Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #199

Bible Christian Society

General Comments

Hey folks, I hope all is well with you and yours. I hope to get a proposal done to send to EWTN for a 5-part TV-series on apologetics. Don’t have a title for the series yet, maybe: “Blue Collar Apologetics,” or, “Apologetics for the Scripturally Challenged,” or some such thing. Basically it will focus on how to ask questions rather than constantly answer them; how to respond to questions with questions; and so on. The same philosophy that I use in my newsletters. Don’t know if they’ll accept it or not, so if you could say a prayer or two for this, I would appreciate it.


Below is a little talk/meditation I gave recently to the diaconate formation class here in the Diocese of Birmingham on the 2nd Commandment. I hope you enjoy it.


My assignment was to speak to you on the 2nd Commandment.  We first see the 2nd Commandment mentioned in Exodus 20, verse 7: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”  Most people who call themselves, “Christian,” are familiar with that Commandment – “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”  The thing is, though, this Commandment is often viewed as, what I call, a “2nd Tier” Commandment. 

The first tier Commandments are the really serious commandments.  You know, such things as not worshipping false gods.  Worshipping false gods, that’s pretty serious, right?!  Then you’ve got the one about, “Thou shalt not kill.”  Killing is pretty serious business.  And, of course there is the one about adultery – that’s pretty serious, too.  But then, you have those commandments that…yeah…okay…they’re commandments, but they’re not really as serious as those other ones I just mentioned. 

For example, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”  Well, you know, it’s not really okay to do it, but it really isn’t that big of a deal to tell a little lie now and then, right?  A little white lie…no big deal.  And this whole thing about coveting thy neighbor’s wife – well, what if she just happens to be pretty hot and what if he’s really a jerk and what if she would really be better off with someone like me?  It’s not my fault if he doesn’t really deserve her, is it?!  Besides, I’m just looking…there’s no harm in looking, right?!

And this thing about keeping holy the Lord’s day.  Hey, missing Mass every now and then, especially when we go on vacation – I mean, you can’t expect me to go to Mass when I’m on vacation – or if I catch an occasional round of golf on a Sunday morning, or maybe I miss a Mass during deer season… what’s the harm?  Besides, I often feel closer to God when I’m out in the woods…out in nature…than I do when I’m at Mass with all of those holier-than-thou hypocrites.   

And this taking the name of the Lord in vain thing…well, if I let slip a GD now and then…or an “Oh my God!”  Or maybe a “Jesus Christ!”  It’s no big deal.  It’s just something you say.  It’s not like I killed somebody or somethin’. 

It’s not?  Are you sure?  As I’ve already mentioned, most people who call themselves Christian are familiar with the 2nd Commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy god in vain,” which, again, we find in Exodus 20, verse 7.  What most people are not aware of, however, is what immediately follows, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain…for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” 

“For the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”

Do you understand what is being said here?  If you take the name of the Lord in vain, the Lord will not hold you guiltless.  Lest you think that to be no big deal, please keep in mind Revelation 21:27 – which is talking about the New Jerusalem, or Heaven, and it says, “Nothing unclean shall enter it.”  Nothing unclean will enter Heaven.  In other words, nothing with the stain of sin will enter it…nothing with the stain of guilt…will enter Heaven.  So, if you take the name of the Lord in vain, then you are not held guiltless – which means you ARE held guilty…guilty of sin…guilty of serious sin…and if you do not repent of this sin, you will go to Hell.  You will not pass GO, you will not collect $200.  And there is no “Get out of Hell Free” card. 

The Commandment about not taking the name of the Lord in vain – and this taking the Lord’s name in vain is also known as blasphemy – is a commandment that we overlook, or that we take lightly, at our own peril.  In fact, it is such a serious sin, that in the Old Testament it carried the death penalty.  The death penalty!  In Leviticus 24:16, it says, “He who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him; the sojourner as well as the native.”  Death, by stoning, for taking the name of the Lord in vain.  And you have to remember that a physical death sentence in the Old Testament for a particular offense is generally a sign of a spiritual death sentence for that offense.

