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Reverence for the Name of the Lord

Introducing the Third Commandment

4 min

“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” (Exodus 20:7).

Have you ever wondered why many of the Ten Commandments sound so negative? Of the ten commands given, eight of them begin with the words “Thou shalt not.” Truthfully, many people today react negatively to clear-cut rules, absolute standards, or requirements of any sort that do not meet with personal satisfaction.

Our modern culture resents limits of any kind. This resistant, independent attitude has always been present in mankind since Adam and Eve wrongly responded to God’s loving limitations placed on them. Christians and non-Christians today may even speak disparagingly about the Law of God, claiming that it is negative and constraining.

This supposed negativity of the Law is actually a mark of profound, gracious liberty. True liberty comes within well-defined boundaries. The fence that keeps the family dog from wandering through the neighborhood also protects the pet from the dangerous cars on the nearby highway. The psalmist wrote, “And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts” (Psalm 119:45). When God created man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, He said, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:16–17).

Adam and Eve had tremendous liberty in the Garden of Eden. The garden was theirs to explore and enjoy. They could “dress it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15) as they pleased. They dwelt safely among all God’s creatures with no fear of harm. Adam named the animals as he saw fit. Adam and Eve were free to eat of every tree in the Garden except for the one tree that God placed off-limits, for their protection. Obedience led to the blessings of liberty and life. Disobedience brought upon mankind the curse of bondage and death.

When we are commanded “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain,” there is a gracious liberty granted to use God’s name in every other lawful way. The powerful name of Jehovah is ours to use in prayer, in praise, and in proper conversation. Praising God’s name should be foremost in our lives. There are times to use His name in lawful promises such as in taking an oath of office or in testimony given in court. Moreover, how appropriate it is for men to use God’s name to give a verbal blessing to their wives and children!

In the coming weeks, we are going to look throughout Scripture to see the vast liberty that we are given to use the name of the Lord for His glory and our good:

I am to revere God’s name and character in my words, actions, and attitudes, living in holiness because His name is holy.

Before we can enjoy the power and blessing of the right use of God’s name, we must consider the stern warning that is also given in the commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.” What does it mean to take God’s name in vain?

First, this commandment prohibits the all-too-common habit of profane speech. Profanity comes from two Latin words meaning “toward the temple.” Profanity is using religious terms like heaven, hell, or the name of the Lord to express amazement or anger. Cursing is strong speech that calls down evil upon the object of frustration. Obscenity is using indecent words in a crude way. Blasphemy is vilifying the name and character of God. Euphemistic or minced oath swearing is using mild, vague expressions, or similarly sounding or altered spellings as a substitute for stronger swear words. All these forms of profane and vulgar speech are to be shunned by the Christian who desires to follow the teaching of Scripture. (See Exodus 20:7, Ephesians 4:29, and Matthew 12:36.)

Second, we are forbidden to carry God’s name “in vain.” While the most commonly understood meaning of “taking [carrying] God’s name in vain” is in our speech, the commandment goes beyond that meaning. The Hebrew verb here translated “Thou shalt not take” means literally “to carry” or “to bear.” As God’s chosen people, the Israelites carried the name of Jehovah wherever they went. As New Testament Christians, we bear the name of the Lord Jesus Christ wherever we go in life.

The carefully worded command in Hebrew means that we are not to carry, or convey, God’s name in a spirit of vanity. His name is to be valued rather than trivialized. It is to be regarded as fruitful rather than barren. Wherever God’s name goes, it carries weight and authority. To carry God’s name in vain is accompanied by a sober warning following the command: “for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.”

As we close this introduction to the third commandment, each one of us might stop and seriously consider what a great privilege we have to carry the name of the Lord Jesus Christ in this world. Every time we go to work, we are carrying His name. Each time we open our mouths to speak, we are carrying His name. Whenever we act or react in front of our children, we are carrying the name of the Lord Jesus. May each one of us be very careful that we use that great blessing with great care.

On Thursday, we will look at the life of a great leader who, perhaps more than any man in all history, demonstrated immense reverence for the name of God.

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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