Have you ever thought about why we are commanded not to take the Lord’s name in vain and what exactly that means? This week’s podcast was about names, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how often in our culture people take God’s name in vain without a second thought and how many times I’ve done that by thoughtlessly speaking God’s name. I noticed on one of the TV channels I watch, they bleep out curse words regularly but let abuse of God’s name fly freely.
I find two things personally when praying through this command. 1) I am tempted with legalism, and 2) I am tempted to justify myself. I am tempted toward legalism in feeling guilty about every little “God bless you” that wasn’t said with total heart-felt sincerity. And I am tempted to justify myself when I accidentally say “Dear, Lord!” as a shocked expression, and quickly turn it into a prayer. God’s not fooled. Neither am I. But it does help with the guilt.
As with most sin, taking God’s name in vain is more than just saying His name without the right context. It is the heart issue of worship and respectful fear that is missing. That is the issue. Where is our faith? Where are our hearts?
I began looking through all the scriptures that refer to God’s name, and I realized it’s more than just an issue of respect and worship, although I do believe that is at the core of why we should not use God’s name in vain. Using God’s name with reverence and respect is also an issue of recognizing the power His name carries as well as the salvation His name brings. Using God’s name in a disrespectful way is denying both of those, and it often also heaps God’s condemnation on us and others. God’s name is a place of safety and salvation for the believer. To use God’s name disrespectfully is tearing down that strength it should bring to our lives.
God’s name is a strong tower, a place of peace and refuge. When we take God’s name and make it into a curse word or a flippant comment, we are damaging our place of peace, our haven, our home. God is with us and is our shelter in the storms of life—not an expletive to be thrown at someone. Using God’s name in vain is like disassembling bricks from the walls of that strong tower.
God’s name reveals His character—He tells us Who He is through the names He shares with us. To use His name in vain belittles or ignores Who He is and neglects the gratitude we should have regarding His character and mercy. We are denying Who He is and using His name in a way that is demeaning to His character.
I often wonder if we also use God’s name in vain when we bear His name as Christians but live in a manner unworthy of it. Do we glorify His name among the nations or shame it? Are we salt and light or benign grayness to the world? Is His banner of love over me waving high or is it tattered and torn like a flag that’s side is losing the war? His name is Light of the World and Love. Is my life reflecting His character, or are my life choices making a mockery of His name and character?
Using God’s name in vain tears down Who He is and who we are supposed to be through Him. It is easy to see how perpetuating this disrespect for God and His name would lead an entire culture to ruin in the long-run and damage our faith now.
So, though I don’t believe we should walk in fear and legalistic dogma, I do think we need to take this command much more seriously than we often do. God’s name is not a punchline to a comic situation or a curse to be hurled at an enemy or expressed in our childish frustration. It is His character wrapped into words and should be worshiped and revered.
In Jewish tradition, God’s name was not even spoken because of the reverence and fear the Jewish people had for it. We have fallen a long way from that attitude. God has given us names to call Him, and we should be thankful He wants us to call on His name–from the beautiful name of El Shaddai (God Almighty) to Abba (Daddy). He is powerful and personal, and He deserves our worship, our respect, and reverence. No one else is worthy.
As parents and grandparents, we have the responsibility to teach the next generation the same. But how can we if we are throwing around OMG and other misuses while preaching not to use God’s name in vain? Our lives need to reflect the worship we hold in our hearts. And our mouths need to express the love we have for God and His name. If we recognize what a privilege it is to even know His name and that He wants us to call on Him: the Creator of the Universe, the All-knowing, All-powerful Lord of lords, how can we help but fear and revere His glorious, beautiful name? His name should bring us to our knees in humble worship.
Oh, please, Lord, help us to worship You and to honor Your name. Oh, Most High, help us pass on this attitude of worship to the next generation by our example and our overflowing love for You. In Jesus’ powerful name we pray, amen.