As we look at the Ten Commandments, in Deuteronomy 5, we are able to see that eight of those ten begin with a negative prohibition, “Thou shalt not.” But we need to remember that wherever there is a negative, there is also a positive. With every negative command that is to prohibit us from something, there is always a positive encouragement to do what is right and good.
The negative command we will be considering in this article is the one of not taking the name of the Lord in vain. This negative command indicates that there is a positive command to serve God in an acceptable way with reverence and godly fear. From this positive perspective, we know that those who keep this commandment will have a reverent attitude. They recognize that the character of God is to be found in His name, and any time they are in proximity with God, they are to have a reverent attitude.
God’s name and His character are inseparable. You cannot look at one without looking at the other. You cannot examine one without being exposed to the other. As we study this commandment, we need to recognize this fact as well.
A Good Name
When we speak of a person having a good name, such as, “John has a good name in the community,” what are we really saying? He has a good character; he has integrity; he is upright; he treats other people right; everything about him is of a respectable nature. This is why the Bible says, “A [good] name [is] rather to be chosen than great riches.” Proverbs 22:1. Many people have found themselves seeking after riches only to discover that they have lost their good name.
In the name of God, we see His character revealed. In this commandment, we see the endorsement that we are to come up to the level of all that God is in character. This is why, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:48.
We are called to come up. We may not yet be at the highest point, but the call is to continually come up. So often we find that people are content with where they are, but we, as Christians, and particularly as Seventh-day Adventist Christians, should never, ever be content with where we are in our lives. Even though we may go day after day without the real sense that we have committed a sin, we know, because of our human natures, that we are in peril; we are in a constant state of temptation. We may feel that we are right with God, but we should never be content to stay where we are. We should always be studying and trying to discover more of what God can mean to us.
We are to live up to all that God’s name means. If we are not living up to all that God’s name means, in regard to His character, we are indeed taking His name in vain.
Meaning of a Name
What does “the name of the Lord” mean? The phrases, “name of God,” “the name of the Lord thy God,” and “thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God,” are immensely comprehensive. These mean more than merely titles or descriptions by which Deity is distinguished from all other deities. They mean all that may be properly established or conceived of God.
When, for instance, we think of the name of George Washington, the first President of the United States, there immediately comes to our minds everything that we have learned and known about this man. There should be a great amount of respect for the name, but if we allow ourselves to think a moment about it, we will discover that it is a symbol for something more. When this great man’s name comes to our minds, we think of his character, his wisdom, his integrity, his patriotism, his heroism. Everything that Washington was and did comes to our minds. The same thing is true as far as God is concerned. When we think of the name of God, everything that He is and has done should come to our minds. It should have an effect on our hearts.
When we think of the name of God, we find that it signifies His nature, His attributes, His character, His authority, His purposes, His methods, His providences, His words, His institutions, His truth, His kingdom, or, in other words, everything and all that God is comes into mind. All that God asks is also included in His name.
Characteristics of Name
We can see all these things as we study the peculiar characteristics of the word name in Scripture and how they apply to God. All of these things come to bear upon the commandment that says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”
For instance, in Psalm 8:1, we read: “O Lord our Lord, how excellent [is] thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens.” Something interesting is brought out in this text. The first Lord is given in capital letters, meaning Jehovah God. “O Jehovah God, our Master,” is really what it is saying when it uses the word Lord. “O Jehovah, the God that we serve, the One that we love, how excellent is thy name in all the earth.”
Psalm 111:9 says, “He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend [is] his name.” The commanded covenant, of course, is the Ten Commandments. How long will the Ten Commandment Law be in existence? Forever. It was in effect before the world was created; it will be in effect in the New Earth.
Another attribute is revealed to us in Malachi 3:16: “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard [it], and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.” In other words, those who fear the Lord, who have a reverent attitude concerning the Lord, are the ones who are going to reflect upon the character of God and what that means to them as relating to their Master.
In Matthew 6:9, the Lord is teaching the disciples how to pray: “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.” The word hallowed means holy. The name of God, the character of God, the attributes of God, everything about God is holy, and we should keep that in mind when we approach God.
“And said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.” Luke 9:48. This is why we are told, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20.