Okay, taking the name of the Lord in vain is a serious sin, but exactly how does one take the name of the Lord in vain?  Well, there are the obvious ways – using the Lord’s name as part of a curse word…GD this or GD that.  Or, literally cursing at God.  Or, when something happens that maybe surprises you in a not so nice way – maybe you’re watching a football game and your team throws an interception; or you’ve stopped at a stop sign and just as you’re about to go someone runs the stop sign right in front of you – and you use the name, Jesus Christ, to express anger, disgust, or even malice.  That is taking the name of the Lord in vain.

Or, you simply view the name, “God,” as simply one word among many in the dictionary and you quite often find yourself saying, “Oh my God,” over the most common and even profane things.  Or, on Facebook, or in emails, you use “OMG” all the time.  You may not realize it, but you are taking the name of the Lord, your God, in vain, and you are quite possibly causing others to do the same. 

Are there other ways we can take the name of the Lord in vain?  Indeed there are.  It is not just by our words that we can blaspheme, but also by our actions.  In Malachi 1:6, God says, “O priests, who despise my name.  You say, ‘How have we despised thy name?’ By offering polluted food upon my altar.”  You see, the priests were offering sacrifices of animals that were blind, diseased, lame, and so on.  In other words, they were offering sacrifices that had blemishes to the Lord, instead of offering Him the best of their flocks.  So, they were despising the name of the Lord, taking the name of the Lord in vain, through the offering of tainted sacrifices. 

And I need to note here, that the name of the Lord and sacrifice are very much intertwined throughout the Bible.  In Genesis 4:26, it says that after the birth of Enosh, son of Seth, son of Adam, “at that time men began to call upon the name of the Lord.”  Does that mean the folks just kind of sat around yelling, “Lord…Lord?”  No.  There was something that was usually done when calling upon the name of the Lord – when seeking the Lord’s favor, when seeking His blessings.  Several places in Genesis tell us about this: Genesis 12:8, “[Abram] built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.”  Genesis 13:4, “[Abram] …journeyed…to the place where he had made an altar…and there [he] called upon the name of the Lord.”  Genesis 26:25, “So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord.”   

What is done on an altar?  You make sacrifices on altars.  Altars…sacrifices…are usually involved with calling upon the name of the Lord.  When the folks in the Bible would call upon the name of the Lord, they would first build an altar and offer a sacrifice.  That’s exactly what we do today in the Mass – we call upon the name of the Lord, while offering Him a sacrifice.  We ask His blessings…we ask His favor…His grace…through the offering of a sacrifice.

In fact, listen to what God says in Malachi, chapter 1, right after He tells the priests that they are despising His name by their defective sacrifices.  Malachi 1:11, “For from the rising of the sun to its setting” – you may recognize that from the revised Eucharistic prayer – “For from the rising of the sun to its setting, my NAME is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.”

Hmm…let’s look at this for a second…there is an offering, in every nation, from the rising of the sun to its setting – in other words, all day long – and this offering is one of incense, and a pure offering.  What is the one and only truly “pure” offering ever offered to God?  It is the offering of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross.  This passage from Malachi is actually a prophecy of things to come, because in Malachi’s day, 400 or so years before Christ, God’s name was not great among the nations.  And what occurs among the nations, today, in every place, something where incense is offered and a pure offering – the Mass – the offering of Jesus Christ – from the rising of the sun to its setting.  The Mass fulfills this prophecy from Malachi.

In the Mass, we call upon the name of the Lord, while we offer on the altar the pure offering of His Son.  All of this gives us a greater understanding of why it is such a grave offense to God to take His name in vain.  Because His Name IS great among the nations.  And, it is great among the nations, because it is holy!  In Luke 1:49, Mary says, “For He Who is mighty has done great things for me and HOLY is His Name.”  And we offer sacrifice to His name.  And what sacrifice do we offer?  A pure sacrifice…the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.  And if Jesus Christ gave His life in the name of God, for the name of God, by the name of God, so that God’s name would be great among the nations, then how dare we…how dare we!…ever take the name of the Lord, our God, in vain.

God’s name is holy, so to treat it as something common, as something that is no different from any other word that might find its way onto our lips, or, even worse, to treat it as something profane and undignified and even vulgar, is a very serious offense. 

