In our summer series on the Ten Commandments, we now look at the third commandment, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain”.
Text: Exodus 20:1-7
In biblical times, a person’s name was not just something they were called. A name told you something about that person. About who they were. It told you their story. So a name was a very significant thing. Since God’s name is directly connected to who He is and what He is like, then how we treat God’s name is very important. To honor His name is to honor God. To dishonor His name is to dishonor God.
“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.” (Exod. 20:7)
To take or to use something in vain means to use it for no purpose, to misuse something of value, to demean something that should be revered, to treat it with disrespect. For the Hebrew people, they would understand this command and apply it in a few different ways:
- In their speech – For the Hebrews, to take God’s name in vain in their conversations would be to speak God’s name in a flippant or everyday tone, as if you were talking about a common person. To speak about God, using the name of Yahweh without any heart-felt reverence and honor.
- In taking vows – One of the ways this commandment would apply would be when someone would use God’s name in an oath or a vow, and then they would break that vow. It is saying, “I swear before God, that if I don’t do what I promise, that I am inviting God’s judgment upon me.” That is not only foolish, but it is demeaning the holy name of God, as if we had any control over what God does or doesn’t do.
- In their worship – To call upon the name of the Lord was to call upon His power, His holiness, His character, and to do so in a humble manner.
What about us today? How should New Testament Christians view this third commandment? Now that we have God’s grace and forgiveness in Christ, now that we live under the law of love, we are to see the Old Testament through the lens of the cross. That means we can see the nature and character of God revealed in the law, fulfilled in Christ. So, as those walking in love for God and love for others, what does it look like for us to honor the name of God as those redeemed in Christ?
It looks very similar to how the Hebrews would live it out, but with a different motive – not in fear the death penalty, not in fear of breaking the law, but in honoring and loving the one who loved us first. We are walking in love for God when we…
1. Honor the name of God in our speech
At its most basic level, that means we would never use the name of “God” or “Jesus” or “Christ” or “OMG” as any kind of reaction or exclamation. To call upon Christ without any intention of asking for His help, or honoring Him in any way. As Christians, of all people, we should love the name of the Lord, and not use it in a dishonoring way. We are to treat God’s name with the holiness and reverence, not only because that’s what He deserves, but because we know first-hand the love and forgiveness found only in the name of Jesus. So we want to honor that name in every way we can.
2. Honor the name of God in our vows and oaths
Jesus taught we need to resist the impulse to invoke God’s name in order to prove to someone we’re telling the truth (see Matthew 5:33-37). If we are following Christ, we should be known as people of integrity, people who keep our word. So, when you say “yes”, mean yes. When you say “no”, mean no. Be a person of your word. Don’t invoke God’s name as some shallow way to prove your integrity. If you’re known as a person who speaks the truth, you won’t have to convince people you’re being truthful.
3. Honor the name of God in our worship
To not take God’s name in vain would be for us as Christians to honor God’s name as holy in our worship. When we sing of God and all that He has done, that we would not simply mouth words that have no connection to our hearts. When we sing of Jesus and the amazing things He has done on our behalf, we should sing with joy, with conviction, with gratitude, with reverence, with faith, with love, and with all our hearts.
4. Honor the name of God with our lives
God says we are not to “take His name” in vain. That word “take” in the Hebrew literally means bearing, carrying, or representing. We are not to bear or carry or represent His name in a dishonoring way. As God’s chosen, redeemed people, we carry His name. We see all through the Bible, God’s people are called by His name (see Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 15:16; Acts 15:16-17).
So, for those who carry His name, we honor that name by living lives that reflect Him, that prioritize Him, that put Him first. If we are married, we honor His name by having marriages that glorify Christ. If you’re single, live in a way that shows Jesus is enough. In your work, on your job, how you parent your children, how you spend your money, what you talk about, how you serve others, let it all be done to glorify and honor the name that you and I carry. His is the only name that saves, His is the only name that is worthy of all our worship, the only name that makes the wicked tremble and demons flee!
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11)
Let the reminder of that day affect us today. That right now, we would live our lives today, carrying that name with reverence and honor, treasuring that name with gratitude and with joy, reflecting who He is and what He has done with our words, with our worship, and with our lives.