shirt and fold it up neatly, wrap it in a box, and put it in a safe place. Then years from now, after you are married, when some young man comes to take your daughter out on her very first date, I want you to give him that tee shirt.” The young man wheeled around on Larry and said, “Why don’t you go to Hell?” He turned and stormed off down the beach. Larry was afraid that maybe he had gone too far. But you know, later on that same day he saw that same young man. He was wearing a different tee shirt. It had “Michigan State” written on it. Then the young man caught sight of Larry. He walked over to him, and he said, “Mister, I don’t know who you are, and I’m sorry for what I said to you earlier. But I want you to know that I took that tee shirt off and I burned it. I guess I really hadn’t thought that thing through.” Dear friends, I want us to think this thing through. When we fail to speak cleanly; when we fail to think purely; when we fail to act rightly, we are violating the third commandment. We are taking the Lord’s name in vain.
The third commandment calls us to be serious about God. It calls us to be reverent and respectful, to serve and trust Him. It calls us to never use His name meanly or meaninglessly. It calls us to offer to Him not only our lips but also our very lives.
Let me close with this. In the year 999, many people believed that Jesus was about to return. Their understanding was that, after a thousand years, Jesus would return to the earth and the world would come to an end. As the months in that year 999 passed, the churches were crowded with worshipers. Confessions were being heard 24 hours a day. There was no cheating. Stealing, the historical records show, came to a stop. Bakers gave away bread free to the hungry. Butchers did the same with their meat. People, who had been separated and at enmity with each other, came into one another’s arms and were reconciled. On the last night of the year, a great service of worship was held in Rome. Pope Sylvester II presided. A great clock in the Sanctuary ticked away the seconds. As the time drew close to midnight, the worshipers fell on their faces afraid to look up. It is recorded that some there, out of fright, actually died on the spot. At midnight the bell of the clock rang. The pope raised his arms. The choirs began to sing, “Te Deum Laudamus”—“To God Be the Praise!” They were, of course, quite wrong in their understanding. The world did not come to an end. But they were, of course, quite right in the seriousness with which they approached their relationship to God. May we so live—never trivializing God, never trivializing the glorious thing it is to be His children called by His holy name.