In Matthew 28:19, 20, is given the commission of Jesus just before He ascended to heaven: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen.” In this passage, we learn also that we are to baptize in the name of the Father, in the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Spirit. Each member of the Godhead possesses a particular aspect that is to be revealed in the life of the baptismal candidate.
Finally, we read, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, [which is] new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and [I will write upon him] my new name.” Revelation 3:12. What does it mean to have the name of God written upon us? It means that our lives are to reveal the character of God. And not only the name of God is to be written upon us but also the name of the city, and Jesus says, “I will even write My new name on him.” What a privilege it is for sinful, fallen human beings, who have been utter wretches, who have gone through the degradation of sin, to be lifted and exalted, to sit upon thrones, to have a new name given.
There are many stories that could be told about the process of adoption, of how families take in those who have no name, give them a name, and then try to instruct those children how to live up to that name. I remember one occasion when I was speaking with my son on the telephone. He was going through a particular trial, and he was relating to me that he was going to do a certain thing to an individual who had wronged him. I told him, “You cannot do that.”
“Why not?” he wanted to know.
“Because,” I said, “you are a Baugher. That is why you cannot do it. You must live up to the name.”
God expects the very same thing of us. Once we have entered into that relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, having been baptized in the name of the Father, in the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Spirit, we have a life to live that should never have any shame cast upon it. He has called us into a family that has a name above all names, and we must live up to it.
Revelation 17:14 tells us, “These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him [are] called, and chosen, and faithful.” God has a plan and a purpose for us all. We are called; we are chosen; and we are to be faithful to the Lord of lords and King of kings.
Each Term Significant
The character of God is so great, so magnanimous, that there are about 350 different terms or names that are applied to God. Each title used to describe Him or used to describe His work reveals a little something different about the One called God.
I have been called a lot of things in my life. Some of them, used to describe what the other person felt was my character, were not so nice. Not so with God. Every aspect of the name that is used to describe God tells something wonderful about Him.
The most sacred name of all names or designations of God is that of Jehovah or Yahweh. It was considered so sacred among the Jews that if they were walking down a street and they saw a piece of paper lying in the way, they would never step on that piece of paper for fear that the name of God was written on it. We kind of snicker in our minds at some of the extremes the Jews used in this regard, and yet, when we stop and think about it, should we not be as careful as far as God and His name are concerned?
Need for Respect
I do not know about you, but I personally never, ever, ever, ever like to lay anything on the Bible. There is just something about that action that says, here is where the profane comes in contact with the holy. I do not even like to lay another Bible on the Bible, if I can keep from it. Now, this may sound like an extreme, but it helps me to have the sense that there is something holy about that Book which tells me about the God of the Bible.
Christians today, in many ways, are in danger of going to the other extreme by frequently being too familiar with God and not having the reverence that they are supposed to have with concern to God.
In a meeting I once attended, it was suggested, based upon the Greek text, that we should address God as Papa, Daddy, or other similar terms, because, some people said that this is what Jesus meant when He addressed His Father as Abba. This does not set quite right with me. We need to have a greater reverence for God than to call Him Daddy. We can think of Him as an endearing parent, but it should be done with reverence. There are things that can drag us down to the level of the common and the profane, if we allow them to happen.
This is one of the reasons why the seventh church of Revelation, the church of Laodicea, is designated to reflect the day and the age in which we are living. Their character is reflective of the common attitude toward the use of the name of God.
More Than Curse Words
What about taking God’s name in vain? How do we take the name of God in vain? This is what the third commandment prohibits. To take the name of the Lord in vain is thought by many to deal with cursing or profanity. If we use an expletive where the words God and Jesus are used, we think this is a violation of the commandment, and indeed it is encompassed there. We should not minimize that in the least, but it is not only that with which the commandment is dealing. It is dealing with something that is more profound than just curse words on our lips, where we use the name of the Lord when we hit our thumb with the hammer.
The word profanity is made up of two Latin words: pro, meaning “in front of,” and fane, meaning “temple.” When we use profanity, it is really an indication of irreverence for holy things. It is defying God, as it were, in the very precincts of His temple. This is one of the reasons why I believe this commandment covers all aspects of reverent attitude in the sanctuary of God.
