This week, I heard a sermon by a fine, nationally known Reformed pastor, in which he said several times something like, “Holy smoke”, and it was a euphemism, not an exultation of prayer or praise. Frankly, after our recent evening studies in the Westminster Larger Catechism (which he subscribes to) teaching us about the Third Commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain …”, I was primed to find this carelessness by a pastor who should know better enough to make my skin crawl. The preacher is still well worth listening to. But his poor choice of words behind the pulpit gave evidence that we don’t pay close enough attention to what our Catechisms guide us in seeing what the Word says should be expected in our faith and life — including the nuanced words that come out of our mouths that may mean well but are not well chosen.
Many euphemisms are problems that need to not be accepted by the conscientious Christian because they are common, but corrected as he or she looks to burn a brighter and more uncommon witness for our Holy God in this dark world (we won’t if we speak like everyone else, or only slightly differently — and practically the same).
As we continue in our study of the Third Commandment tomorrow evening and next week with the Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A’s 113-114 (having begun the subject with 111-112), and are guided by the wise and godly Puritan pastors who wrote them to teach mature Christians the depths of what is revealed in the Scriptures, I want to encourage you to read a few of the following articles related to how we tend to improperly speak in euphemisms specifically related to concerns for God’s attributes and Word. I thank you in advance for prayerfully considering some of these articles at your convenience (a Sabbath afternoon would be an excellent time to do so):
I have noticed some of you “getting it” in how you catch yourself with your speech related to what I am highlighting below in response to the last two week’s evening sermons (Take Care of Jesus, and Hold Your Tongue), which is commendable — and encouraging as it has particularly been self-corrected by our young people. However, it seems my efforts to address some particular issues without being too direct so as not to risk seeming contemptuous have either not yet convinced some of you or have not been clear or obvious to some of you. The particular issue being, how beginning a sentence with “Oh my” is an outburst that should not only not be followed by “God”, but neither by such euphemistic replacements as “goodness” or “Word”. There are other implications worth the thoughtful meditation of a Christian who wants to go out of his or her way to not take God’s name in vain with an empty use of his or her speech (for instance, bovines and fish should not be carelessly labeled “holy” to better express an exclamation another way with a little thought and change in habit).
In considering the above articles, let me revisit what I particularly have in mind that I am concerned to see ingrained into your minds and speech patterns for the glory of our Savior. The WLC 112 guided us in seeing from the Scriptures that, among things required in the Third Commandment, are, “That the name of God, his titles, attributes [such as goodness, mercy, and holiness], ordinances, the word, sacraments …. be holily and reverently used in thought, meditation, word, and writing; by an holy profession, and answerable conversation, to the glory of God, and the good of ourselves and others.”
In WLC 113, among the sins forbidden in the third commandment are, ” … the not using of God’s name as is required, and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious, or wicked mentioning or otherwise using his titles, attributes, ordinances, or works, by blasphemy … ”
Let me also say that I have had people speak to me in the past about other euphemisms they noticed I was carelessly using (which you will see mentioned in some of these articles) and I am very thankful they had done so. First of all, faithful are the wounds of a friend (Proverb 27:6). As well, I am always in need of improving such speech patterns, and I should want to to better glorify and lift up a fuller witness to His most beautiful Name. For the Lord Jesus teaches us in His model prayer first and foremost in the first petition to pray, “Hallowed be Thy Name”. The Lord be willing, we will revisit this topic of how to carefully speak relating to God’s attributes when we get to WLC 190 on that very petition in the Lord’s Prayer in the evening sermon series.
In closing, I share again these recent thoughts from commentaries on the WLC in the aforementioned evening sermons:
First, J.G. Vos: “ … profanity in speech proceeds from a personality alienated from God … Christian people should always be on guard against the temptation to compromise with the sinful world’s habits of speech.”
Another commentator said what I paraphrase here: most saints are guilty of breaking this commandment many times each day; yet with the most meager efforts, and thought before utterance, it should be easiest to keep.
I trust you will be careful, because you care to take care of the name and reputation of your King, Jesus Christ the Lord of Glory.
Notice in our closing Psalms for both our morning (Psalm 117) and evening (Psalm 134) worship services that praising God’s “name” is highlighted.
Whether we eat, or drink, or speak formally or casually, let us do all to the glory of God.
“O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.” (Psalm 34:3)
For Christ and His Kingdom,