We might think on reading the Third Commandment to “not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exo 20:7, Deu 5:11) that it mainly had to do with not uttering profanities. That would mean that this would be a fairly easy commandment to keep! Yet it is very possible to never utter profanity and yet grievously break the commandment.
This is because the ‘Name’ of God represents all that God is in His unique holiness and greatness (Ex 3:13-14). He is ‘YHWH’ – ‘I Am Who I Am’ – the only One with no beginning, no ending, no becoming, and no dependence on anything outside Himself. His name reflects His total reality. It covers His nature, His character, and His reputation. So we are not to take God, or anything about His reality, ‘in vain’.
The pastor and theologian John Piper explains that we take something ‘in vain’ when we bring it to futility, worthlessness, emptiness, or pointlessness. (e.g. Jer 2:30, Mal 3:14). We can do this by our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. So to take God’s name in vain is to think, feel, speak and act as if God and the truth about Him were futile, worthless, empty, and pointless. For example, Jesus said in Matthew 14:8-9, quoting Isaiah 29:13, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”. The heart is emptied of right and worthy feelings for God even though external acts are performed for Him, and the truth about God has been replaced by human opinions.
The First Commandment (“You shall have no other gods before me”) deals with whom we worship. We must worship only the one true God. The Second Commandment (“You shall not make for yourself a carved image”) deals with how we worship, the right way of worshiping the one true God. After having our attitude to God set right, The Third Commandment tells us that we must totally order our lives to truly represent the true God. It speaks of how we apply the truth of the first two Commandments in our lives.
Certainly, we should only speak of God’s Name only with reverence and awe. This means that we should not be carelessly saying (or texting!) “Oh my God”, or “OMG”, or “Christ”, or “Jesus!”. We should not be engaging in obscenity or crude jokes (Eph 4:29, 5:4). But Piper’s sharp comment is that “The elimination of that kind of use of the name of God is the kindergarten of the school of Christ.”
The Third Commandment covers all of life. All that we think, feel, speak and act must bring glory rather than disrepute to Him. So the Third Commandment is definitely no easier to keep than the first two Commandments! From the moment we woke up in the morning until the time we began to read this, none of us has fully kept these Commandments as we should. And when we think that the Commandment comes with the warning that “the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain”, we can only tremble at the thought of the punishment we deserve and throw ourselves on God’s mercy. How amazing His grace and forbearance towards us, who so rarely think, feel, speak and act as we should!