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Guarding The Tongue

Category Articles
Date June 2, 2006

The rudder of a ship is a very small instrument. Yet, at the small flick of the rudder, the entire bulk of the ship is turned. Indeed, at the false flicking of the rudder, the ship is entirely ruined. James uses this example as a valid comparison to our tongues (James 3:4-5). At the flick of our tongues, we may ruin and be ruined.

How many times has one flick of your tongue cut deeply into a beloved brother or sister in Christ? How often have you been enjoying the company of believers, but it is all ruined by one fatal word or comment? The tongue may be deadly. That very same instrument used for the pure and beautiful praise of God may also be used to curse Him.

The Third Commandment forbids us from taking our God’s name in vain. In this command, the only title reserved for God alone is specifically cited. This vain use, then, refers uniquely to God. There are many people, even non-religious types, who take this command with a sense of sobriety. Some of them will not use God as a curse, or an expletive. However, some consider themselves free from blame if they refrain from using the name of Jesus Christ as an expletive.

How are we, then, to understand the true application of this command? How broadly does it extend? Our Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that this command requires the holy and reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, word, and works. How did our Catechism authors come up with such a broad, expansive statement of what this commandment covers? Those Westminster Divines were known to interpret Scripture with Scripture, and that is precisely how they determined how comprehensive this commandment is. You may carefully consider the verses they cite in order to understand how the term name is used throughout Scripture (Revelation 15:3-4).

However, the use of name throughout Scripture is really quite similar to how we use it today. When we call someone’s name, we do not expect that person’s humor, intellect, feet, or hair merely to come, do we? Or, perhaps, we are calling merely for their spirit or body to come? Rather, when we call someone by name, we are referring to that person, the whole person. We designate a person by that one’s name. The same is true for God. While different names suggest different attributes, every name of God designates God. Who He is, further, is revealed to us both by nature and word. That is, General and Special Revelation both show us Who God is. This Third Commandment is, then, quite comprehensive in scope. We are not to use without thought or true purpose anything whereby God makes Himself known. We are, rather, to use our tongues to praise God by using His creation and His Word wisely and rightly.

Christians are often careful about what words they use. Nonetheless, we may all rightly admit that there remain areas of our speech that need the light of Scripture to shine further upon them. While not many of us may use the terms God and Jesus as expletives, yet, we all destroy with the small flickering of our tongues. I will elucidate two possible areas for your practical consideration.

First, how should our children use the name of God? The first Children’s Catechism question is, Who made you? to which my daughter should respond, God! Does she know who God is? Does she fully understand what she is saying? Of course she does not. In fact, she has confused the question of what color an object is with the question of Who made that object. For example, I have asked her what colour an object was, and her response has been, God.

How should we deal with our children? Should we allow children to speak of God without fully understanding what they say? We must. We must urge them to call upon the name of the Lord as early as possible for this is the only way to salvation. Paul writes, if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9). I do not know if she is already regenerate. However, I know that I am to raise her as one calling upon God. How am I to do so without her speaking the name of God? Do not forbid the children to come unto the Lord Jesus Christ, taking His name upon their lips, merely because they do not fully understand it! None of us fully understands what it means to speak the name of God. We must train our children not mindlessly to repeat the name of God, but, as they are capable to understand, knowingly to call upon God and confess His name.

Second, while most of us do not use God’s name as merely an expletive, many of us do use the name of God in minced pronunciation. We understand enough not explicitly to use God’s names as verbal exclamations of surprise, agreement, or wonder. Nonetheless, we substitute a lesser offense by mincing God’s name and using it vainly. One of the most prominent examples of such a use is the term Gosh. Webster’s Dictionary defines this term as an exclamation of surprise, etc.: a euphemism for God To use a euphemism, again according to Webster’s Dictionary, means to use a word or phrase that is less expressive or direct but considered less distasteful, less offensive, etc. than another. The term Gosh is a minced form of the name God, albeit a less direct term. Therefore, when we use this less offensive term, we are, nonetheless, speaking God’s name vainly, as a mere expression of exclamation. Those among us using this term must consider carefully the significance of its etymology being linked to the name of God. Perhaps we may be more brilliantly expressive without the ambiguity of a term that seems to take God’s name in vain. The same would apply to other terms such as Jeez, which is a minced form of Jesus.

Such are the considerations I place before you. While we all fail in thought, word, and deed, to praise and glorify God as He deserves, we should always return to the fact that Jesus did not fail. Jesus Christ used His tongue always perfectly to glorify God. Are we confused as to how to use our tongues to praise God? We must study Christ’s words. Are we convicted over our sinful, destructive use of our tongues? We must revel in the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to our account. In God’s eyes, Christ’s perfectly expressive language is yours. Praise be to God for we are thereby emboldened to use even our unclean lips to express our joy in Christ and to praise God still!

Ryan Speck is serving as an Intern in Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia.

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