Exodus 20:7 You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.
Have you ever looked up at the clouds and saw they were shaped like animals? One minute, you see what resembles a cow. But a few moments later, the wind blows, the clouds move, and the cloud changes to something else.
Our words are like the wind reshaping world around us. We need to be careful how we use words, but that can be tricky. The meaning of the words we use and how we use them changes from one generation to the next just like the clouds above in the sky. And words can mean different things in different communities.
A young pastor had an unfortunate experience on his first day pastoring a small church. He grew up in the city. So on his first day as the pastor, he was full of wonder driving through the countryside. Unfortunately, he offended half the congregation in his opening remarks when he talked about all the bulls and cows he saw on the way to church. Unknown to the young minister, the polite society of this rural community only used the words cow and male cow! “Bull” was a profanity to their sensitive ears. Can you imagine the horror of finding out half the congregation thought you were cussin’ them in your very first sermon?
Do you consider the word “bull” a profanity? I guess some communities do. There may be words you consider profanity that others don’t. One polite way to refer to a person’s backside is to call it a fanny. We even have “fanny packs” to hold stuff when you go for a walk. However, don’t ever call it a fanny pack if you take a walk in Ireland. Fanny is a very vulgar word in Ireland. (Call it a bum bag.) Meanwhile, while in Ireland you will find the Irish sprinkling the word “F.E.C.K.” liberally throughout their conversations. They use this word on TV and radio; even nuns and priests use “F.E.C.K.” in polite company. For them, it simply means “very” or “extremely”. So they might say something like "That fecking idiot told the nun he was wearin' a fanny pack! How vuklgar!"
Last Sunday, I shared that words matter. Today, I want to talk about profanity. We have a serious problem with profanity in our society. However, profanity may not mean what you think it means.
Profanity is deeper than just using cuss words. Profanity is desecrating something that is sacred--whether it is God’s name and reputation or something sacred He has made. Ultimately, profanity is living with the attitude that nothing is sacred.
The Apostle Paul wrote the Church in Corinth about their problem with profanity. Listen to what he said.
20 When you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. 21 For some of you hurry to eat your own meal without sharing with others. As a result, some go hungry while others get drunk. 22 What? Don’t you have your own homes for eating and drinking? Or do you really want to disgrace God’s church and shame the poor? What am I supposed to say? Do you want me to praise you? Well, I certainly will not praise you for this!
27 So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.
Desecrating the Holy
In the first century church, what we now call Holy Communion was still full meal. Just as Jesus originally shared dinner with his Disciples at the Last Supper, New Testament churches would gather for a special dinner to eat and drink and remember their sacred Savior. As they dined, they would break bread and recount what Jesus said: “This is my body, given for you, and this is my blood shed for you...” Jesus told his followers to do this often and remember how he died on the cross for their sins. Though these meals served the common function of nourishing the body, they were also sacred and holy.
What Does It Mean to Take the Lord’s Name in Vain?
Many Christians share how offended they are when people take the Lord’s name in vain--whether it is as extreme as using God’s name to damn something or someone or even something as simply as using God’s name to express ecstatic excitement like--“Oh my god! I love your new car!” Many have shared how hearing God’s sacred name used this way is extremely offensive, and I understand. You love the Lord and revere Him and you want to honor His name. That’s noble.
However, I want to make sure you understand the prohibition of using God’s name in vain goes far, far beyond merely the words you say. When Exodus 20:7 says, “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain...”, the word name means God’s reputation. You see, the Israelites (to whom the Lord gave these commandments) were supposed to represent God to the world. God set the Israelites apart as His royal representatives. Everywhere they went, it was like they were carrying a banner that said, “We are God’s people. Look at us and you will see what God is like.” So then, it would desecrate God’s perfect pure reputation if His people were dishonest, disrespectful, vulgar, immoral, bad people.
In the same way, Christians today are to represent Jesus Christ to the world. In the New Testament in 1 Peter 2:9, it says, “You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God...” You can live your whole Christian life without ever saying GD or even OMG, but if your bad behavior misrepresents God’s character, you are just as guilty. Scripture repeatedly shows that behavior that profanes God's name is far more offensive than mere words.
Profanity - Definition
Profanity is becoming more commonplace in our world today. People use profane words and even use the Lord’s name in vain. We hear it in the workplace, at school, and profanity has even become more prevalent on TV shows where the FCC used to censor offensive language. We also live in a time when our attitudes and actions toward one another are not very gracious. People are angry, divided, and mean-spirited to one another. I suspect the two go together. Our words matter. They affect our actions. If we speak profanity, we soon act profanely. And the more we act profanely, the more profanity comes out our mouths.
Just because something is sacred, doesn’t mean it also must be somber or boring. There are many sacred ceremonies full of joy and celebration. At a wedding, we sing, we dance, we laugh, and we love. It’s a wonderful celebration, but it’s also a sacred time when a man and a woman stand before God and a group of eye-witnesses and promise to love each other for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, for the rest of their lives.
Sacred moments don't necessarily have to be religious ceremonies either. One of my church members just had a baby. This is a time of pain and joy, and it is also something very sacred. So something sacred doesn’t have be a sombre or even "religious".
However, there’s a fine line between sacred joy and profane behavior. Unfortunately, the Corinthian church had completely abandoned the sacred nature of Holy Communion. Some would hoard a bunch of food to themselves while others didn’t get anything to eat at all. Others were drinking so much communion wine they were sloppy drunk and acting very vulgar. The spirit and remembrance of Christ’s love was not their focus. They were desecrating the sacred memory of Jesus and how he died on the cross for our sins. Appalling!
However, I want to make sure you understand the prohibition against using God’s name in vain goes far, far beyond mere the way people use words. When Exodus 20:7 says, “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain...”, the word name means God’s reputation. You see, the Israelites (to whom the Lord gave these commandments) were supposed to represent God to the world. God set the Israelites apart as His royal representatives. Everywhere they went, it was like they were carrying a banner with God's name that said, “We are God’s people. Look at us and you will see what God is like.” So then, it would desecrate God’s perfect, pure reputation if His people were dishonest, disrespectful, vulgar, immoral, bad people. God would not put up with His people sullying His name with their bad behavior. This command was more about behavior than words.
In the same way, Christians today are to represent Jesus Christ to the world. In the New Testament in 1 Peter 2:9, it says, “You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God...” You can live your whole Christian life without ever saying GD or even OMG, but if your bad behavior misrepresents God’s character, you are just as guilty. Scripture repeatedly shows that behavior that profanes God's name is far more offensive than mere bad words.
I don’t want to be naïve nor a prude. However, I believe Christians are to be salt and light that makes our world a better place. I believe the words we use matter and affect the world around us. We need to be gracious and loving to one another in both our words and deeds.
Furthermore, we need to remember that God made the whole world. It is not that the church sanctuary is sacred and the world outside is not. All of life is sacred. We gather around the sacred table in the sanctuary to share Holy Communion. but then we will go out and interact with people all week long. They are sacred too--living beings God created and loves who have a purpose. The environment is sacred and God command us to be good stewards of creation. Our own bodies a called "living stones" in the temple of God. We house the Holy Spirit of God. We are sacred and out to treat our own bodies as sacred spaces. All of life is sacred, but too many people in our times live as though nothing is sacred. This is profanity--in its deepest sense. And Jesus wants us to live a different way, a better way.
How can you do that this week?