Not Taking the Lord's Name in Vain
"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" (Deuteronomy 5:11)
In granting God His position as the one and only God, we must show Him respect and honor. It is not limited to just times of worship, but everything we do or say must show our awareness of God. "And 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).
God is the creator of the universe and His is our acknowledged Lord. We ought to speak respectfully of Him. We ought to hold our God in awe. Consider how you behave in the presence of an important person, such as your company's chief executive or high governmental official. We are on our best behavior. Everything we say or do is carefully considered so that we don't accidentally give offense. Now is not the time to put our foot in our mouth. Yet when are we not in the presence of God? "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, "Surely the darkness shall fall on me," even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You" (Psalm 139:7-12).
One of the failures of ancient Israel was their lack of respect for God. "A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence? Says the LORD of hosts to you priests who despise My name" (Malachi 1:6). In contrast, when Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he began his prayer by saying, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name" (Matthew 6:9). "Hallowed" means to hold something as holy, sacred, or revered. It is to be every disciple's desire that their God's name be held in respect.
Jesus warned us: "Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:32-37). That should cause everyone to pause in consideration. It is not just the major speeches that you give or the thoughts you deliver at major events; every casual, thoughtless word that you say will be judged by God. Why? The things that you say at idle moments more accurately reflect the state of your heart than carefully chosen words.
Vainly Referring to God
The Hebrew word shaw' is translated in Deuteronomy 5:11 as "vain." It refers to something that is worthless, vain, or false. How often have you heard someone use God or Jesus' name as an exclamation? They might have just received a shocking piece of information or a painful injury and immediately a string of words proceed from their mouths, of which the names of God and Christ are among them. Are they really thinking about their Maker? Or, are they simply using their names as fillers? I suppose that a person could have said, "Oh, wow!" or "Ouch! That hurt!" and carried as much meaning as the name of our God.
Unthinking use of God's name removes the significance of His name. It lower's the value. But worse, many people use God's name as an idle word in amongst disgusting words that refer to bodily functions or similar things. In Leviticus 19:12 warned Israel not to profane His name. "Profane" means to wound, defile, or pollute. When people toss trash in a park, they are profaning or polluting the park. When people use refer to God in trash talk, they are polluting His name.
While social restraint against foul language has been falling away, people remain reluctant to abuse God's name in certain situations. So, they use substitutions, "polite" swear words, in place of the crude words. These words are so prevalent in American society that most speak them without knowing their meaning. Taking a dictionary will show that "golly" is a euphemism for "God," and "gee" is a euphemism for "Jesus." Consider what is happening. Not only is God is being referred to in a casual and non-reverent way, but the speaker is corrupting the very pronunciation of God's name in his language.
If you stop and think for a moment, you will realize that the vast majority of the times God's name is used as an explicative the usage of God's name could be removed without making any impact on the meaning of the sentence. In other words, God's name is being used without meaning and without any worth. Should such casual disregard of God be ignored?
Vainly Using God's Name
We live in a world where the statements of a man cannot be trusted. Far too many people lie and many others, though having sincere intentions at the moment, think nothing of changing their minds or forgetting about what they have promised. Man has long struggled with knowing when to trust his fellow man. You even see it on the school yard:
"Are you sure?"
"It can't be."
"Cross my heart and hope to die."
We all feel a need to add something extra to prove we are telling the truth. But as we quickly learn growing up, even those "extras" don't prove a thing. Throughout history, man has been calling on the name of his gods to back up what he said. God didn't forbid Israel from doing this, but He did issue warnings. "And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the LORD" (Leviticus 19:12).
When a man backs up his word with the name of God, he is putting God's reputation at stake. When he lies or doesn't perform what he has promised, not only is his reputation ruined, but God's reputation is also impacted. "Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore let your words be few" (Ecclesiastes 5:1).
By Jesus' day, the Jews had developed an elaborate system of oaths. If a person swore by God, then the promise had to be kept, but if he swore by God's throne the promise could be broken. Swearing by the temple or the altar was not a binding oath, but swearing by the temple's gold or by a sacrifice on the altar was binding. According to the Mishna, the Jewish commentary on the Law, "Oaths may only be taken about what can be defined according to size, weight, or number." In other words, binding oaths could only be backed by something tangible. Further, "If a claim concerns these, no oath is imposed: bondsmen, written documents, immovable property, and the property of the Temple." In other words, the backing for an oath had to be redeemable, at least in theory. Obviously, if you weren't in on the system, you could never be certain if a Jew really meant what he was promising or not.
Hence, we find Jesus teaching, "But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one" (Matthew 5:34-37). Satan is the father of liars (John 8:44) and it is because of him that men do not trust each other's statements. We should not feel the need to invoke the name of God to prove our truthfulness, nor should we demand it of others.
When people use the name of God to lend credence to their word and, yet, when all is said and done you still don't know if they meant what they said, then the usage of God's name has become worthless. Worse, when God's name is used to back up a promise that is not kept, God's name was used to support a lie. Is it a wonder that God gets upset over such matters? "'These are the things you shall do: speak each man the truth to his neighbor; give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace; let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; and do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate,' says the LORD" (Zechariah 8:16-17).
Polluting God's Name
"When they came to the nations, wherever they went, they profaned My holy name - when they said of them, 'These are the people of the LORD, and yet they have gone out of His land.' But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations wherever they went. Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name's sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went"'" (Ezekiel 36:20-23).
Because of Israel's sins, God drove them out of the land of Canaan. Yet, when people shook their heads and wondered why their God did not protect them, the Israelites did not admit their fault. Instead, they told people that their destruction was God's doing. In other words they impugned the God's just dealings with them (Malachi 2:17; 3:13-14).
Have you seen a child try to shift blame? "Why did you do that?" "Johnnie told me to!" The child is trying to save his reputation by smearing the reputation of Johnnie. This is what Israel did with God. It is also what the Jews did with Jesus. They refused to believe that Jesus was doing God's will, so they denigrated Jesus' miracles (Matthew 12:22-37). By degrading God's work, they polluted God's name.
God's name is polluted when people claim to worship him, but then offer less than their best. "A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence? Says the LORD of hosts to you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, 'In what way have we despised Your name?' You offer defiled food on My altar. But say, 'In what way have we defiled You?' By saying, 'The table of the LORD is contemptible.' And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?" says the LORD of hosts" (Malachi 1:6-8).
Christians need to be careful of this. We wear the name of Christ. "Christian" means a follower of Christ. But when a Christian lies, cheats, or steals, he is harming the reputation of both himself and the One he claims to be obeying (Romans 6:1-2; I John 3:9; I Peter 4:1-3).
Let us give true honor to God by not taking His holy name in vain.