Blasphemy

“You who call yourselves Jews are relying on God’s law, and you boast about your special relationship with him. You know what he wants; you know what is right because you have been taught his law. You are convinced that you are a guide for the blind and a light for people who are lost in darkness. You think you can instruct the ignorant and teach children the ways of God. For you are certain that God’s law gives you complete knowledge and truth. Well then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself? You tell others not to steal, but do you steal? You say it is wrong to commit adultery, but do you commit adultery? You condemn idolatry, but do you use items stolen from pagan temples? You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonour God by breaking it. No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you.””
Romans‬ ‭2‬:‭17‬-‭24‬ ‭NLT

Paul wrote a withering and hard-hitting critique of the behaviour of the Jewish Christians in Rome. He pulled no punches and the more sensitive of his hearers would have been squirming in their seats with red faces as Paul’s letter was read out. There is no direct quotation “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you” that the Bible scholars have been able to find, but the nearest one, they say, is from Isaiah 52:5, which reads, “”What is this?” asks the Lord. “Why are my people enslaved again? Those who rule them shout in exultation. My name is blasphemed all day long.”” If that was the Scripture Paul had in mind, then he seemed to be quoting it a bit out of context, but that just adds to the authenticity of his account. The meaning of Isaiah 52:5 fits in very well with Paul’s tirade, particularly when it moves on to verse 7 in the chapter. 

But what is blasphemy? The word is not in common everyday use, even in our churches. But it is a very important word, because it describes the “act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God” (dictionary definition). In Isaiah 52, the background is of a people oppressed by a stronger nation, first Egypt and then Assyria. And the contempt shown to God’s people, the Jews, leads to God’s name being blasphemed “all day long”. In a sense, today, Western Christians are treated with contempt. We are considered to be deluded, worshipping a being that is foreign to the secularists in the society around us. A being they perceive as being more a tradition than anything relevant. A being only found, within old dusty buildings filled with the music and lyrics of a bygone age, long gone. But there’s a strange phenomenon – all these people who don’t know God, who deny His very presence, and who want nothing to do with Him –  they use His name frequently as part of colloquial expletives in conversation. I’ve written before about a lady I used to work with who, although a confirmed, and even mildly aggressive, atheist, frequently punctuated her conversations with “Oh my god”, presumably to add some weight to the more extreme parts of her dialogue. But she had failed to make the connection between her state of God-denial and the use of His name in her conversation. After I had pointed out this anomaly, I never heard her use the expression again. But there are other references to the names of God and Jesus that are frequently used in our society, in a sadly wearying and constant flow of blasphemy.

In some cultures and religions, blasphemy is a capital offence. Apparently, there are thirteen countries in the world that retain the death penalty for the offence of blasphemy. 

But back to our Scriptures in Isaiah 52. In Isaiah 52:6, God introduced a “but”. Don’t we need God’s “buts”! We read, “But I will reveal my name to my people, and they will come to know its power. Then at last they will recognize that I am the one who speaks to them”. As God’s people, we know it doesn’t matter what those unbelievers around us say, because one day they will be held to account for their words. They can blaspheme all they like. The important thing is that God said He will reveal His name to us, His people. And He says it’s a powerful name. 

One day, all those people who blaspheme God’s name will have a nasty shock. What they considered and used so contemptibly will bring them to their knees and they will have to declare that Jesus is Lord. We read that in Philippians 2:10-11, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”. 

Back in our verses from Romans, the enormity of the responsibility we have is clear. Are we pilgrims doing anything, or behaving in such a way, that causes those around us to blaspheme? It’s always a good thing to do a spiritual check up from time to time, to make sure that what we are doing, or the way we are doing it, never dishonours God. 

Father God. We echo the prayer Jesus taught His disciples and hallow Your name today. We honour You. We elevate You in our thoughts and prayers. We declare our love for You, the one and only Mighty God. Amen.

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