Since we were children, the command “Don’t use God’s name in vain!” has been figuratively (and sometimes, literally) beaten into our heads. Many feel that to use God’s name as a swear (or in a swear) is just shy of the Unpardonable Sin that Jesus spoke of during His ministry. For others, this is far too little of a concern. But often times with these “language aspects” of taking the Lord’s name in vain, the spiritual aspects get overlooked.
First, let’s take a look at what it meant to go in someone’s “name” in biblical times. To bear someone’s “name” meant (among other things) that the one who was sent was a direct representative of the sender and that the sent one spoke as though the sender was standing there. So, the phrase “STOP! In the name of the law”, would mean that the one shouting “STOP!” is a duly appointed representative of the legal authorities, and that the sent one has the power to execute actions as though he was the sender.
A mere cursory glance at Scripture gives the reader an idea of how God feels about His name. This quote barely scratches the surface of verses that say that God does things for His own name’s sake:
Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. Ezekiel 36:22
Now (quickly) let’s define the word “vain”. As do other words, the word “vain” has shifted meanings over the years. One of the original meanings for vain was foolish, silly, or empty. So, if the one’s that He sent portrayed themselves in a foolish, silly, or empty manner, it’s easier to see how God would be upset over this, right?
Now that we’ve discussed the technical side of how we get here, let’s look at the practical side. What are some ways that we practically take God’s name in vain? How do we use God’s name in a foolish or empty manner? We do this, primarily, when we live our lives in a manner that contradicts the name by which we are called. If we who bear the name of Jesus Christ – indeed, if we who are Christians – conduct ourselves in a way that is not worthy of the greatness and glory of the name of Jesus, we then bring reproach upon the name of God. We have, by calling ourselves “those who belong to Christ”, used that name in an empty or foolish manner.
Paul admonished several of his churches that this truth must be kept in the forefront of their minds:
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” (Philippians 1:27a emphasis added)
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:9-10 emphasis added)
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3 emphasis added)
The spiritual aspect of this commandment, however, in no way negates our responsibility to make sure our speech is pure and honoring to God. Paul tells his protégé, Timothy:
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)
Why does Paul tell Timothy this? Because of what Jesus said:
“Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” (Matthew 15:17-20)
Our wickedness doesn’t come from what we put into our mouths, but from what comes out of our mouth, that is what defiles us. And we can polish up the exterior, but our inward selves, the spring from which all wickedness flows; will never be able to honor God – without the saving and sanctifying work of God in our lives
To bring this commandment to a close, we have seen that “taking the Lord’s name in vain” doesn’t refer to a word or group of words but rather to the attitudes of our hearts and the manner in which we conduct ourselves. We represent the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He deserves our respect, our awe, and our worship at the sound of His great name.