The tongue is an unruly member, full of deadly poison (Jas 3: 8). No part of the body brings more dishonour to God than the tongue. This is especially so in the way it is used for cursing and swearing.
Profane swearing has become a common practice in our world today. Very often, we hear people invoking the name of God in order to lend weight to their words, or to express their anger or disgust. This shows their utter disdain of God’s holy name. One writer said it aptly that every swear-word is a shout of hatred toward Heaven.
Using God’s name lightly or frivolously is to take God’s name in vain. Even Christians take God’s name in vain (knowingly or unknowingly) by such expressions as: “O my God!” or “Oh Gosh!” We insult God when we use His name wantonly.
o Taking God’s name in vain
The third commandment forbids the careless use of God’s name: “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain” (Ex 20: 7a). This prohibition comes with a strong warning: “… the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Ex 20: 7b).
God will deal severely with those who take His name in vain. Why is the punishment so harsh? The insolent or careless use of God’s name betrays our irreverent attitude towards God. It clearly reflects our disregard of Him.
o A “yea” or “nay” is sufficient
Jesus condemned rash swearing in ordinary conversations: “Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: 34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: 35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. 36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. 37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (Matt 5: 33-37).
The context of Jesus’ words here concerns the verity of a person’s speech. Jesus taught His disciples and those around Him to speak plainly and truthfully. Instead of swearing and calling upon the name of the Lord, a short “yea” or “nay” is enough. Jesus reiterated that “whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (Matt 5: 37b). This means that it comes from the devil and our deceitful, corrupt hearts.
The apostle James issued a similar warning against rash and vain swearing: “But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation” (Jas 5: 12). As Christians, we ought to speak honestly and plainly. A simple and sincere “yea” or “nay” is sufficient to convey our message. There is no need for oaths or other solemn affirmations.
Commentator Albert Barnes elaborates: “No man is believed any sooner in common conversation because he swears to a thing. When we hear a man swear to a thing, it is pretty good evidence that he knows what he is saying to be false, and we should be on our guard. He that will break the third commandment (‘Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain’ – Ex 20: 7a), will not hesitate to break the ninth (‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour’ – Ex 20: 16) also. And this explains the fact that profane swearers are seldom believed. The man who is always believed, is he whose character is beyond suspicion in all things; who obeys all the laws of God; and whose simple declaration therefore is enough. A man that is truly a Christian, and leads a Christian life, does not need oaths and profaneness to make him believed.”
Profane swearing reflects a sinful heart. To trifle with the name of God, or with any of His attributes, is evidence of depravity. Barnes adds: “It is disgusting to the refined; abominable to the good; insulting to those with whom we associate; degrading to the mind; unprofitable, needless, and injurious, in society; and awful in the sight of God.”
Brethren, let us not use God’s name lightly or frivolously. Honour God in all our conversations. Speak plainly and truthfully. “Let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay.”
(… to be continued)