1 Shout with joy to God, all the earth! 2 Sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious! 3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you. 4 All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing praise to your name.”
5 Come and see what God has done, how awesome His works in man’s behalf! 6 He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot - come, let us rejoice in Him. 7 He rules forever by His power, His eyes watch the nations - let not the rebellious rise up against Him. 8 Praise our God, O peoples, let the sound of His praise be heard; 9 He has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping. 10 For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. 11 You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. 12 You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance. 13 I will come to your temple with burnt offerings and fulfill my vows to you - 14 vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke when I was in trouble. 15 I will sacrifice fat animals to you and an offering of rams; I will offer bulls and goats. 16 Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what He has done for me. 17 I cried out to Him with my mouth; His praise was on my tongue. 18 If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; 19 but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer. 20 Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld His love from me!
The Third Commandment is found in Exodus 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.”
Before we get into the third commandment, we need to remember that the purpose of His Law is to show us how we are to live our lives in such a way that we please and glorify God.
Glorifying God is a positive, and not a negative thing, so it will help us to see the Law as a positive and glorious thing too.
So we’re not just looking for things we shouldn’t do, but rather the things we should do.
Eight of the Ten Commandments are stated in the negative: “Thou shalt not…” So whenever God says, “Thou shalt NOT…” we need to ask, “So what SHALT we do?”
If we’re going to use the 10 Commandments to help us as a guide for everyday living, we need to turn them around into the positive.
So what would that look like with the commandments we’ve covered so far?
The First commandment is: You shall have no other gods before Me.
If we look at that from the positive, it would sound like this: “You shall worship the one and only true God, as revealed in the Scriptures.”
The Second commandment is: “You shall have no idols or images of God.”
The positive side of that might be “You shall have a RIGHT concept of who God is.”
Now we come to the Third commandment: You shall not misuse the Lord’s name, or take His name in vain.
Again, let’s turn that around - “You SHALL bring God’s name honour” or “You SHALL treat God’s name with respect.”
Names are important. Like all parents when we started a family, we put a lot of thought into what names to give our children. Our first-born is named Christopher. Had our first child been a girl, we were going to name her Robyn, but when Jess came along some two and a half years later there was no way we were going to name our kids Christopher and Robyn, for the simple reason that had we had a third child, we would probably have been expected to name him Winnie the Pooh or Piglet.
So names are important. I wonder how many babies born nowadays are given the name Saddam or Osama? Do you know anybody named Judas?
Some names lose their appeal and are given a bad press by their owners. I shouldn’t think that too many German boys have been given the name Adolf during the past 70 years.
Of course, the opposite can be true, as well. We can have a fondness for a name if it belonged to someone we loved and respected.
It’s a fact that the name Morné didn’t exist in our country until recently. It’s on record that the very first Morné in South Africa was the son of Mr and Mrs Du Plessis. Of course, once Morné Du Plessis became Springbok rugby captain and a national hero in the 1970’s many more Morne’s were born.
In general, we take names less seriously now than when we did in the past.
There was a time when a person’s name described their character, or their profession, which might seem a bit unfair to us today, but there was a time when your whole future depended on what your name meant. Of course today parents often choose their children’s names just because they like the way it sounds.
But there is one area in our culture where names are very important.
That’s names of products or brands.
If a name has to do with making money, it is protected very carefully.
Names are like weapons – they are marketing weapons, which have one main function: To come to the mind of a buyer at the time of a purchasing decision.
Tobacco advertising has virtually come to an end now, but there was a time when the tobacco industry was on the cutting edge of advertising.
Gunston was for the surfer image. Lexington, Chesterfield and John Rolfe was for the rugged cowboy type, and if you wanted to be more sophisticated, you would smoke Benson & Hedges or Dunhill.
Purchasing decisions were fashioned and shaped by the kind of image you wanted to have.
Another powerful way of advertising and protecting a brand name is franchising.
What would happen if a few of us got together and opened a small restaurant in town and called it the Howick Spur? We’d be in court so fast our heads would be spinning. Because the owners of the Spur franchise have strict rules about how their brand name may be used, and they are protected by law.
Let’s apply this modern understanding of what a name is all about to the third commandment.
