After God created Adam and Eve, He gave them simple instructions to follow - Do not eat (Genesis 2:16-17). They failed to follow these instructions were tossed out from the Garden of Eden into the harsh world. But God did not abandon them. While not specified, the Bible indicates that He provided further instructions to Adam and Eve about how they were to live their lives in a pleasing manner to Him (Genesis 4:1-7).
When the Israelites left Egypt, God realized the need for further instruction; clear cut rules for the Israelites to follow. Thus, God delivered to Moses, by word, instructions on nearly every facet of life. Ten of these instructions, from which all other instructions stem, are called the 10 Commandments. Two of those commandments were instructions on how we are to use our words. God knew that power that words hold. He used that power to create the world we now live in! Because of that power, God wants us to be aware and accountable of what we say.
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain…You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:7,16 ESV)
The first commandment to instruct on how we are to use words, focuses on how we are to use the Lord’s name. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7) Upon hearing this commandment, most people think that we are not to use the Lord’s name as a curse. After all, how would you feel if people starting using your name as a swear word? God’s name is Holy! Just like your name, it is His identity, which is greater than we can comprehend! Sadly, it is nearly impossible to turn on a television show or movie and not hear His name, or His Son’s name, taken in vain.
But the commandment is not quite so simple. By becoming a Christian, a follower of the Lord God, our entire lifestyle is to change - including how we use words! Yes, we are not to use the Lord’s name in a blasphemous way, including swearing, but the commandment does not say, “don’t swear,” it says, do “not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” If we proclaim to be followers of the Lord, but our lifestyle, and our words do not reflect our proclamation, then have we not defiled the name of the Lord? False prophets were condemned for falsely using the name of the Lord to legitimize their words. We too are expected to uphold the name of the Lord in both actions and words. God’s name should only be used in worship of Him!
But this was not the Lord’s only instruction on how to use our words; “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Leviticus 20:16, ESV) This commandment is often simplified as “do not lie.” As before, this simplification is correct; we are not to tell lies, about anyone, for any reason, in any way. But also, as before, people often try to skirt the meaning and intent behind the commandment. People may say “gosh darn it,” “golly gee,” or “gee whiz” as an attempt to avoid swearing using the Lord’s name, however the meaning and intent behind the words is the same. In the same way, lies can be told through a lack of words or the concealment of certain information. Lying is not only achieved by stating a false fact.
Further, this commandment tells us that, again, our entire life is to be changed by entering into a relationship with the Lord. Jesus was asked by a man in Luke 10:29 who exactly his neighbor was. Jesus responded over the next eight verses by telling the story commonly known as the Good Samaritan. The concluding point of the story is that everyone is our neighbor, even our most fiercest enemy. We should not lie to, use our words to trick or deceive, spread gossip, or tell falsehoods about our neighbors - anyone! The effect of these words have consequences. False words can alter perceptions, change opinions, and harm those about whom we are speaking.
Through these commandments, God prodded instruction on how our words are to be used. God’s instructions are realign and applicable to all. God’s power and wisdom is demonstrated through His instructions, which grow with us. His instruction can be simplified for the youngest listener, but as we grow in in wisdom and knowledge, our understanding of the full meaning of His instructions also grows.
Words have power! Words have the power to create! Words have the power to deceive and manipulate! Words have power in silence! Words should be used carefully! Words reflect our heart! Words have the power to instruct!