05 - Third Commandment: Do Not Take the Name of God 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.
05.1 - The Name of God
Man cannot live without his Creator. He was created in the image of God, but he left Him. Ever since, he has wandered in the wilderness of this world, searching for his lost home and longing for his hidden source. Man has since made up thousands of substitute gods whose fierce-looking faces merely reflect man's unspoken fears and longings. He spends money on magical spells, palm reading and horoscopes, which do not provide any protection. Muslims kiss the black stone reverently as if it enshrined a spirit from heaven. Buddhists worship the golden statue of Buddha which smiles indifferently on its spiritually ignorant followers.
The LORD's direct revelation of Himself, “I am Yahweh, the LORD“, should have ended people's search. His appearance in the burning bush was historic, for the LORD manifested Himself and declared His name. There are manifold revelations of God throughout the Old Testament and New Testament. The Bible gives us 638 names and attributes for the Triune God. In the Semitic languages each attribute is another name. So, God is not only righteous, but He is the Righteous One in whom all righteousness is concentrated. He is not only holy, but He is the Holy One full of holiness. Each of these names is a ray of His glory. Yet the name that occurs more than any other name is Yahweh (6,828 times in the Old Testament). This name means the Almighty Sustainer, the Holy One, Faultless, the Lord of history, who has never and shall never change His faithfulness.
05.2 - The Lord in the New Testament
The LORD Himself became incarnate as the person of Jesus of Nazareth, in the New Testament. Angels, prophets and all believers confess and agree that “Jesus is Lord“. Yet Jesus did not glorify Himself, but always honored His heavenly Father. In fact, He taught us to pray, “Our Father who is in heaven. Hallowed be your name.“ In this prayer, the name of the Father is honored, glorified and sanctified before and above all other names. The revelation of God the Father by Jesus has lifted us up to the highest level of knowledge of God.
The Lord Jesus was humility incarnate. He accomplished the reconciliation between the Holy One and all sinners through His death on the cross of shame. “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). The Holy Spirit has been glorifying the original name of Jesus ever since and assures us that He is “the LORD“. At the same time, the Holy Spirit assures us of the unity of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The unity of love perfectly describes the essence of our God. David had already heard the revelation: “The Lord said to my lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool““ (Psalm 110:1).
05.3 - What Does it Mean to Know the Name of God?
If someone comes into a strange city, he is glad to have the address of someone he knows there. He can call up his friend and ask for guidance and help. Happy is the man who knows the true name of God and keeps his “telephone number“ (Psalm 50:15): “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.“ Our living Lord in heaven does not sleep, and He eagerly awaits our spiritual telephone calls.
Every encounter we have with the Holy God clearly exposes our involvement in sin, our loneliness and lostness. The majesty of His holiness reveals our shallow morality and shows our false humanitarianism for what it really is. The goodness of God encourages us to confess our sins and his humility exposes our poisonous pride. Knowing the name of God makes it possible for broken people to be personally in touch with God.
Our increasing faith in God keeps us rooted in the third commandment as He says, “I am the LORD your God“, where the possessive pronoun “your“ indicates that God the Holy One identifies with His creatures, the sinners, the inadequate and the weak. He assures them of His faithfulness and protection. According to the New Testament, He incorporates us into the family of God, where Jesus is the Head and we are the working members of His spiritual body. God the Father wants to be of one mind and one spirit with His children and to work through them to save this wicked generation. In His mercy, He gives them authority to trust and act in His name.
05.4 - Taking the Name of the LORD in Vain
We live in a world which has been deeply influenced by God's revelations in the Bible. Yet few people trust Him wholeheartedly. If man does not abide in the presence of God, he will end up using the name of the LORD in vain. Such people use Him with indifference as if they were paying with worthless money. Even born-again Christians are liable to grieve the Holy Spirit by their idle talk. They are thoughtless about speaking the name of God. The third commandment warns and preserves us from speaking the name of the LORD in vain.
Nominal Christians speak the name of God incessantly yet thoughtlessly as they say, “O God! By God!“ and so on. They are like some children who play with the telephone, pick out a number, yet do not speak to the person who ran quickly to answer the phone. Obviously if they keep doing this over and over again, the one called would get angry and stop listening to the disturbing ringing. God hears when we call on Him. What do you think about when you speak His name? If you use His name thoughtlessly, that shows how little of your life you live before the LORD.
05.5 - Muslims Speaking the Name of Allah
A Muslim is supposed to speak the name of Allah often, hoping that he will be justified and seen as trustworthy, righteous and faithful. He would believe that the more he speaks the name of Allah the more his sins are forgiven. This notion gave rise to the shallow form of worship of which speaking the name of Allah in vain is an integral part. It is essential to understand at this point that a Muslim does not have a personal relationship with Allah. His talk to Allah is merely the mumbling of a servant responding to his awe-inspiring master, and yet he does not know whether his master is listening or not.