Let’s treat God’s name as a copyrighted trademark or brand name.
In order to gain widespread distribution for His copyrighted repair manual – the Bible – and also to capture greater market share for His authorised franchise – the Church – God has graciously licensed the use of His name to anyone who will use it according to His written instructions.
It needs to be understood, however, that God’s name has not been released into the public domain. God retains legal control over His name and threatens serious penalties against the unauthorised misuse of this valuable property. All trademark violations will be prosecuted to the full limits of the law. The prosecutor, judge, jury and enforcer is God.
God has given us the use of His Name – not for our own purposes, but to fulfill His purposes.
He has not released His Name into the public domain.
That means that only His followers are given the right to use His Name.
And there are rules about how we use it.
What does it mean to use God’s name according to His instructions?
Firstly, it means not using His name lightly and carelessly. That’s the “in vain” part, that we all know from the KJV translation of the Bible.
We think of someone who is vain as being conceited.
But another meaning for vain is something that’s empty or meaningless.
How many times do we use God’s name in a way that’s empty or meaningless?
We almost always associate the word blasphemy with using God’s name as a swearword. When we do that, we’re not honouring His name. It is His name – not ours – and we have no right to cheapen His name by using it as an exclamation when we’re given a fright or when we hit our thumbs with a hammer.
Whenever we speak the Name of God, it should be in such a way that He is honoured, because the way we speak is based on the way we think.
If it is easy for us to use God’s Name in ways that are just empty, we may have too small a view of God. And maybe if we stopped using God’s name in such empty ways, we would use it more in ways that would bring Him honour.
So one way to take God’s name in vain is to use it in ways that are empty.
Another way we break the Third Commandment is in using God’s name in false oaths.
We’ve all watched courtroom dramas and seen witnesses put their hand on a Bible, raise their right hand and say, “I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”
And of course, we all know that for many witnesses those are just words – they have absolutely no intention of telling the truth.
Hopefully though, we understand that if we were ever in that position, then as Christians, if we take an oath or make a promise and use God’s Name, we’d better to be careful to keep it. When we take an oath or make a promise in God’s Name, and don’t live up to it, we dishonour His name. If we don’t fulfil our word, we’re asking for His judgment.
So if we make a promise and DON’T use God’s name, are we not quite as obligated to keep it? That’s exactly the problem that had arisen in Jesus’ day.
In Matthew 23:16, He says to the Pharisees and teachers of the law: “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’”
They had worked out a whole system of things to swear by – and certain things were less binding than others. This meant they could sound like they were promising something sincerely, but not take it seriously at all.
It was sort of like when we were kids, we’d say something and then say, “My fingers were crossed.” Which meant that you didn’t have to keep the promise you’d just made.
Jesus said it was better to not take oaths at all, but to “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.”
That is, we shouldn’t have various levels of truth-telling – because people who say things they don’t mean are hypocrites.
And hypocrisy is probably the most serious way that we can take the Lord’s Name in vain.
In 2 Corinthians 5:20 Paul says that we are ambassadors for Jesus Christ. This means that as a Christian, you are taking or bearing the name of Jesus Christ with every word you speak and every action you take.
So if you make a promise, and you break it – you dishonour God’s name.
It doesn’t matter whether or not you said His name when you made the promise.
You carry His name with you in everything you do because you are a Christian.
The same is true in every aspect of our behaviour. The Bible teaches and we believe that the Holy Spirit of God lives in us, which means that what we do and what we say is a revelation of who God is.
We reveal God to the world. Whatever we do or say is a reflection of the very character of God. And I think that this truth, more than anything else, is at the heart of the third commandment.
I think that God is more concerned about how we represent Him to others than about what we say when we hit our thumbs with a hammer.
When people want to know what God is like, they’ll look at you, and at me.
If we are honest and kind and good and we give them grace and mercy, then they will think that’s what God is like. If we are selfish, and greedy and judgmental and rude and critical, they will think that’s what God is like.
Don’t shame the name, because whether you like it or not, people are watching you – and judging whether God is who you say He is.
How many people are turned away from the Church and from God because of the way that Christians have behaved or treated them?
Our usual defence is to say, “that’s not fair, because I’m not God.” Of course you’re not God – but you’re bearing His name.
