Exodus 20:1–4, 7 says, “And God spoke all these words, saying.” We need to take note that what follows is the beginning of the Ten Commandments spoken by the voice of the Lord. This is His preamble to the constitution of grace. “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Verse 2.
He is your Deliverer and He is delivering you out of darkness into His light. He is cutting you free from the cord of the wicked that binds you. He says to listen and learn from the holy principles of His universal government, the constitution of His grace, His divine directive that sustains and maintains all that He has created. His commandments are ten promises of what He will do in your life if you will just surrender control over to Him.
“You shall have no other gods before me.” Verse 3. I will cause you to know my love for you and to understand My power. I will be your Father and will be the object of your worship when you come to know me.
“You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.” Verse 4. He is delivering you from false worship. You will not be like the pagans who create their own gods rather than to worship their creator God. Your life will be marked by reverence for Him in contrast to being marred by malice, deceit, vanity and emptiness.
“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.” Verse 7.
There are serious consequences for breaking the third commandment and taking God’s name in vain. Why are we held guilty if we take His name in vain? What acts do we commit that amount to taking His name in vain?
To understand this we must understand the majesty of the Lawgiver as Nehemiah did when he said in Nehemiah 9:5, 6, “Stand up and bless the Lord your God Forever and ever! Blessed be Your glorious name, Which is exalted above all blessing and praise! You alone are the Lord; You have made heaven, The heaven of heavens, with all their host, The earth and everything on it, The seas and all that is therein, And You preserved them all. The host of heaven worships You.”
God says to fear, stand in awe and reverence of His glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 28:58).
The Bible refers to God by many names and all reflect His character and represent the glory of God, including His word in His law which is a transcript of His character.
God revealed His glory to Moses. This is a conversation that God had with Moses after Moses had swung those first tables of the Ten Commandments to the ground and broke them. In Exodus 33:17–23, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.’ And he replied, ‘Please show me Your glory.’ Then God said, ‘I will make all My goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.’ But He said, ‘You cannot see My face; for no man can see Me, and live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on a rock. So it shall be, when My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.’ ”
Continue on in Exodus 34:6, 7:
“And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children unto the third and to the fourth generation.’ ”
What was Moses’ response to this revealed glory? In verse 8 it says, “Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.”
God proclaimed His name as referencing His glory, His character. That is why His name is so exalted.
“I will worship toward Your holy temple, And praise Your name For your lovingkindness and Your truth; For You have magnified Your word even above all Your name. In the day when I called, You answered me, And you strengthened me with strength in my inner self.” Psalm 138:2, 3.
Why does God magnify His word even above His name? Because, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1. He became flesh and tabernacled among us. We have to recognize the majesty of the name of God, which represents His character.
When we take His name in vain, we are slandering His character. Do any of us take God’s name in vain?
We need to look at the spirit of the law and not just the letter. I would have never thought that I took the Lord’s name in vain. As I studied this, I found myself asking God to forgive me. The beauty of getting deep into the word of God is that the more we study His law, the mirror, we realize there is dirt on our own face and we recognize our great need for a Savior. Hebrews 4:12 says, “The word of God is alive and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, even to the point of judging the intentions of our heart and our thoughts.”
There are four categories in taking the name of the Lord in vain.
When we first think of someone taking God’s name in vain we think of the ungodly, disrespectful, unbelieving, sacrilegious person who uses God’s name as an irreverent byword—a curse word.
Swearing falsely is also taking God’s name in vain; not performing our oaths to the Lord.
Becoming wearied by the requirements of true worship and offering less than our best to God is taking His name in vain.
Hypocrisy—dishonesty, double-minded behavior, insincere, empty talk, not walking the talk, deceitful rebellion against God’s governing regulations; in other words, disobedience. That is taking God’s name in vain.
Ungodly and Irreverent
The first category is the ungodly, irreverent people who use His name as a byword.
At the last company I worked for before going into full-time ministry, the director was a computer programmer. This man used God’s name in vain and that irreverent byword all throughout the day. Everybody was very intimidated by this man because if you got on his bad side, he would not help you and without his help, you could not do your job because he was the program computer developer.
I was so grieved that I could not help but speak up. When I told him what the name of the Lord meant to me and how I felt when he did this, rather than respecting me, he got worse. As he ignored my request I realized that this is the one who God would say is an enemy against God. Psalm 139:19, 20 says, “Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God! … For they speak against You wickedly; Your enemies take Your name in vain.”
