The Third Commandment: How praying, Reading Scripture can Protect us from Dishonouring God’s Holy Name (Reflections from Herman Bavinck)

 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. Exodus 20:7 NAS

Here in this command, we are dealing with the honour of God’s name.  As believers we are ambassadors of Christ, and we are called to be holy and blameless in Christ by the Holy Spirit.  The truth is though, we fail time and again to live up to these standards.  For the believer it is very important to eat ‘humble pie’.  We are sinners saved by grace and there are these two natures in us vying to control us, have sovereignty over our life.  Christ said in Matthew 5 that true religion begins with ‘poverty in spirit’.  Only God can save us from our sins and that it is important to live the life of faith and by faith.  We realize that God created us, he redeemed us through Christ, and we have been given the Holy Spirit our Comforter and Teacher and Trainer in righteousness.  For Bavinck the fruit of faith (good works) is out of heart of gratitude for what God did for us first.  We love our Trinitarian God so let us keep the third commandment and honour his good name.  Today I will in the long run look at one aspect of this commandment; ‘cursing’.  I hope to give practical advice through this study to help us to walk the path of truth and thus honour God’s name by the grace he gives us on a daily basis.

It is amazing how Bavinck the Master Theologian speaks about the third commandment as he says:

“The First Commandment deals with the true God, the Second with the true religion, the Third with private religion, and the Fourth with the public (communal) exercise of that true religion.”  (From: Reformed Ethics, Herman Bavinck, volume 2, page 180, Baker Academic)

If we look at his list very carefully:

  1. The True God
  2. The true religion
  3. Private religion
  4. Public (communal) religion

Here in the first commandment God starts by giving his personal name ‘the Lord’ in English translations. The second commandment rejects other gods as no gods.  This is a strict Monotheism. Bavinck somewhere else reminds us that God has other names too.  He points out that from the Christian perspective Father, Son and Holy Spirit are some other names for God too. (John Bolt the editor gave us a reference from E. Sartorius a Lutheran theologian from the 19th century which Bavinck cites). True Monotheistic religion has no place for any form of Paganism in which other gods are worshipped.

We then come to the third commandment the one that we have been looking at last time:

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. Exodus 20:7 NASB (from Olive Tree software)

Bavinck here labels this commandment as ‘private religion’.  This commandment is about us as human beings at work, home, in marketplace, with friends et al.  God has said here that wherever we are and whatever we are doing we ought to show love to our Lord by not abusing his name.  Obviously, there are times when we are not so guarded about our beliefs and at these times it is so easy to fall into a trap and sin against God (even without realizing it).

Obviously, we are under grace, and we know Christ died for us, but have you also realized that it is even more serious for the Christian.  These laws are no longer written on stone, but Scripture says that the law is written on our hearts! Becoming a Christian only means that we have been brought into the Church.  This does not mean that as soon as we become Christians that we have reached perfection.  No, my friends it is a work that takes a lifetime and even when we have gone to heaven, Christ is still working on us.  As we grow older in the faith in Christ by the Holy Spirit, we start to become more mature.  Bavinck helps us here to realize where we could sin (with or without realizing it). 

For Bavinck there are five areas in which the third commandment does not allow:

  1. Cursing
  2. Swearing falsely
  3. Unnecessary swearing
  4. Blasphemy
  5. Any misuse of God’s name

Bavinck shows us that cursing is the opposite of ‘praying or blessing’.  In cursing there is usually sin and anger involved.  In his summary he also says:

“’ Instead of persons offering their wills to serve God, the curse uses God’s holy will for the service of our sinful will. Cursing is not praying that God’s righteousness may be revealed and shown, but demanding, requiring, charging God to punish our enemy.”

Bavinck is right.  It is so easy to curse and I’m sure we have all done it sometime in our lives.  I think various countries have different ways of showing their anger. In English speaking countries the ‘F’ word is very popular and the two fingered salute.  In actuality these particular words depending on the social criteria can mean both a curse and a blessing to the person who it is aimed at.  The two fingered salute came into being from the medieval periods when the bowmen of England would show their fingers.  If the French capture an English bowman, they would cut off his finger so he couldn’t shoot arrows anymore.  So, as a defiance on the battlefields it was customary to show two fingers to the French as a mark of defiance (From the time of Henry the 5th at the Battle of Agincourt).

(The two fingered salute= From: forces.net/heritage/history/did-agincourt-archers-really-invent-swearing-two-fingered-salute-v-sign

The F word origins = From: dictionary.com/e/origin-of-the-f-word/)

As believers we should refrain from this sort of language, but it is very difficult.  The reason it is difficult is, because it is so ingrained into society that no matter what job a person does, one is going to hear these profanities.  This is why prayer, worship times, reading the Bible regularly are very important. St Paul talks a lot about the importance of the renewal of the mind.  It is also very interesting that the Dalai Lama always seems to be very happy.  What is the connection?

