Heidelbasics: Brief Weekly Reflections on the Heidelberg Catechism by Rev. David Fagrey, Pastor of Grace Reformed Church of Rapid City, SD
99. What is required in the third commandment?
That we must not by cursing, or by false swearing, nor yet by unnecessary oaths, profane or abuse the name of God; nor even by our silence and connivance be partakers of these horrible sins in others; and in summary, that we use the holy name of God in no other way than with fear and reverence, so that He may be rightly confessed and worshiped by us, and be glorified in all our words and works.
God has many descriptive titles (such as Almighty, Most High, the Holy One, Sovereign), and one primary name: Jehovah or Yahweh–the equivalent of I AM (Ex. 3:13-14). In the English Bible, God’s primary name is translated LORD. “I am the LORD, that is My name” (Isaiah 42:8). “God’s name stands for all that God is. …to profane (despise or take lightly) the name of God is to blaspheme God Himself (Leviticus 24:11, 15)” (Jones, Study Helps, 241). The word “vain” means “frivolous, insincere, thoughtless.” To take the LORD’s name in vain is to take His name upon our lips irreverently, insincerely, rashly, lightly, or thoughtlessly: “Oh my God, Thank God, Good Lord, Hallelujah, Jesus Christ.” God’s name is abused in the following ways:
- By cursing. “All cursing which proceeds from hatred, and from a desire of private revenge leading to the destruction of our neighbor, is… wicked; because it desires that God should be made the executioner of our corrupt wishes and passions” (Ursinus, 538).
- By false swearing: lying after swearing to tell the truth. “You shall not swear by my name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:12).
- By unnecessary oaths (explained in Q&A 101).
- By our silence (explained in Q&A 100).
- By our disobedience (Prov. 30:9; Rom. 2:24). We must use the holy name of God only with fear and reverence. “O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is Your name!” (Psalm 8:1; cf. 100:4-5). “Hallowed by Your Name.”
100. Is the profaning of God’s name, by swearing and cursing, so grievous a sin that his wrath is kindled against those also who do not help as much as they can to hinder and forbid it?
Yes, truly, for no sin is greater and more provoking to God than the profaning of His name; wherefore He even commanded it to be punished with death [Lev. 24:15-16].
It “is not enough merely to keep our mouth shut and not utter profanity, but we have to open them and defend the name of God when others profane it… As Christians, we are prophets (see Question 31 and 32) and must ‘confess His name’ to the world [especially when it is profaned]” (Study Helps). By our silence and connivance (acting as if nothing happened) we give the impression we approve of blasphemy: if a person “hears the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he has seen or known of it; if he does not tell it, he bears guilt” (Lev. 5:1). “The partner of a thief hates his own life; he hears the curse, but discloses nothing” (Prov. 29:24). Would we be silent if our mother’s name was cursed? Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37). “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words… the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes” (Mark 8:38). With respect and wisdom, we must show our disapproval of blasphemy (Matt. 7:6; Col. 4:5-6).