The View From 1776

The Third Commandment

Taking God’s name in vain is a serious matter, either trivializing God and His Son Jesus, or inferentially elevating ourselves to the role of God.

Pastor Steve Treash’s sermon at Black Rock-Long Ridge Congregational Church (North Stamford, Connecticut) was based on the Third Commandment: 

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)

Or, in the King James version:

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)

The greatest of all the commandments is to love God.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

Dishonoring the name of God or of Jesus, using those names as curse words or in trivial exclamations or as conversational punctuation, reflects a failure truly to love God. 

Inferentially, taking the Lord’s name in vain is to elevate ourselves to the level of God.  In the King James version, taking the Lord’s name in vain suggests to modern ears striving and failing to attain.  The other meaning of vain is self-centeredness and a puffed up ego. 

Pastor Treash did not make this point, but I will add parenthetically that vanity is precisely the abominable sin of modern-day liberal-progressive socialists.  They reject God the Creator and worship the material political state as their savior.  They accept all of the latest social justice fads and scientistic beliefs, from Darwinian evolution to man-made global warming and same-sex marriage, because they can imagine no higher power than their own egos, failing to see the pitifully limited scope of human intelligence, which is overwhelmed by the immensity of God’s created universe. 

They feel therefore free to curse the name of God, preferring to look admiringly at their own images in the mirror.  Such self-worship is to break the First Commandment:

You shall have no other gods before me.  (Exodus 20:3)

God’s name is who He is.  Jesus Christ is God’s only begotten Son.  God and Jesus are not just words to be damned or trivialized.  They are names to uttered only in reverence and awe.

Pastor Treash said that the Hebrew word in the Third Commandment, translated as misuse, means empty.  Taking the Lord’s name in vain means that your understanding of God’s love is empty and that you are failing to give Him the love that you owe to Him.  Worse, rather than living to glorify God, you are acting as a negative witness to repel unbelievers who might otherwise become open to God’s Word.

More subtly, mechanically uttering Lord God repeatedly in prayer, as if to create a mood, is using God’s name in an empty way.  When we conclude prayers with “In Jesus’s name, Amen,” let us be fully conscious of what we are saying.

Scripturally, for the Israelites wandering in the desert and seeking the Promised Land, using God’s name in an empty or negative way was a serious matter.

Say to the Israelites: ‘If anyone curses his God, he will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death.”  (Leviticus 24:15-16)

Jesus too condemned careless use of words:

“You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.  But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”   (Matthew 12:34-36)

The Christian understanding of humanity’s relationship to God begins with the awareness that we all are subject to original sin.  As the Apostle Paul puts it:

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished