The Third Commandment: From Profanity to Praise

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The Third Commandment

From Profanity to Praise

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“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7 Exodus 20:7You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain.
American King James Version×
).

The Third Commandment focuses on showing respect. It addresses the way we communicate our feelings about God to others and to Him. It encompasses our attitudes, speech and behavior.

Respect is the cornerstone of good relationships. The quality of our relationship with God depends on the love and regard we have for Him. It also depends on the way we express respect for Him in the presence of others. We are expected always to honor who and what He is.

God wants us to love and respect Him. Honoring Him begins in our thoughts.

Conversely, the use of God’s name in a flippant, degrading or in any way disrespectful manner expresses an attitude of disdaining the relationship we are supposed to have with Him. This can vary from careless disregard to hostility and antagonism. It covers misusing God’s name in any way.

The New Revised Standard Version translates the Third Commandment: “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.” The meaning of the Hebrew word saw, translated “wrongfully use” and “misuse”—”in vain” in other translations—is “deceit; deception; malice; falsity; vanity; emptiness” ( Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words , “Deceit”).

Having a relationship with God demands that we represent Him accurately, sincerely and respectfully.

Respecting God and His name

Let’s consider a few of the ways we should be associated with God’s name. God created us in His image with an opportunity to become His children. Those who receive the Spirit of God are members of the Church of God. The laws of God define for us right standards and values, and our hope lies in being a part of the Kingdom of God. Everything important to us is a gift of God, “for in Him we live and move and have our being …” (Acts 17:28 Acts 17:28For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
American King James Version×
).

Notice how forcefully the book of Psalms expresses respect toward God. “Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, You are very great: You are clothed with honor and majesty” (Psalms 104:1 Psalms 104:1Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with honor and majesty.
American King James Version×
). “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him” (Psalms 33:8 Psalms 33:8Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.
American King James Version×
).

King David wrote, “I will extol You, my God, O King; and I will bless Your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless You, and I will praise Your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable” (Psalms 145:1-3 Psalms 145:1-3 1 I will extol you, my God, O king; and I will bless your name for ever and ever. 2 Every day will I bless you; and I will praise your name for ever and ever. 3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable.
American King James Version×
).

Profanity and slang

Probably the most obvious way of breaking the Third Commandment is through the use of profanity—using God’s name in abusive, vulgar and irreverent slang and jargon. The defiling of the name of God—or that of His Son, Jesus Christ—is nearly universal. Since the dawn of history, most of mankind has never shown the respect to God that He deserves.

Profanity is not the only way we can abuse God’s name. Anyone who carelessly uses the name of God—or Christ—in his everyday speech simply doesn’t know God as he should. Yet, strangely, he may think and insist that he does.

In some ways such a person is similar to Job, who explained his perspective of God—both before and after God pointed out to him how pride was motivating much of his thinking. “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,” confessed Job, “but now my eye sees You” (Job 42:5 Job 42:5I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear: but now my eye sees you.
American King James Version×
). Job finally realized that he had not known God as well as he had thought.

Many who have heard much about God carelessly assume they know Him—that they have an acceptable relationship with Him. Yet they have never learned really to respect Him.

They demean and degrade Him by flippantly using His name in everyday conversation. They unwittingly announce to all who hear them that respect for God is simply not important to them, even though they may believe He exists.

No matter how indifferently one may regard this kind of disrespect for God, the Third Commandment makes it clear that God Himself does not take it lightly—”for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” Misusing His name in any way spiritually defiles us in the eyes of God.

Most of us have at times expressed disrespect for God. Like Job, we probably have had to—or still need to—reevaluate our own attitudes toward our Creator. Once Job grasped his irreverent attitude, He saw himself in a realistic light. “Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6 Job 42:6Why I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
American King James Version×
).

In the same way, we need to repent of attitudes that would lead to irreverence. We need to guard our speech and treat God’s name with respect.

Jesus Christ fully reveals God to us

God so desired that we understand what He is like—especially His nature, or character—that He sent Jesus Christ as the perfect example of all that He is.

“He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” said Jesus (John 14:9 John 14:9Jesus said to him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet have you not known me, Philip? he that has seen me has seen the Father; and how say you then, Show us the Father?
American King James Version×
). He came as “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3 Hebrews 1:3Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high:
American King James Version×
). By revealing to us—through His own example—what His heavenly Father is like and what He expects of us, Jesus Christ has opened to us the way to eternal life (John 17:1-3 John 17:1-3 1 These words spoke Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify your Son, that your Son also may glorify you: 2 As you have given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as you have given him. 3 And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
American King James Version×
).

“Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11 Philippians 2:9-11 9 Why God also has highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
American King James Version×
).

Notice how completely Jesus reflected the glory of God. “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:19-20 Colossians 1:19-20 19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; 20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things to himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
American King James Version×
).

The importance of Christ’s name

Jesus Christ’s name, significantly, means “Savior.” Christ means “anointed [one]”—the same as the Hebrew word Messiah. As the Son of God, Jesus Christ is both our Savior and King. Only through Him can we receive salvation. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 Acts 4:12Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
American King James Version×
).

The name of Jesus Christ is crucial to our salvation, but simply repeatedly saying His name without understanding its significance and allowing it to influence our lives is meaningless. Paul explained to Timothy, “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity’ ” (2 Timothy 2:19 2 Timothy 2:19Nevertheless the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, The Lord knows them that are his. And, Let every one that names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.
American King James Version×
).

Those who repent of their sins and are baptized in the name of Christ receive the Holy Spirit and become Christians; they become Christlike (Acts 2:38 Acts 2:38Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×
). “And,” Paul tells them, “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17 Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
American King James Version×
).

In other words, whatever they do is to be done according to the approval, authority or authorization of Jesus Christ—in His name. Using His name, however, in any manner that would bring reproach, disrespect or shame on that name is a sin and violates the Third Commandment.

Honoring God by our example

Because those who follow Jesus Christ are known by His name, and perform their service to God in His name, their behavior always either honors or dishonors Him. God’s Word portrays those who obey His commandments as the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14 Matthew 5:13-14 13 You are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his flavor, with which shall it be salted? it is thereafter good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. 14 You are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
American King James Version×
, Matthew 5:18 Matthew 5:18For truly I say to you, Till heaven and earth pass, one stroke or one pronunciation mark shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
American King James Version×
).

They represent Him and what He stands for before all of humanity. They carry His name as “His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14 Titus 2:14Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
American King James Version×
). They should bring honor to His name by their example.

Moses explained this point to the people of ancient Israel: “Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-7 Deuteronomy 4:5-7 5 Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do so in the land where you go to possess it. 6 Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. 7 For what nation is there so great, who has God so near to them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call on him for?
American King James Version×
). Moses wanted their conduct to so honor God that all nations would gain respect for Him.

Examples that dishonor God

Ancient Israel, however, was a failure in honoring God. The Israelites finally brought so much shame upon God’s name that He allowed their enemies to remove them from their land as prisoners and captives.

But He promised to later bring back their descendants and restore them as a nation for the purpose of reclaiming the honor to His name. He says, “I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone. Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes’ ” (Ezekiel 36:21-23 Ezekiel 36:21-23 21 But I had pity for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the heathen, where they went. 22 Therefore say to the house of Israel, thus said the Lord GOD; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for my holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the heathen, where you went. 23 And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which you have profaned in the middle of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the LORD, said the Lord GOD, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

How will this happen? God will once again give the descendants of Jacob the responsibility of bringing honor to His name. “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains [in Jerusalem], and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:2-4 Isaiah 2:2-4 2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. 3 And many people shall go and say, Come you, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
American King James Version×
). At that time the earth’s inhabitants will understand the reality of the true God and honor His name.

Blaspheming God by our conduct

The apostle Paul explains that people who hypocritically call themselves by God’s name and portray themselves as His people—while refusing to obey Him—actually blaspheme His name. Speaking to some of his countrymen, he says, “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you …’” (Romans 2:21-24 Romans 2:21-24 21 You therefore which teach another, teach you not yourself? you that preach a man should not steal, do you steal? 22 You that say a man should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? you that abhor idols, do you commit sacrilege? 23 You that make your boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonor you God? 24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.
American King James Version×
).

Paul explains that even some who regard themselves as Christians can disgrace God’s name by their conduct. “Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed” (1 Timothy 6:1 1 Timothy 6:1Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.
American King James Version×
).

Our conduct should be above reproach. Paul explains that Christians are “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20 2 Corinthians 5:20Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be you reconciled to God.
American King James Version×
), His personal, designated representatives.

Discourteous or disrespectful conduct by those who represent themselves as God’s servants dishonors Him in the eyes of others. It reproaches the name of God, which they claim to bear.

Jesus condemns religious duplicity

Jesus Christ assailed those who would practice religious duplicity. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28 Matthew 23:27-28 27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like to white washed sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
American King James Version×
).

People are usually quite comfortable with giving accolades to God—as long as they can pursue their own point of view and way of life. But God’s complaint throughout history has been that most people do not have their hearts in honoring Him.

Jesus said, “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.

And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’ ” (Matthew 15:7-9 Matthew 15:7-9 7 You hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, 8 This people draws near to me with their mouth, and honors me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. 9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
American King James Version×
). He also said, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46 Luke 6:46And why call you me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
American King James Version×
).

How we should honor God

God desires far more than lip service. He wants a relationship with us that stems from the heart. Jesus tells us, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45 Luke 6:45A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
American King James Version×
). In the end, it is not enough just to avoid misusing God’s name.

God wants us to love and respect Him. Honoring Him begins in our thoughts. We must know who and what He is. We must know what He requires of us and why. We should admire His wisdom, love, fairness and justice. We need to stand in awe of His power and recognize that our existence depends on His goodness.

Then we should talk to Him in prayer—every day. We should follow the admonitions in the Psalms to give Him thanks and praise Him, openly expressing our appreciation for all that He gives us. We should acknowledge His greatness. We should ask Him to create in us His way of thinking and character. We should request the power of His Spirit to enable us to wholeheartedly obey and serve Him.

We honor God most of all by loving Him so much that we desire above all things to be like Him and to accurately represent Him to everyone who sees or knows us. If that is the mind in us, even the thought of ever misrepresenting or disgracing His name will repulse us. Our strongest resolve will be never to knowingly take any of God’s names in vain!