That’s what Paul meant when he said that we are Christ’s ambassadors in 2 Corinthians 5. We are His representatives on earth. It’s an incredible privilege, but a huge responsibility at the same time.
It might not be fair, but it is a fact nonetheless. If you are a Christian, then people will decide what God is like based on your behaviour.
That is the responsibility that we bear when we try to keep the Third Commandment by honouring God’s Name.
Of course, as we all know, and as many non-Christians are quick to point out, it is impossible to live the kind of life God calls us to, apart from seeking the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The only way to avoid shaming the name is by turning to Him for strength.
Honouring His name is not about obeying the rules and keeping “Thou shalt not” at the forefront of our minds. It is about bringing Him glory in all that we say and do. When we pray “Hallowed be Thy name,” we should be playing our part in doing exactly that. We should hold God’s name in awe, fear and respect. Everything we say concerning the Lord should reflect the absolute majesty of His name.
We should praise His name. Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.”
We should walk in God’s name. “All the nations may walk in the name of their gods; we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.” (Micah 4:5)
We are called to spread the honour of His name everywhere. Isaiah 26:8 says, “Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.”
We had a discussion at our Wednesday Bible Study last week about how much the name of God has been cheapened and how to many people it is nothing more than a swearword. How are we to react when we hear “Oh my God” all the time?
We do need to be careful. If the person is someone you know and have a relationship with, then yes, there are times when you can respectfully ask them not to. But confronting a total stranger in a supermarket? Is that showing the gentleness and respect we are supposed to show? The reality is that God’s Law is given to God’s people. That was the Israelites in the Old Testament, and to the Church today. The Law applies to God’s people – those who have chosen to acknowledge and believe in Him. We can’t go around saying to non-Christians, “The Bible says…”
Because the logical response from them is, “Yes, I know what the Bible says, but I’m not a Christian, so I don’t believe what the Bible says.”
Honouring God’s name and not using it in vain is up to us. And one of the many ways we do so is by reflecting God’s love and grace, rather than being judgmental and legalistic with people who see no reason to honour God’s name.
If you are a Christian, you are the one who bears the name of Christ, and there will be many times you will have to suffer because you carry that name.
Should we be offended when we hear God’s name blasphemed and used in vain? Absolutely! But throwing a hissy fit as a result almost always does more harm than good…
There is no greater honour than bearing the name of Jesus. He has been given the name that is above all other names, and we are the ones called to reflect the love and grace of Jesus to those who need it. It is up to us to honour the name of Jesus with our words and our behaviour.
As 1 Peter 4:16 says, “If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.”
Blasphemy includes the use of His name in swearing or other inappropriate speech, but the Third Commandment is much broader and much deeper.
This commandment doesn’t just speak of our words. It speaks of our entire lives.
If you are a Christian, you have taken the Lord’s name, and obedience to the third commandment isn’t simply changing “Oh my God” to “My goodness!”
Obedience to the command involves living up to the reasons you took the Name. Make your salvation evident through your words and your works. Don’t reach the point where your righteousness and integrity can be questioned.
In God’s strength and by the power of His Spirit, allow Him to teach you to speak and act from a godly perspective, not a worldly one.
Allow the truth of God’s Word to change you from within. The Apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 3:15-17, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
We bear His name, and it is our duty and our privilege to honour the Name that is above all names.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Exodus 20:7
The use of God’s name as a swearword is commonplace today, and most Christians are rightfully offended by the way His name has been cheapened, but we must remember that God’s Law is given to God’s people. In other words, non-believers are not bound by the teachings of the Bible.
How then, should we react when we hear non-Christians blaspheming?
For Christians, learning not to use God’s name as a swearword is probably the easy part of obeying the Third Commandment.
It is much harder to live up to our call to be faithful ambassadors for Christ. (See 2 Corinthians 5:20)
Whether we like it or not, the world forms their opinions on what God is like based on the behaviour of Christians.
How does the Third Commandment challenge us in this area?
What changes (with God’s help, of course) do you think you need to make in your speech and/or behaviour in order for you to more accurately represent the true nature of God to non-Christians?
Read Colossians 3:12-17
What can we learn about keeping the third commandment from Paul’s instructions in this passage?
Next week: “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.”