Moreover, the daily prayers are dictated rituals. The average Muslim must recite the Fatiha (Sura al-Fatiha) seventeen times, silently or audibly, in the course of his five prayer times every day. Almost a thousand million Muslims have to pray the Fatiha in Arabic all over the world, even though over 800 million Muslims do not understand Arabic. Unfortunately the Lord's Prayer is also repeated thoughtlessly by some people and in some churches during worship services.
05.6 - Dubious Prayers and Useless Arguments
Not only Muslims recite their rituals thoughtlessly, but innumerable Christians also chant their prayers like a mother who sings to her child when he goes to bed. How dare we call upon God without expecting an answer from Him, or speak to God while thinking about business or insignificant matters? If, for example, we had the opportunity to meet the head of our country himself and talk with him privately, wouldn't we think beforehand about each word and weigh it before we say it? And is God less important to us than man? If someone prays without thinking, he despises God.
Theologians are sometimes on the brink of violating the third commandment and grieving the Holy Spirit when they study the Bible and discuss the attributes and miraculous works of God as though they were discussing some scientific laboratory experiment without feeling His presence. We cannot have an objective, neutral talk about God since God is not a concept or a thing. He is a living person and ever-present with us. He listens to our conversations and He knows our thoughts from a distance. Therefore, any theological study that is void of the fear of God and His reverence is undoubtedly leading to a violation of the third commandment.
05.7 - Sinful Use of the Name of God
Woe to anyone who purposely twists the Word of God, ridicules it or jokes about it! They would be abusing the Name that is above all names and showing no fear or respect for Him. Therefore, we should never join others in laughing at the Word of God. Instead, we should warn the mockers and stand up for God. Book and film writers know the profound effect of religious words and use them in their productions. But they do not take words like “sin“, “hell“ or “perishing“ literally, they fill them with a secular meaning. Their own words will come back on them and condemn them.
People often get angry with others, and in their fury they curse with words like God, Allah or Jesus. They swear or speak about damnation and other religious facts without thinking about them. A pastor once passed a bricklayer and heard him swearing and cursing, so he asked him, “Do you always pray so loud?“ The man was confused and retorted, “I was not praying.“ So the pastor said, “But I heard you calling upon the name of God and He will surely answer you.“ The labourer was stopped in his tracks.
Too often people use swear words loosely against one another and even against their own relatives. A deep hatred lies behind these words. Jesus considers such curses to be the same as murder because they defile the image of God in man.
05.8 - God's Warning: Severe Punishment
The third commandment contains a grave warning, “God will inevitably punish anyone who uses His name in vain.“ In spite of this warning, some people speak the name of God to cover up some evil work and deliberately use His name to justify their injustice. Woe to the man who speaks the name of the Lord in vain in order to cover up lying and hypocrisy! People hardly trust one another these days because they do not tell the truth even when swearing in the name of the Lord. Jesus categorically forbids us to swear, “Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes', and your 'No' be 'No'. For whatever is more than these is from the evil one“ (Matthew 5:37). If we swear and lie, we do not just lie to people but to God Himself. A false oath falls under the third commandment which warns us against speaking the name of the Lord in vain. That is why the Bible says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.“ We all need the fear of the Lord lest we fall into sin.
God detests the one who knows Him yet does not call upon Him in the time of trouble or expect His answer or guidance, but instead goes straight to the fortune-teller who speaks the name of the LORD in vain and claims to reveal past, present and future (Deuteronomy 18:9). God says, “And the person who turns to mediums and familiar spirits, to prostitute himself with them, I will set my face against that person and cut him off from his people“ (Leviticus 20:6). It is also forbidden to establish contact with the dead and receive messages from them. Such sins indisputably separate man from God and open up his heart to the devil and his spirits. In God's sight, such infidelity is like adultery. It is as horrendous as a man who is unfaithful to his wife and spends his wife's money on prostitutes. It is not surprising then that the Lord calls such practices “spiritual prostitution“ (Leviticus 20:6) and such people “an evil and adulterous generation“.
In Africa and Asia people carry charms to protect themselves from evil. They pay a lot of money for these items and trust in them. They also write “charm letters“ in order to make trade successful and invoke love between couples. Nations that practice with these superstitions do not truly know God. In some countries they even show sorcery practices, superstition and necromancy in television shows. We, as Christians, consider these shows and teachings to be Satanic attacks on the naive audience. They do nothing less than open the gates of hell. Yet the Lord warns us clearly against all these dangers as they evidently separate us from Him. Only Jesus can set such people free from bondage. Reading horoscopes, palms and levitating in order to conjure up spirits are shortcuts to hell. There are fortune-tellers in many hotels in India who are waiting to read the fortune of every guest. They also draw pictures of eyes that are penetrated by an arrow to ward off the evil eye. Some hang charms in their cars, horseshoes on their houses and touch wood in order to fend off calamities. Such people believe more in the power of darkness than in the providence of God their heavenly Father. They are in bondage to the power of this age because of these practices.