Practical helps to overcome cursing and allied subjects

Prayer

Prayer helps us to think about issues outside of ourselves and it helps to build an inward attitude of empathy and love towards others wanting their good.  Whether we are religious or not we are all spiritual beings.  Believers talk about God and the soul whereas secularists would talk about a person’s psychology.  It is the inner person.

Reading the Bible

Reading the Bible has a purifying effect as the Holy Spirit speaks directly to us and changes us from the inside out.  Somewhere it says:

“For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord: “I will put My law within them and write it on their heart; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Jeremiah 31:33 From Bible Gateway; See also Hebrews 8 verse 10

Worship

When we worship whatever way, we do it, we give God his glory as the True Creator and Redeemer of our souls.  God is holy and to stand in his presence there has to be some reverence for God.

These are just some practical ways a believer through his/her Trinitarian faith can protect themselves from cursing.

Bavinck’s Scriptural Evidences on cursing

Our Master Theologian Herman Bavinck gives us a whole List of Scriptures on cursing that is found in the Bible.  In the first set of texts, it is God who is cursing.  In the second set various people have been given permission to curse for the honour of God’s name.  Thirdly we have the ‘imprecatory Psalms’ which are also quoted in the New Testament:

God Curses

  • Not all cursing is wrong. God himself curses humans (Gen. 3:16-19) and the earth and all it contains (Gen. 3:17),
  • sends the Flood as a curse (Gen. 5:29; 8:21),
  • God will curse those who curse Abraham (Gen.12:3).
  • God curses transgressors of his law (Deut. 28:15—68),
  • Israel and its blessings (Mal. 2:2),
  • everyone who does not remain in the book of the law (Deut. 28:58-60; Gal. 3:13), and whoever rejects Christ (1 Cor. 16:22).
  • The curse proceeds from God (Zech. 5:3-4),
  • God’s curse strikes home (Deut.28:15—68).
  • God can nevertheless instruct people to curse in his name: Moses (Deut. 11:26) and the Levites (Deut. 27) hold up before Israel curse and blessing.

Certain People Curse

  • People also can speak a curse in the certainty that God will confirm it: Noah curses Canaan (Gen.9:25);
  • Isaac blesses Jacob by cursing those who curse him (Gen. 27:29);
  • Jacob curses the wrath of his sons Simeon and Levi (Gen. 49:7)
  • Joshua curses the one who rebuilds Jericho (Josh. 6:26)
  • Peter curses Simon the Magician (Acts 8:18—21).

The Imprecatory Psalms

  • We must also understand the imprecatory psalms in this way (Pss. 69:23-29; 109:6—20). Both psalms are quoted in the New Testament (Acts 1:16, 20; Rom. 11:9).” (From; Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; page 181; Editor John Bolt; Baker House Publications)

Note Imprecatory is about invoking curses.

So then let us remind ourselves why we looked at cursing:

7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. Exodus 20:7

As I said earlier God’s name is taken in vain on a daily basis.  In Finland some swearing goes around with God’s name and also others such as the place of fire and sulphur (I do not want to actually write the word).  The UK has also got the same type of words. This particular chapter is actually called ‘The Honour of God’s name’.  In modern society it has become so bad that cursing has also led to murder in God’s name.  This is why for example Rabbi Sacks wrote the book, ‘Not in God’s Name’; Hodder and Stoughton. (I find it interesting that Herman Bavinck has written a chapter that is closely related to Rabbi Sacks.)   I can add to this that Scripture says that we were created in the image of God. Thus, if a person curses another person, they are cursing God’s image.  I Don’t think Bavinck mentioned this (I could be wrong).  From that point of view self-pleasing destructive cursing of another created human being is in a way cursing God directly.  As Bavinck said cursing is the opposite of blessing in the same way in earthly terms hatred is the opposite of love.  God is love so we ought to walk in love treating others as we would like to be treated.

Final Reflection on cursing

Cursing God directly or cursing another human being are both breaking this commandment.  Cursing God directly or his reflection (another human being); both are sinful.

In this world of sin, it is easy for a believer to break this commandment.  To the believer I would say Love God and love your neighbour as both these commands are closely related.  We ought to read our Bible regularly as this by the Holy Spirit purifies our inner being.  By praying regularly and spending time in God’s presence we are in the presence of Pure Love because John tells us that God is love.  Having regular fellowship with other believers also encourages us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.  However, there are situations when it is impossible to have fellowship because of distances, illnesses and so forth so I am not pushing this.

Personal note

Bavinck has given us some serious food for thought and perhaps one day I will revisit these texts and look even deeper into this topic.  Alas, there are only 24 hours in the day and as a carpenter who having scrubbed undercoat of paint all Week, my energy is spent.  Yet I will return.  This Weekend I will be visiting my son in Helsinki as he is studying animation.

I am also really saddened with Hurricane Ian in which many people have been displaced or died.  Let us remember them in our prayers.

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