How does the Scripture tell us we should treat the name of the Lord?  Read the Psalms.  Psalm 5:11, “That those who love Thy name may exult in Thee.”  Psalm 7:17, “I will sing praise to the name of the Lord.”  Psalm 20:7, “We boast of the name of the Lord our God.”  Psalm 29:2, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name.”  Psalm 30:4, “Give thanks to His holy name.”  Psalm 33:21, “We trust in His holy name.”  Psalm 34:3, “Let us exalt His name together!”

We are to love the name of the Lord, sing praise to the name of the Lord, boast of the name of the Lord, give glory to the name of the Lord, give thanks to the name of the Lord, trust in the name of the Lord, and to exalt in the name of the Lord.  That is why it is so terrible when we take the name of the Lord, our God, in vain.  We cannot honor the name of the Lord in all of these ways that Scripture talks about, while simultaneously taking the name of the Lord in vain.

When we take the name of the Lord in vain, we are not honoring Him, we are not glorifying Him, we are not worshipping Him, we are not calling upon His name, we are not trusting in Him, and we are not praising Him.  No…when we take the name of the Lord in vain, we are doing the very opposite of what God made us for.  We are not just going against God, we are going against our very nature as human beings.  We were made to glorify God.  All of creation glorifies God.  But man, alone among creation, has the option of taking the name of the Lord our God in vain.  When we take the name of the Lord in vain, we are, denying our very essence, we are denying who we are as human beings, and we are, in essence, spitting on the corpse hanging on the Cross.  That is how serious breaking this commandment is.

When it comes to the 2nd Commandment, we need to always keep in mind, that we were baptized in the name of the Lord – Acts 19:5; that we were washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord – 1 Corinthians 6:11; that we were forgiven in the name of the Lord – 1 John 2:12.  And we need to always keep in mind, that people for thousands of years, have sacrificed their very lives, in the name of the Lord.

Given all of that, I want to challenge each and every one of you reading this to do something that I believe will help keep you from ever taking the name of the Lord, our God, in vain.  This was a challenge I issued at the last men’s conferences we had in Huntsville and Birmingham.  I want to challenge you today to strive for holiness in a particular way.  A not so obvious thing to work on to “strive for holiness” (Heb 12:14) – something that might not occur to you in your day-to-day life.  I challenge you to do one particular thing to strive for holiness in relation to the 2nd Commandment.  I challenge you to give up…profanity.

Now, you might be thinking, “C’mon, John, be real.  Cussing is no big deal.  It’s not like it’s a mortal sin or something.  It doesn’t hurt anything or anyone to use a little profanity now and then.”  Really?!  Are you sure?! Listen to this:  James, chapter 3, verse 10, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brethren, this ought not to be so.”  This ought not to be so the Bible tells us! Think about this: When you’re at your church, who among you would walk up to the tabernacle and use a little profanity?  The “F” word, the “S” word, the “B” words, the “A” word, or any other cuss word?  Who would use any of those words right there in the presence of Jesus Christ? 

I dare say not one of you would.  So, if you wouldn’t use those words in the church, why use them outside of the church?  Let what you participate in at the Mass, week in and week out, affect what you do and think and say outside of Mass.  Imagine, if every time you started to roll a little profanity off your tongue, you stopped and instead you glorified God.  If you will substitute the divine, for the profane in your daily language, you will find yourself doing the same in other areas as well.  I guarantee, folks, that if you work on purifying your tongue, you will find yourself also purifying your mind, body, and soul.  You will find yourself striving for holiness.  And you will find yourself farther and farther away from ever taking the name of the Lord in vain.

Furthermore, what kind of witness for Christ do you give to people when you cuss?  I mean really?  How many of your family members, friends, or co-workers see Jesus Christ in you when you let loose with a cuss word or two? Model Christ in all things, folks…all things!

Not too long ago, in front of the Pope and the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said that “no Christian is exempt from the duty of witnessing to Jesus and offering Jesus’ invitation to others in his own day-to-day life.”  So, be a witness to Jesus Christ in everything you do and everything you say in your day-to-day lives.

Reverencing the name of God honors Him.  This is the beginning of treating each other with the respect for a dignity that is based on our being created in the image of God.  You are created in the image of God.  Image Him, then, in all things – in thought, in deed, and in word.

Job 1:21, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed by the name of the Lord.”

In Conclusion

Have a great week!

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Apologetics for the Masses