It is surprising how so many professing Christians have a complete disregard for the third commandment. For those who are not aware this commandment reads in Exodus 20:7, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” Vain means empty, with no point, useless, and worthless. God’s name is used in this manner in many different ways. To list a few of these ways:
1. Through the use of saying one of God’s names that has no intention of bringing glory to it, but is just being used as one might use the interjections “wow!” or “yeah.”
2. Through the use of euphemisms in the place of God’s name e.g. gosh, golly, gee, oh my goodness, etc.
3. Using it thoughtlessly in worship e.g. when we sing our thoughts are elsewhere and we just mumble over the words, or when we pray and just hastily say the words of some memorized prayer.
Why must we keep this commandment?
Well first, God has commanded us to keep His commandments. It is interesting how so many will defend “thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, etc.” but when it comes to the third commandment, immediately it seems like this commandment is no longer applicable for us in the New Testament. Sure we can keep all the commandments regarding how we act to our neighbour, but the ones regarding the worship of God we can just throw away. Afterall the God in the Old Testament was so much different than the loving Jesus. That is completely the wrong sort of attitude to have regarding this commandment. If there is one thing every Christian must understand is that God does not change. The Lord says in Malachi 3:6, “I am the LORD, I change not.” This commandment is just as applicable as all the others. Further, Christ reinstates a lot of the Ten Commandments in a much stricter form in His Sermon on the Mount. When Christ says not to swear by heaven, or earth, or Jerusalem, He is reinforcing the third commandment. The Jews at this time were all saying useless oaths, just as today many say “by St. Pete.” Christ calls us not to swear useless and vain oaths, but only swear by God’s name because He is holy.
Second, this commandment must be kept on the basis of God’s attributes. God is a holy God. To be holy means to be set apart, to be consecrated. The priests serving in the temple had to keep themselves clean and set apart from the common in order to serve God. Even the Seraphims that serve God in heaven, (even though they are morally upright) cover their feet and their face because they can not look upon the holiness of God (Isaiah 6:1 – 3). God’s holiness flows down to His name. To use His name as an exclamation of surprise or amazement is to make His name common and thus it break the third commandment.
Another attribute of God that demands that we keep the third commandment is His justice. So many Christians today forget that God is a just God; they prefer to think about God as merciful and loving. But if God was not just He would not have sent His Son to die on the cross; He could have just forgiven us without any of the sufferings Christ endured. Leviticus 24:10 – 16 tells us the story of a boy who blasphemed the Name and the just requirements for the punishment for that sin. “And the son of an Israelitish woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel: and this son of the Israelitish woman and a man of Israel strove together in the camp; And the Israelitish woman’s son blasphemed the name of the LORD, and cursed. And they brought him unto Moses: (and his mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan:) And they put him in ward, that the mind of the LORD might be shewed them. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death.” The death penalty was only required for the severest of sins such as murder and adultery, but God demanded the death penalty for those who blaspheme the name of Jehovah. The name of God is not something with which to trifle.
In opposition to the vain use of God’s names, we must use His name with fear and reverence. This means when you hear God’s name being desecrated you try your hardest to stop it from being profaned; whether that means shutting off the television program, or asking the person to stop profaning the name of your God. This means that we think before we speak the name of God. The Orthodox Jew will not even say the name of Yahweh for fear he does not use it reverently. Perhaps that is a bit severe, but that is better than the open blasphemy of the name of God that we have now. In everything that we do we should promote the name of God and use it with reverence. Remember you are called a Christian for a reason. You are a follower of Christ, not a blasphemer of His name.