You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (Ex. 20:7).
What does the third commandment really mean?
Growing up, many of us learned that the third commandment essentially meant “Don’t swear.”
It’s certainly true that Scripture teaches us not to let corrupt talk come from our mouths, but instead to speak what’s true, noble, and right. It’s interesting that nearly all forms of profanity bring down (1) God’s name, (2) God’s gift of sexuality, (3) God’s gift of the human body.
But in actuality the third commandment is about much more than using God’s name profanely. It’s about using God’s name lightly.
Is it positive or negative that we use God’s name so readily and easily in our culture today?
Here’s something to think about. Given that the Hebrew people were terrified to utter the name of God at all, how should we feel about such modern expressions as these:
It’s a God thing!
God is so good!
God is working!
God is moving!
God impressed me to tell you that . . .
We got the mortgage! Praise God!
Is it positive or negative that we use God’s name so readily and easily in our culture today? Does it just depend on the situation? Could each of these phrases be very meaningful or be very meaningless depending on the way they’re used?
For example, imagine that I can’t find my car keys for three days. Then I suddenly find my car keys and say, “God is so good! I found my keys.” Is that OK? Is this praising God for all things? Or is this using His name in vain, in an empty way?
It’s a difficult question. Maybe the answer depends on the way we live our lives more broadly.
Let’s say that when something good happens in your life, you are quick to say, “God is so good!” But this isn’t the only time you refer to God—or talk to God. Your entire life is centered on God. You rejoice in the Lord in all things, in abundant times as well as desert times.
Now let’s say that when something good happens in your life you are quick to say, “God is so good!” But this is about the only time you refer to God—when your circumstances are good. What has become your God? Your circumstances.
The third commandment is not about what we say as much as how we live. More literally the third commandment reads: “Do not carry the name of the name of the Lord in vain—do not represent the Lord Your God in an empty way.” Just as the high priest of Israel carried the names of the 12 tribes before God in the holy place, so are we, His followers, to bear His holy name in our lives. “The worst blasphemy,” writes Elton Trueblood, “is not profanity, but lip service.”
As believers, let’s resolve not to carry the name of the Lord in vain. We are not only on holy ground; we are the holy ground in which He lives, moves, and has His being.
Andy Nash ([email protected]) is an author and pastor who leads biblical study tours to Israel.