Each time he would do this I determined in my heart that I was not just going to let it go by. Every time he would use the name of the Lord in vain around me I would say, “The name of the Lord is great and greatly to be praised. Give glory to His holy name.” Psalm 48:1; I Chronicles 16:29. I want to tell you that this irritated him to no end.
Finally, one day he came to me and said, “I am tired of you doing that.” I said, “You have got to be kidding. You are upset by me saying this?” I sat and talked with him more and this man became a good friend and he did not take the name of the Lord in vain anymore. Not just around me, but he quit taking the name of the Lord in vain around others. God gave me favor with this man.
As Christians, we are to be especially careful to reverence God’s name. We need to take caution not to use His name as a byword in careless phrases as, “Oh my God,” or “God only knows,” or “I swear to God.” We need to be careful not to use His name lightly in jesting. People are sending a lot of jokes about Jesus and Satan and they will say that they are so cute. Please don’t send those to me. They grieve my soul, because the name of the Lord is great and greatly to be praised and we need to give glory to Him that is due glory.
As Christians, we need to be careful never to offer a prayer in a robotic jesting manner, casually repeating canned and clever phrases. That is taking His name in vain. Prayer is a great privilege and when we come to Him we should pause for just a moment as we think about this great God who tells us we can call Him Abba.
Jesus taught us in Matthew 6:9 how to pray. He said, “In this manner, therefore pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed it be Your name.” What does it mean to be hallowed? It means to be kept holy. Jesus was saying, “Our Father, your name is to be kept holy” and Jesus did keep it holy.
When He was praying in the garden before he went to Gethsemane, in John 17:11, He said, “Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are one.” It goes on in verse 25, “O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me.”
Jesus addressed His Father as holy and righteous. Should we not also likewise worship in the same manner?
The second category of taking God’s name in vain is swearing falsely, not performing our oaths to the Lord. Leviticus 19:12 says, “You shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of the Lord your God: I am the Lord.” God wants us to be serious. Let our yes be yes and our no be no.
Jesus said, “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say unto 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’ be ‘No.’ For whatsoever is more than these is from the evil one.” Matthew 5:33–37. How cautious we need to be.
The third category of taking His name in vain is when we become wearied by the requirements of true worship and offer less than our best.
As I studied this out I thought, Lord, I let my schedule get so crammed that sometimes I am going off to do a revival series somewhere and I am studying on the plane to get the message and I feel sometimes that I am giving God less than my best.
God is speaking about offering polluted things beginning in Malachi 1:6–10: “ ‘A son honors his father, And a servant his master. Then if I am the Father, Where is My honour? If I am the Master, Where is my reverence? Said the Lord of hosts To you priests who despise My name. And 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! Will he be pleased with you? Will he accept you favorably? Says the Lord of hosts. But now I entreat God’s favor, That He may be gracious to us. While this is being done by your hands, Will He accept you favorably? Says the Lord of hosts. Who is there even among you that would shut the doors, So that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain? I have no pleasure in you, Says the Lord of hosts, Nor will I accept an offering from your hand.”
The priests and the people had found God’s requirements for sacrifice and worship contemptible. Are we not a holy nation, a royal priesthood—is this not also applicable to us? When they found the requirements for worship contemptible, God found their acts of worship contemptible. In fact, He said, Who among you would shut the door—shut the door to the church? Don’t kindle an offering in vain to me. I would rather the doors be shut. God help us!
Have we forgotten the reverence due a holy God? Have we become so overly familiar with Him that we forget to stand in awe and honor of the Almighty God? Has church become a social club? Do we come to honor Him in truth and spirit, or do we come to be entertained, or even worse, to be wearied, because the sermons are too long? Do we criticize the message from Scripture when we are called to magnify the word of God?
“ ‘For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; In every place incense shall be offered to My name, And a pure offering; For My name shall be great among the nations,’ Says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 1:11.
God is telling them that He has a solution. If His people won’t correct their behavior He will raise up a people who will worship Him with gratefulness and purity in their hearts.
“But you have profaned my name, In what you say, ‘The table of the Lord is defiled; And its food is contemptible.’ You said also, ‘Oh what a weariness!’ And you have sneered at it, Says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 1:12, 13.
