This article is part of a series from our monthly newsletter written by Pastor Steve. Read more from the series by clicking the button below:
The Second Commandment
Throughout the year, I will be reflecting upon the Ten Commandments in the newsletter. This month we continue by examining the Second Commandment. I plan to begin with Luther’s explanation and then move into what this might mean for us today.
The Second Commandment
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
What does this mean?
We are to fear, love, and trust God so that we do not use his name superstitiously, or use it to curse, swear, lie, or deceive, but call on him in prayer, praise and thanksgiving.
Martin Luther begins his writing on the Second Commandment in his Large Catechism by stating: ‘Just as the First Commandment instructs the heart and teaches faith, so this commandment leads us outward and directs the lips and tongue into a right relationship with God. For the first things that burst forth and emerge from the heart are words. As I have taught above how to answer the question of what it means to have a god, so you must learn to understand simply the meaning of this and all the other commandments and apply it to yourself.’
In many ways Luther’s writing acknowledges that words have power. Growing up, we used to say the adage: ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones; but names will never hurt me.’ The reality is that this saying is just not true! Names do hurt. We hear story after story of young people who hurt themselves or slash out against others because of being picked on and people calling them names or saying other derogatory comments about them. And at times some of this is done in the name of God.
While, a literal reading of the commandment is about the name of God and in what way we use it. If you take seriously Luther’s thought that this ‘commandment leads us outward and directs the lips and tongue into a right relationship with God’ this expands to all the ways that we use our lips and tongue (the words that we use). Do we use our words to tear down or to build up? Do our words foster life for us and those around us or do they demean others?
We also see this in the 3rd chapter in the book of James, where the author describes the danger of the tongue and how a small part of the body can lead it astray. James calls for us to tame the tongue and be very intentional about the words that we use for they have power. If we talk about Jesus being Lord of our life—he should be lord of our whole life which would include the words that we use. We cannot have it both ways. James 3:9-10 states: ‘With it (tongue) we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not be so.’ James is clearly saying that when we tear down others, we are misusing the name of God as we are dismissing people who are made in the image of God.
This commandment in some ways may seem very simply—however, if we take seriously how we use the name of God it goes way beyond just not saying a couple of phrases. It calls us to be very attentive to the words that we use. It reminds me of something my high school math teacher used to tell us. Mr. Goodrich would regularly tell us: Say what you mean and mean what you say. If we would take some time to think about what we say and the impact that it may make, it would go a long way in helping us keep the Second Commandment.