05.9 - Blaspheming God
Some men go too far in speaking the name of God when they deliberately swear at God and His Christ. They align themselves with those who rebel against the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Satan is God's old enemy. Blaspheming God is a form of yielding to demons that flow like filth out of hell. If someone has to read a long letter in which the name of Christ were cursed, he would sense the breath of hell in his face. In Leviticus 24:14-16 we read, “Take outside the camp him who has cursed; then let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him. Then you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. And whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him, the stranger as well as him who is born in the land. When he blasphemes the name of the LORD, he shall be put to death.'“
We need to be humble and cautious when speaking or judging a blasphemer. Many demon-possessed people were so blind that while thinking that they are serving God they are in reality fighting Him and His Messiah (John 15:19-21; 16:1-3). Wise pious leaders were the ones who sentenced Jesus to death, claiming that He blasphemed God. In spite of being spiritual leaders, they did not recognize that Jesus was the only Son of the living God. In their zeal for God, they blasphemed His anointed Messiah. They spat on His face and hit Him on the head. The leaders of this ancient people did not realize or accept their Lord, who was present among them. Instead, they rejected and crucified Him. Sadly, most of them still deny Him.
Like these sons of Jacob, Muslims think that they blaspheme God if they believe in the deity and crucifixion of Christ. They have inherited the Jews' unjustified aversion and fight the belief in the Triune God. They harbor a relentless hatred for the crucified Son of God. But they reveal and express their blasphemy against God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit through their hatred for the doctrine of the Trinity. On the other hand, Hinduism rejects the exclusive authority of Christ by regarding Him as one of many gods.
Some backsliding Christians push their blasphemy too far by worshiping Satan. During their worship they hold wild parties and even offer blood sacrifices to Satan. They distort and imitate the Lord's Prayer in words and meaning as they worship Satan. This is how the power of darkness reaches out to everyone who deliberately rejects the salvation of God in Christ.
But in Christ there is a refuge that hell cannot penetrate. Our Good Shepherd says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand. I and My Father are One“ (John 10:27-30).
The Jews wanted to observe the third commandment so closely that they were afraid to speak God's mighty name either by mistake or as an oversight. We all know that the four-lettered Hebrew name for God is YHWH. Owing to its sacred character, from c. 300 BC the Jews tended to avoid speaking it when reading the Scripture, and substituted “Adonai“. “Jehovah“ is a man-made word which resulted from fusing the vowels of the word “Adonai“ into the consonants of “YHWH“. It was not made until about AD 1520. The original name and pronunciation is commonly thought to have been “Yahweh“.
This may lead us to a question: Should we speak the name of God at all? How should we properly speak the name of God so that we do not fall into judgment?
05.10 - Speaking the Name of God Properly
Never did the third commandment forbid us to speak the name of God in the right spirit. Here is the great promise, “You don't speak the name of the Lord in vain if you use it in faith, love and thankfulness.“ The Lord will use the testimony of your faith as a channel of forgiveness and renewal in the lives of your friends. His name has no magical power which we can use according to our own will and wish. The living Lord acts through His name according to His foresight and plan. The apostle Peter said to the lame man, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.“ He later stated to the elders and the leaders of the people, “By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth this man stands here before you whole (Acts 3:6,16; 4:10). We should deepen our knowledge of the name of Jesus and its power. Schlatter, a famous theologian, had learned the Greek texts of the whole New Testament by heart, but by the end of his life he wrote a book entitled, Do We Know Jesus? We should not speak about Jesus lightly, but rather we should understand our Lord better. Let us grow deeper in His Word prayerfully. Let us ponder over each word, and then God will speak to us through His word, which is deeply rooted in our hearts.
It helps us to be better witnesses for Jesus if we memorise whole chapters and verses from both the Old and New Testament, because the Word of God is power and gives us the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Blessed is the man or the woman who fills their subconscious and memory with the Word of God. Moreover, believers' testimonies and the biographies of mature men of God can inspire us to understand the name of God and His work better, which strengthen our faith. We become happy when we meditate regularly on the Word of God and our friends will become happy by the witness of our faith.