The priests profaned and perverted sacred things. They provoked God by profaning His holy name, taking His name in vain. They may have started in full-time ministry with the right heart and the right spirit but they became polluted with pride. They sneered at the offering in which they were to give—they thought it too little, too plain for them, contemptible. They thought that they deserved more because they served in the temple.
Continuing on in verses 13, 14,
“ ‘You bring the stolen, and the lame, and the sick; Thus you bring an offering! Should I accept this from your hand?’ Says the Lord. ‘But cursed be the deceiver Who has in his flock a male, And takes a vow, But sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished—For I am a great King,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘And My name is to be feared among the nations.’ ”
The people had reckless disregard for the holy ordinances. The sacrifices they brought and the sacrifices that were accepted were substandard. It was not their best. They felt, it was enough just to come to the altar of sacrifice and they did not need to bring an acceptable offering. Surely they did not need to read their Sabbath School lesson before they came to Sabbath School.
He is a holy God whom we should worship in holiness, reverence, spirit and in truth. They had become wearied by real worship. God said, their offerings were offered in vain. He was not pleased with their acts of taking His name in vain.
As Christians in our home, are we blaspheming the name of the Lord, taking it in vain? Do our children see us arguing, fighting and not loving in character? Do they see us doing the very things that we tell them not to do? That is taking God’s name in vain.
Wherever you go, people are watching. If you get impatient in line and you think you are entitled to better treatment and you get all puffed up, you are taking God’s name in vain. You are profaning the name of the Lord and that causes people to blaspheme the name of God.
The fourth category is hypocrisy: dishonesty, double-minded behavior, insincere, empty talk, not walking the talk, deceitful rebellion against God’s governing regulations.
The Strong’s Concordance defines vain as emptiness, vanity, falsehood and nothingness, emptiness of speech, lying and worthlessness of conduct. That is taking God’s name in vain.
Jesus in Mark 7:6, 7, 9, 13 says, “He answered and said unto them, Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. In vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ He said, All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition. Making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
How cautious we need to be that we are not taking God’s name in vain.
The following Scripture should compel each one of us to check our spiritual pulse. In Matthew 7:21–23 Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name? And in Your name have cast out demons? And done many wonders in Your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ ”
To these who thought they were in full-time ministry, doing the work of the Lord and professing the name of the Lord, Jesus says, “I don’t know you.” Professing the name is not what qualifies us for heaven. Obedience through His grace and by His divine power qualifies and equips us to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Those who called on Him were calling on Him in pretense only. They were not walking in obedience or in surrender to God. They were not really His followers, because they did not practice the Father’s revealed will. They were deceiving themselves into thinking that their own form of worship was enough. Yet they refused to practice His will.
Paul writes, “The Lord knows those who are His. Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” II Timothy 2:19. If we profess the name of the Lord, we must live according to the profession. We need to depart from our lawless ways; otherwise we are nothing more than hypocrites who are taking His name in vain and practicing a useless religion.
“Therefore shall you keep My commandments, and perform them: I am the Lord. You shall not profane My holy name, but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel: I am the Lord Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord.” Leviticus 22:31.
By His grace He has promised to sanctify us and we will not then hypocritically take His name in vain. God’s commandments become His promises of what He will do in us if we will surrender to Him.
It is all about coming to the Lord and surrendering and saying, “Father I need you; I recognize my sinfulness. Work in me to will and to act according to your good purpose.”
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace towards me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was in me.” I Corinthians 15:10.
The grace of God is more than His unmerited favor. Jesus Christ, your gift from God, is your only hope of glory. The Holy Spirit is the second greatest gift of God who works in us and allows God to do abundantly more than we could ever think or ask. And the word of God, the sanctifying, transforming power of the word of God, is another gift of His grace.
Do we call Him Saviour and refuse to accept His gift of salvation by grace? That is taking His name in vain. We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do the good works that He prepared before Him that we should do.
He says in I John 2:3–6, “Now by this we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, I know him, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought also himself to walk just as he walked.”
Do we call Him Lord and refuse to do as he commanded? If so, we take His name in vain.
Shelley Quinn’s sermon was taken from the Ten Commandment Weekend, 2008 series aired on 3ABN. For more information contact www.3ABN.org.