Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 7. Command Three: Careful with the Name
Ex 20:7 You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
Significance: At first sight this always seems to me a minor instruction. I mean, does God get upset when silly, puny, tiny, foolish human beings say nasty things about him? I’m sure not. You only get upset about what people say about you when you are insecure but, having said that, God does get upset but I believe it is for an entirely different reason.
These first commands in this list that we find in Exodus 20 are all about God, about who He is and about how we perceive Him AND about how we communicate Him. Don’t have other gods, was the first one, because if you do, you fall into error and deception because there is only ONE God. Anything else is the figment of man’s imagination. Don’t make idols, was the second one because no idol can convey anything of the greatness of God and making an idol is a sign of wanting to control the divine. And so we come to how you speak about God. There are various ways that we use God’s name and they each reveal a wrong way of thinking which leads into wrong speaking.
Error 1 – Denial: Sometimes I believe us uttering words gives us a sense of power. It is foolish and it is deception. Speaking out false truths (which are no truth in fact) helps the unbeliever be even more convinced that he is right. The well-known crusading atheist who denies God and is known for his rants about God, I am sure, makes himself feel good and strengthens his pride that he could come up with a whole paragraph of unpleasant (an inaccurate) words about God. In his denial of God he merely reinforced his unbelief (and misunderstanding) and closed his mind even more. The psalmist (Psa 14:1) wrote, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.” He speaks in his folly and reinforces his folly. Denying the Lord is the first way people misuse the name of the Lord, for they deny the truth.
While we are thinking about what people say, when we speak out words, somehow they take on a strength in our lives. Perhaps that is why the apostle Paul said, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Rom 10:10) We need to speak out our salvation and in so doing we are strengthened.
Error 2 – Demeaning: And then we find the primary reason, I believe, that God is upset when people foolishly misuse the Lord’s name, because so often they not only deny Him, in some way they demean Him, distort Him, make Him appear less than He is, and in so doing that will put other people off from coming to Him, finding Him and entering into a relationship with Him. The first way of misusing the name of the Lord is by denying Him, the second is demeaning Him, making Him less than He is. That doesn’t hurt Him as a person, but it does mean that it will hinder others coming to know the truth, knowing Him.
Error 3 – Abuse: The third command uses the word ‘misuse’ but there are two similar words that are linked to that. The first is abuse. We have already touched on the foolish atheist who denies and demeans the Name by saying silly and untrue things about Him, but there is misuse by using the name in an abusive way. Some Christians seem comfortable with using the expression, “Oh my God,” in an expressive way but they are not appealing to God when they are doing that; they are using the name ‘God’ to vent emotion. I suggest this is misuse by abuse.
Error 4 – Personal Use: If we use the name ‘God’ or even ‘Lord’ (“Oh, my Lord!”) we are using it for our purpose. Misuse is the main word, abuse is the second word, and the simple ‘use’ is the third word. We use the name God for our purposes, we make His name servant to our desires and again, in so doing we belittle Him, we treat Him casually, we show that we think little His name or the way we use His name. God will not be used – in any way. He will hold us accountable.
Error 5 – Personal Affirmation: Jesus chided people for using God’s name, not as a swear word, but as a support or confirmation to swearing an oath: “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem , for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your `Yes’ be `Yes,’ and your `No,’ `No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Mt 5:33-37) The Law said don’t break an oath but Jesus said you shouldn’t need to make an oath. The implication was that your word should be sufficient without any form of verbal backup, and especially not using or abusing the names of heaven or Jerusalem or of God Himself. In all those ways we use God to support what we are saying. We should not use His name like that.
Honoring the Name: An example of the power of words came when Jesus stood before the high priest: “The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God.” (Mt 26:63) Invoking God’s name made the charge doubly strong in their eyes, but it was still using God. God is not to be used or abused, because He is the Holy One of Israel, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Creator of all things. Nevertheless Jesus responded to the challenge, one of the rare times that he was provoked into answering and it was because he was honoring his Father’s name, even when used badly by the high priest.
More of the Law: As well as in the Ten Commandments, the Law declared, “Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.” (Lev 19:12) The ‘Easy to Read’ Bible put it, “You must not use my name to make false promises. If you do that, you will show that you don’t respect the name of your God. I am the Lord!” Whichever version we are given the reason – don’t misuse the holy name LORD – the I AM, the unique holy, eternal God. Furthermore in Deuteronomy we find, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Deut 5:11) which the Message version helpfully puts, “No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter; God won’t put up with the irreverent use of his name.” I like that, no curses or silly banter, no using it as a swear word or casually, no “OMG” or “Oh Christ.”
The command, please note, comes with a strong warning: “for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” i.e. this is not a casual thing; this is an important thing and God WILL hold you accountable for how you use His name. You know I believe there are number of ways we Christians in the West in the twenty-first century miss God’s blessing and tolerate lives that are not what they could be, and the poor use or even wrong use of God’s name is one of them
When Praying: Just a small point in closing: what name do you use when you are praying? I ask the question because I believe it indicates something of what we feel about Him. I never address Him as ‘God’. God is what He is. It is like us approaching another person and saying, “Human being, will you…..” It is impersonal. It is blunt and hard, and it lacks any sense of either reverence or intimacy. I confess I will pray, “Lord….” or “Father….” or “Lord Jesus….”. I believe the way we address the Lord says something about what we feel about Him. I may be wrong about this and it may be a cultural thing, but I don’t think so. Think about it.
And Us? I have a suspicion that the way the name Jesus is used sometimes in modern songs verges on misuse. Sometimes we seem to use it as an icon (and I know there is a part of the church that uses icons) and the emphasis is on ‘use’ which often verges on or is ‘ mis use’. When we utter the word, ‘Lord’ does it come with either a sense of awe (reverence) or intimacy (love)? Are we expressing it about the one we love and adore so much or are we expressing it to the one who we revere and adore? The way we speak should convey our relationship with Him. It even reveals that we are people who are known not to use the name for abuse, and that should communicate the truth of it to others. This third commandment has very real meaning.
Application: May I suggest we conclude this study praying something like, “Lord, please guard my tongue and keep me from ever using or abusing your name. I purpose to never demean you or make you sound less that who you are by my speech. You are the Lord of glory. Help me to convey that always through my speech. Amen.”