Friday, September 18, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Confessions (The Second Commandment)

This is part two in a Friday devotional series on the Ten Commandments...

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

What is the Second Commandment?

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.

Luther begins by placing the Second Commandment in light of the first:

The First Commandment has instructed the heart and taught the faith. This commandment now leads us forward and directs the mouth and tongue to God. For the first things that spring from the heart and show themselves are words (LC, I, 50).

The First Commandment dealt with our heart and faith. The Second Commandment deals with our mouth and tongue which reveal the heart.

And why is this commandment so important?

Here, then, let us learn and take to heart the great importance of this commandment. Then, with all diligence, we may guard against and dread every misuse of the holy name as the greatest sin that can be committed outwardly. For to lie and to deceive is in itself a great sin. But such a sin gets even worse when we try to justify our lie and seek to confirm it by calling on God's name and using His name as a cloak for shame [1 Peter 2:16], so that from a single lie a double lie results--no, many lies (LC, I, 56).

This is no laughing matter, for Luther. For God will not have His name trampled upon, or used for deceit or other evil.

So what is meant by taking God's name in vain, or misusing God's name?

It means misusing God's name when we call upon the Lord God--no matter how--in order to deceive or do wrong of any kind (LC, I, 51).

What sort of deception or wrong doing might be done with God's name?

Luther identifies two types:

1) All misuse of the divine name happens first in worldly business and in matters that concern money, possessions, and honor. This applies publicly in court, in the market, or wherever else people make false oaths in God's name or pledge their souls in any matter. This is especially common in marriage affairs, where two go and secretly get engaged to one another, and afterward, break their engagement (LC, I, 53).

2) But the greatest abuse occurs in spiritual matters. These have to do with the conscience, when false preachers rise up and offer their lying vanities as God's Word [Jonah 2:8] (LC, 1, 54).

Luther teaches us to see false teaching as a sin against the second commandment, because a pastors speaks in the stead and by the command of the Lord, and so when he uses this Office, and God's name to pass on false doctrine, the name of the Lord is represented falsely, and all sorts of evil are attributed to the Lord himself--this is no laughing matter.

Which is why this commandment includes a solemn threat: "For the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain" (Exodus 20:7).

For just as He will not fail to avenge if anyone turns his heart from Him, so He will also not let His name be used to dress up a lie (LC, I, 57).

This is a struggle common to all men, to have truth flow from our mouths and lips at all times.

By nature we all have within us this beautiful virtue, that whoever has committed a wrong would like to cover up and adorn his disgrace, so that no one may see it or know it (LC, I, 59).

So, what are we left to do with the name of the Lord? In every commandment there are prohibitions as well as permissions. That is, things forbidden and things encouraged. So what does the Second Commandment encourage?

Luther teaches us four ways to properly use God's name:

1) Swearing rightly (not dirty language, but taking an oath):

We are not to swear in support of evil, that is, to support falsehood, or to swear when there is no need or use. But we should swear for the support of good and the advantage of our neighbor. For such swearing is truly a good work, by which God is praised, truth and right are established, falsehood is refuted, peace is made among men, obedience is rendered, and quarrels are settled (LC, I, 66).

2) Teaching rightly:

This commandment also applies to right teaching (LC, I, 64).

Children should be constantly urged and moved to honor God's name and to have it always upon their lips for everything that may happen to them or come to their notice (LC, I, 70).

3) Calling upon God in all needs (and commending ourselves to God):

All this is summed up and commanded in Psalm 50:15, "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify My." For all this is bringing God's name into the service of truth and using it in a blessed way (LC, I, 64).

It is also useful that we form the habit of daily commending ourselves to God, with soul and body, wife, children, servants, and all that we have, against every need that may arise. So also the blessing and thanksgiving at meals and other prayers, morning and evening, have begun and remained in use. Likewise, children should continue to cross themselves when anything monstrous or terrible is seen or heard. They can shout, "Lord God, protect us!" "Help, dear Lord Jesus!" and such (LC, I, 73-74).

4) Thanking God in good fortune:

Also, if anyone meets with unexpected good fortune, however trivial, he says, "God be praised and thanked!" or "God has bestowed this on me!" and so on, just as the children used to learn to fast and pray to St. Nicholas and other saints before. This would be more pleasing and acceptable to God than all monasticism and Carthusian acts of holiness (LC, I, 74).

There's a bit more to Luther's understanding than simply stopping the children from thoughtlessly saying, "Oh my God!" For Luther, it is what is on our lips that reveals the faith, or lack thereof, that lives in the heart.

So how do you know if you've sinned against the Second Commandment? Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Does the Gospel adorn my daily speech and conduct, or do I curse, speak carelessly, or misuse God's name?
  • Have I kept all the vows I have made in the Lord's name?
  • Do I stand up and swear by God's name when it is for the truth of the Gospel or the benefit of my neighbor in need?
  • Am I diligent and sincere in my prayers, or have I been lazy, bored or distracted? Do I trust that God will answer them according to His good and gracious will?
  • Have I been careless in my teaching of God's Word to my spouse, children, or any group that has trusted me? Do I teach as divine truth only what God has clearly revealed in the Scriptures, or have I passed of as divine truth what I am unsure of, or know to be human speculation or personal opinion?

Again, the Law of God is good and pleasing. Why? Because it brings us to our knees to the foot of the cross, clinging to the gifts that God himself gives us poor sinners through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. There we have forgiveness, life and salvation, and he places holy words into our mouths and onto our lips. In the Gospel, we are given words of life, and a true confession of the one in whom we have salvation.

Thanks be to God! May this prayer always be on our lips! Amen.

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