You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. (Exodus 20:7, NIV)
What is the third commandment about? What does it mean to misuse the name of the Lord - or, to use the older language, to “take his name in vain”?
Literally it’s you shall not lift up the name of Yahweh your God to worthlessness. That word worthlessness can mean “emptiness” or “falsehood”, too. In other words, we are not to trivialise or abuse God’s name, or to speak falsehoods in his name.
An obvious application is blasphemy: using God’s name (or our Lord Jesus’) as a swear-word. To trivialise the Lord’s name like this implies no respect, and no knowledge of him. It’s interesting that when a person is converted to Christ, one of the first things that disappears is such language from their lips. Jesus’ name is still there, but now as their Lord and Saviour - His name used now in prayer and worship.
Levity is another dimension. We all (I hope!) enjoy humour - but I struggle to think of genuinely funny and honouring jokes about God himself. He is the author of humour, but he is himself not to be trivialised. Rather, as the Lord Jesus taught us, we should say “Hallowed be your name.”
A further dimension is speaking falsely in God’s name. …a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded is to be condemned (Deut. 18:20). These are the people the Lord Jesus called ‘false prophets’. These are people purporting to act in Christ’s name when in fact they don’t know him, or claiming to speak in his name when what they actually say is false.
In giving this commandment God is trademarking™ his name: commanding us not to use it in an unauthorised way. It is misusing his name to claim as his teaching what he has not taught. Every species of false teaching in the churches is a violation of this commandment.
This can happen in the political arena, too. Some of those who supported apartheid in South Africa claimed God’s authorisation. That is to take his name in vain. I have noticed in America that there is a tendency (being repeated in the current election campaign) to run together issues which are Biblical with those which are not, and to do this so closely that it gives (for instance) the impression that godliness includes free access to guns and the denial of global warming. Neither have any basis in Scripture as far as I can see. This is desperate for God’s reputation. His name is being taken in vain.
You and I, likewise, need to be very careful. Let’s do our Bible study before we make him the patron saint of our pet causes. Let’s be guided by the holy fear that says, “Hallowed be your name!” And, positively, to have lives and teaching that reflect him accurately and bring him glory.
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