When we hear the Word of God, we are no longer alone, but rather know our Lord more and more. We can call on Him directly because we know His name. He speaks to us through the Bible and we answer Him in our prayers. What a privilege we have that we can talk to our Creator about every sin, sickness, problem and tribulation, and He listens to us. His counsel is better than that of a physician or a psychologist. He loves us more than our earthly father. He forgives us our sins completely for the sake of the atoning death of Jesus, and He grants us the power of eternal life through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.
05.11 - Praise God with all our Hearts and Minds!
Do we really praise God and thank Him with a sincere heart? Let us remember that the almighty God is our Father, His only Son is our Deliverer and the Holy Spirit is our everlasting Comforter and our strength, and let us remain thankful. Instead of worshiping God with fear and trembling, we should worship Him as His children who rejoice in His work for their blessed hope and their completed redemption; we do not have to remain dead in sin any longer, but alive forevermore in Christ. So, if you cannot sing with the choir you may sing by yourself, and if you cannot sing with your own lips you may sing in your heart. If anyone would speak the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost with confidence, in prayer or in joyful praise, they honor the almighty God and please Him by praising Him.
If there is anyone who does not know God, or his heart has been hardened or his conscience is guilty of hidden sins, then he ought to take the apostle Peter's advice: “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved“ (Acts 2:21). We are privileged to talk directly to God, our Father, in the name of Jesus and He will answer us. We draw near unto God since He has drawn near unto us. The name of God, “our Father“, assures us that all the heavenly blessings are prepared for us. The name of Jesus shakes the foundations of hell because He conquered sin, death and the devil. The Holy Spirit glorifies the Son of God because in His name He grants us eternal life and the unique strength of God. He also grants us security, purity, joy and peace. Just as the sun sends its innumerable rays to the earth day by day, so the names of our Triune God bestow on us grace upon grace. Who will not give thanks to the Father or praise the Son, and pray in the power of the Holy Spirit? Open yourself to the comforting Spirit of your Lord, then you will learn how God really answers your prayers. Offer your praise in the name of Jesus, which is accepted by your Father. Thank Him and praise Him, for He loves you, has redeemed you and given you eternal life.
05.12 - The Testimony of Faith to Others
Who can keep silent when his heart overflows with thankfulness and praise? And who can keep the experience of salvation to himself when he knows that God wants all men to be saved? The outreach to the lost is not our choice, but the Lord Jesus Himself commands us to go and tell the Good News to everyone. The victory of Jesus Christ and His greatness must be proclaimed. The apostle Peter exhorts us, “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you“ (1 Peter 3:15). Jesus also warns us, “Whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven“ (Matthew 10:32-33).
When the apostle Paul was weary from the attacks of all God's enemies, the Lord appeared to him at night and comforted him: “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city“ (Acts 18:9-10). He assured him, “I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me“ (Acts 26:17-18).
In that evening of His resurrection, Jesus granted His divine authority to the frightened disciples who had locked their doors, “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.“ When He had revealed this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained“ (John 20:21-23). If you memorize these verses and ponder them in your heart, you will receive strength and guidance as to the best and most effective way of evangelism among the opposing unbelievers and the lost pagans.
05.13 - Serving in the Name of the Lord
When the Lord speaks to us through His Word and we respond to Him in prayer and praise and confess His holy name before friends and enemies as well, then we will experience the authority of this name. In the name of Jesus the apostles healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, and Jesus Himself calmed the stormy sea by His word. He multiplied the five loaves of bread for thousands. He forgave the sins of repentant sinners and blessed them with His eternal life. Jesus states, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working“ (John 5:17). We not only speak in His name, but He also works through our weakness. Whenever the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit dwell in the believers heart, God performs miracles and wonders through his life. It does not matter how small His children are since it is the Father Himself that accomplishes the work.
All true and effective witness is founded on the testimony of believer's lives: we bless God and disobey at the same time. The Holy Spirit prompts us to holy conduct and sanctifies us because He Himself is holy. Jesus taught us to pray the first words in the Lord's prayer, to sanctify or “hallow“ the name of the Lord with our mouth and with our conduct. Our prayers would be a lie and our testimony untrue if our lives denied the power of God and did not show genuine humility.
True, we sin against our will, but we remain broken in the presence of the Holy One. Our sins are not trivial matters in the sight of God and we should always remember that we grieve Him with our trespasses. But the Holy Spirit dwells in every repentant person and comforts him, and assures him that the blood of Jesus cleanses him from all sin (1 John 1:19). The word of the Father encourages us to have faith and to live in the name of the Triune God. We experience our sanctification by virtue of His long-suffering and surpassing love.
Do you really know and understand the name of God? Is His holy name on your tongue? Does the Spirit of the Lord dwell in your heart? Then and only then can you speak the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost in the right way with reverence and love. May the Lord protect you from speaking His name in vain and lead you to praise Him joyfully all your life.