If we could understand this, it would make a significant difference in the way we treat the sanctuary of God—if we truly believe the Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth be silent. There are very few of us who think about this commandment in terms of irreverence in the sanctuary of God. If we look at the sanctuary as the dwelling place where God is found, where we come to meet with Him, it would change our whole attitude as to how we relate to Him.
“The Lord [is] in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.” Habakkuk 2:20. We all need to guard ourselves more closely on this particular point.
The Lord’s Name
We are treading on very dangerous ground when we use profanity that is touching on the Lord’s name. Some use profanity, believing that by doing so they are exalted in the eyes of their peers. This is how young people are usually trapped. As many enter into the age of individuality and separate from family ties, they begin to curse and swear. Anytime we seek for exaltation at the expense of God or at the expense of our fellowmen, we are surely going to be brought down as a result.
There are some who try to excuse the use of profanity as a weakness—the result of temper. I have heard people say, “I have such an awful temper. My father had an awful temper, and I guess I am just like him.” When confronted with such excuses as this, we need to ask some questions. One of the questions that we should ask is, “Are you born again?” If the answer is yes, then ask, “Is God your Father?” If the answer is yes again, remind this person of 11 Corinthians 5:17, 18: “Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things [are] of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.”
“The old nature, born of blood and the will of the flesh, cannot inherit the kingdom of God. The old ways, the hereditary tendencies, the former habits, must be given up; for grace is not inherited. The new birth consists in having new motives, new tastes, new tendencies. Those who are begotten unto a new life by the Holy Spirit, have become partakers of the divine nature, and in all their habits and practices they will give evidence of their relationship to Christ. When men who claim to be Christians retain all their natural defects of character and disposition, in what does their position differ from that of the worldling? They do not appreciate the truth as a sanctifier, a refiner. They have not been born again.” Review and Herald, April 12, 1892.
There are certain “by” words that we, as historic Seventh-day Adventist Christians, have a tendency to slide by and still use, because we have not grown to understand that some of these words are profanity, as far as God’s name is concerned. Some words are right on the edge of profanity, and we use them as substitutes for the actual profane words. I am referring to words such as goodness or phrases such as goodness gracious. These words describe attributes of God, yet we hear people use them as expletives, never really thinking that these are attributes of God Himself or that they are taking this profanity upon their lips in saying such words.
Other examples of “by” words include mercy and abbreviations of the name of God or the name of Jesus, such as gee, golly, or gosh. A Christian, who is a disciple, will never use such slang words. If we have a habit of using these abbreviations, we need to cleanse our speech, because the language of Christ’s disciples should be as pure as any language can be.
As a college student, I was rebuked for using the phrase, for crying out loud. When I used this in the presence of a church member, he asked, “Do you know the origin of this phrase?” I had to admit that I did not; it was just an expression I had learned as a youngster. He explained to me that this is a phrase that came from Jesus just before He died on the cross, and that a Christian should never use such phraseology. Since that day, I have not used it.
Do Not Help the Devil
Many of these things we just do not think about, because we have been exposed to them on so many different occasions in non-religious settings that they do not bring a frown from anyone, so we continue using them. I share these things with you because we need to be careful in our speech that we do not, in the slightest way, profane our Lord.
In Mark 14:66–71, the scene is related of Peter in the courtyard during Jesus’ trial. “And as Peter was beneath in the palace, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest: And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and said, And thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth. But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew. And a maid saw him again, and began to say to them that stood by, This is [one] of them. And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, Surely thou art [one] of them: for thou art a Galilaean, and thy speech agreeth [thereto]. But he began to curse and to swear, [saying], I know not this man of whom ye speak.” The speech of Christ’s disciples was different from that of the average person of that time. In an attempt to disassociate himself as a follower of Jesus, Peter spoke with cursing and swearing. Christ’s disciples did not use that kind of language.
The devil is very clever in how he is able to do his work in reproaching God. Let us make sure that we do not help him through our speech!
Another area covered by the third commandment is false swearing. Leviticus 19:12 says, “And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I [am] the Lord.” In other words, we should never link the name of God with taking an oath, and then violate that oath by telling a lie.
