The Third Commandment is about Reverence
God asks us to respect His Holy name and not to use it in vain. 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 behaviour. 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 honour who and what He is. Conversely, the use of God's name in a flippant, degrading or in any way disrespectful manner, dishonours 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 Hebrew name for “vain” is “shaw” and means vanity, falsehood, iniquity and emptiness. Simply summed up, “shaw” means showing disrespect and this is what we do when we take God's name in vain.
The purpose and meaning of the Third Commandment
The use of God's name in a degrading or in any way disrespectful manner expresses an attitude of disdaining the relationship we are supposed to have with Him. Having a relationship with God demands that we represent Him accurately, sincerely and respectfully.
“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” Exodus 20:7
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 behaviour.
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 honour who and what He is. 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”).
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
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 honour and majesty.” Psalms 104:1. “Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.” Psalms 33:8
King David wrote, “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.” Psalms 145:1-3
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 enough, 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: but now mine eye seeth you,” confessed Job, “but now my eye sees You.” Job 42:5. 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 and 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 re-evaluate our own attitudes toward our Creator. Once Job grasped his irreverent attitude, He saw himself in a realistic light. “Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:6. 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 that has seen me has seen the Father,” said Jesus (John 14:9). He came as “the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person.” Hebrews 1:3. 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). “Wherefore 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.” Philippians 2:9-11
Notice how completely Jesus reflected the glory of God. “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; 20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.” Colossians 1:19-20
The importance of Christ's name
Jesus Christ's name significantly means “Saviour.” Christ means “anointed [one],” the same as the Hebrew word Messiah. As the Son of God, Jesus Christ is both our Saviour and King. Only through Him can we receive salvation. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12. 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 foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knows them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” 2 Timothy 2:19
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). And Paul tells them, “Whatsoever you 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. 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.
Honouring 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 behaviour always either honours or dishonours 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, 18. 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 NKJV. They should bring honour to His name by their example.
Moses explained this point to the people of ancient Israel: “But you that did cleave unto the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day. 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 whither 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 nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for?” Deuteronomy 4:5-7. Moses wanted their conduct to so honour God that all nations would gain respect for Him.
Examples that dishonour God
Ancient Israel however, was a failure in honouring 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 honour to His name. He says, “I had pity for mine holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the heathen, whither they went. 22 Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name's sake, which you have profaned among the heathen, whither you went. 23 And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which you have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the LORD, saith the Lord GOD, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes.” Ezekiel 36:21-23
How will this happen? God will once again give the descendants of Jacob the responsibility of bringing honour to His name. “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 unto 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 pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Isaiah 2:2-4. At that time the earth's inhabitants will understand the reality of the true God and honour 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 which teachest another, teachest you not thyself? you that preachest a man should not steal, do you steal? 22 You that sayest a man should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? you that abhorrest idols, do you commit sacrilege? 23 You that makest your boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest you God? 24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you…” Romans 2:21-24
Paul explains that even some who regard themselves as Christians can disgrace God's name by their conduct. “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.” 1 Timothy 6:1. Our conduct should be above reproach. Paul explains that Christians are “ambassadors for Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:20), His personal, designated representatives. Discourteous or disrespectful conduct by those who represent themselves as God's servants dishonours 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 unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like unto whited sepulchres, 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 unto men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” Matthew 23:27-28
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 honouring Him. Jesus said, “You hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, 8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth 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.” Matthew 15:7-9. He also said, “And why call you me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” Luke 6:46
How we should honour 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 bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.” Luke 6:45
In the end, it is not enough just to avoid misusing God's name. God wants us to love and respect Him. Honouring 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 honour 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!