A First-name Basis

This devotion, written by Pastor Beth Wartick, is the second of a series on the Ten Commandments.


The Second Commandment

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.


What does this mean?

We are to fear and love God, so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God’s name, but instead use that very name in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God.


Several years ago, I saw my fourth and fifth grade teacher for the first time in more than a decade. I cheerfully greeted her: “Hi Mrs. Tjeerdsma!” She replied, “Beth, you’re an adult. Call me Tamara.” The part of my brain that remembered being ten years old in her classroom froze up. Were we on a first-name basis? Could I really call this adult (whom I remembered as a monumentally influential teacher) Tamara? It turns out that I could. It would have been disrespectful as a child in her classroom to call her by her first name, but as an adult, she offered me equality on a first-name basis.

Incredibly, God offers us relationship on a first-name basis. God knows our names, and we know God’s. Of course, being on a first-name basis doesn’t automatically prevent us from using God’s name disrespectfully. That’s why God gave the second commandment: that we should not misuse God’s name.

Now, when I was in middle school learning the commandments in my confirmation class, my pastor was very insistent that the second commandment meant we should never, under any circumstances, say God’s name unless it was a prayer. We were not to cry “Oh my God!” in surprise or mutter “Jesus Christ!” when we stubbed a toe. And he expanded this prohibition to include certain other vocabulary words, which I will not print here.

But look again at Martin Luther’s explanation of the second commandment: we are not to curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God’s name. In other words, the misuse of God’s name is primarily found in activities that attempt to manipulate the world or people around us in God’s name. God is far, far less concerned with the vocabulary we choose than with the way we use it toward other people.

It’s a misuse of God’s name to declare “as God is my witness” and then lie. Saying “God damn you” to someone is wrong because we’re attempting to use God’s power to place ourselves in judgment over someone else’s soul. Using God to frighten, guilt trip, or coerce someone is the wrong way to use God’s name. Imagine learning that someone who was on a first-name basis with you had used that relationship to hurt or manipulate someone else. No wonder the God who chooses a first-name basis with us also instructs us to carefully use God’s name for prayer and praise, not manipulation or deceit.

It is a great gift to be on a first-name basis with God. With that gift comes responsibility: that we use God’s name for good, just as the second commandment bids us.