You may have heard someone say, “I am telling the truth. I will swear to it on a stack of Bibles.” If someone says that, you may begin to wonder about his or her truthfulness! Perjury is one of the greatest crimes in our modern world today. Often, God’s name is presumptuously and blasphemously taken in vain by those who take a judicial oath to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God,” and then bear false witness. It is an insult to the truth and to the Author of all truth. It is treating His name with contempt and defying His holy Law. Remember, “the Lord will not hold [him] guiltless that taketh his name in vain,” in the final day of reckoning.
Perhaps the chief application of the third commandment concerns the sin of hypocrisy. We play the hypocrite when we lie with our lives.
As you probably have heard before, the Greek word for hypocrite is one that is used for an actor, a person who plays a part and is really someone different under the mask. A hypocrite is a person who wears a mask. Theater actors in ancient Greece portrayed themselves by wearing masks. The actors are hypocrites; they play a double role in their daily lives, professing to be one thing by acting a part. There is no other sin that has so aroused the indignation of Jesus as the sin of hypocrisy.
This is why, on one occasion, Jesus rebuked the Jews for making the Commandments of God of none effect. He said to them, “[Ye] hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with [their] lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men.” Matthew 15:7–9.
It is a dangerous thing to use the name of the Lord when we do not know Him, and perhaps even more dangerous when we profess to know Him. Many professed Christians feel secure, as far as the third commandment is concerned. Because they do not use vile oaths or vulgar language, they think that they are not in violation of the commandments of God. Yet, all the while, their lives are not representing God.
God’s name can be hallowed only by doing His will on earth, as it is in heaven. God’s will can only be done if we are living lives that are in harmony with His character. If we are living lives that are not in harmony with His character, then we are hypocrites. The hypocrisy may not be visible to those about us, but we are hypocrites nonetheless.
We must make sure that we are rightly representing God’s name. When we take the name of Christian, we are taking the name of Christ upon ourselves. If we live a life that is contrary to the name of Christian or the name of Christ, then we are hypocritical, and we are in dire violation of the third commandment.
Penalty for Violation
A study of the commandments also reveals the penalty for those who, in Old Testament times, violated the commandments. It was death by stoning. If they had other gods, it was grounds to take them out and stone them. If they were guilty of worshipping idols, it was grounds for stoning. If they were Sabbath-breakers, it was grounds for stoning. If children would not honor their parents, it was grounds for stoning. If they were guilty of committing adultery, it was grounds for stoning. The Bible says so. We do not stone people today, but it was done back then.
Why were people stoned who were in violation of the Ten Commandments? Why were they not beheaded? Why were they not hanged or pushed off a cliff? Let me ask you a question, and by finding the answer, you will know the reason why. Upon what were the Ten Commandments written? On stone. If the commandments were violated, punishment came from the commandments. It was just that simple. Think about it.
Fall on the Rock
The Bible tells us some of the names that reveal the character of God: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6.
How glad we should be to serve the Creator God. How glad we should be to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. When we think about other gods and what their worship required of the faithful, we realize that they were not wonderful. They were demanding. But our God is wonderful. When we are perplexed, He is our Counseller; that is His name. We are to go to Him. He is the One that we are to seek after to find the answers to life’s problems. His answers are better than any $100-per-hour “shrink”! He is the Mighty God, the Eternal Father, the Prince of Peace.
With what great care we should take these meaningful names upon our lips! Every time we violate the third commandment, we soil the name of our God. Every time we violate the third commandment, His name is no longer “Wonderful.” His name is no longer “Counseller.” We have made those names a pro-fanity. Most likely we have all been guilty of this at one time or another. But the Bible gives the assurance that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9.
Perhaps there are things I have shared with you in this study that, as you reflect upon them, you are saying, “Woe is me. I am undone. I have never thought about these things before.” Now is the time that we can confess these things and say, “Lord, by Your grace, I never want to come into these kinds of attitudes ever again. I do not want to think this way. I do not want to be this way. I do not want to live this way.” Claim the promise from 1 John. Jesus tells us of a certainty that if we have not entered into this experience, if we have not fallen upon the Rock and become broken, the Rock is going to come upon us, and it is going to grind us to powder.
The counsel of the apostle Paul is important for each of us: “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, [do] all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” Colossians 3:17. It should be our greatest desire to rightly represent Him. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, may we reflect the image of Jesus daily.
To be continued . . .
A retired minister of the gospel, Pastor Mike Baugher may be contacted by e-mail at: email@example.com.