Commandment 3 – Name Not in Vain

May 19, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

The Ten Commandments

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Commandment 3 – Name Not in Vain

Exodus 20:1-2, 7

         Many of you may remember quite a few years back that the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC, created a list of seven bad words that were not to be spoken over the airwaves on television or radio. I think that list went out the window a long time ago from what I can see on TV today. But my Mom’s list of bad words, that we couldn’t say, was a lot longer than seven! We learned quickly as children what we could and couldn’t say. Remember this song from Sunday School:

         Be careful little lips what you say,

         Be careful little lips what you say,

         There’s a Father up above, Who is looking down in love,

         So be careful little lips what you say.

When little lips were not careful with what they said, retribution was swift, and punishment was sure. Have you ever been paddled for saying a bad word? We couldn’t keep those little balls and rubber bands on the paddles. My mom and dad would tear them off and then use the paddle. Ever had your mouth washed out with soap? Doesn’t taste real good. My lips learned to be more careful.

         As kids, this was our introduction to the power of words. Words are far more powerful than they seem. And when words are not used properly, for example God’s name, then there can be consequences. Your Bible and my Bible probably have the following for the Third Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” But the actual Hebrew translation is “Do not carry the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” The NIV Bible, the New International Version, reads, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” These both mean about the same thing.

         Unfortunately, we think that if we just avoid speaking the words on some list, we will do well and not break this commandment. But that is over simplying what God meant. The commandment means we are not to commit evil in God’s name. More about this in a moment, but first, would you pray with me?


         As I have said in previous messages on the Ten Commandments, this was a covenantal agreement between God and Israel. Israel received these commandments on two tablets so that Israel, God’s chosen and peculiar people, would standout from all the peoples of the world by their speech about God. After declaring that He will have no idols, God declares that His name must be spoken and heard with reverence.

         From a burning bush, God revealed his name to Moses in an act of grace and mercy. God disclosed Himself, forfeiting His personal privacy, in order that Moses could speak to the Hebrew people, “I have heard from the Lord and this is His name.” Moses needed a name to take back to the captive Hebrews so that the people would know this is the one and true God. As we read in Exodus 3:14, God revealed his name, “I am who I am.” The name declares God’s own infinite perfection, His self-sufficiency, and His self existence. God’s name implies sovereignty.

         As I also said before, our God is a jealous God and will defend his name. Thus, in commandment three, God reminds us that he will defend his name if it is misused. The New American Standard Bible says this, “The Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” So here are several ways we take God’s name in vain.

         First, we take God’s name in vain when we reduce his Revealed Word in the Bible to suit our own beliefs and theories. For people who like the big words, this is called reductionistic theology. When we misuse his name, then we take God to be just another idol. In today’s world we like to mold God in our image. We like to make him accountable to us. We teach wrong ideas about God and wrong teachings about His character. We try to mold God into our current understandings of wisdom, human reason, and rationality. And when he doesn’t fit, we ignore him. In other words, we try to make ourselves comfortable with God, instead of being convicted to the actual revelation that God give us in His Word. There are far too many believers who think of God as being powerful and wise, but they never really understand what it means for God to be all powerful and all seeing.

         Second, we take the Lord’s name in vain by our triumphalistic piety. Albert Mohler, Jr., in his book Words from the Fire writes this. “If we could only hear ourselves talk – such chattering of religious nonsense? Just listen to our talk about God, or for that matter, read our bumper stickers: God is our co-pilot. Our dream weaver. Our life artist. Our friend. Our coach. Our therapist.

         Not Jehovah!,” Mohler says, “He renders no therapy. He offers no coaching. He weaves no dreams. He reveals Himself and saves His people from their sin. He rules over all the earth and no one can limit His power.” Folks, our easy familiarity with the things of God and His own name is truly a scandal among us. We take the Lord’s name in vain by the sheer triteness and cheapness of how we speak when talking about God.

          “God told me,” “God showed me,” and “God led me” are commonly used expressions of evangelical piety. Well God does show, God does tell, and God does lead, but it is by his revealed Word. Many times we speak as if God has given us a new revelation. I don’t know how many times people have come up to me and said, “God told me to tell you this.” People, if God told you to tell me this, why couldn’t God just have told me himself! He knows where to find me. I don’t think he needs a middle man or woman.

         And while I am on my soapbox, this prosperity theology that is going around, is another example of using the Lord’s name in vain. You have heard it. There is a local Sandusky preacher who is on the television commercials spouting this as his motto, “If you can dream it, God can do it.” Really! What if I dream about having a pile of cash sitting in my living room in the morning? Is God going to do that? I don’t think so. And you have heard this prosperity gospel preached on television throughout the week with the likes of Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar, who promise health and wealth to all believers. The only ones getting wealthy are Joel and Creflo. We think that we are so familiar with God that we can preach what He is thinking and wants for us.

         Mohler writes, “What God actually wants is for us to be satisfied in Him and dissatisfied in everything else. Maybe God wants us to hunger and thirst for the glory of His name, and thus to risk physical hunger in order to be reminded of spiritual hunger. God would have us to thirst for righteousness when we often do not thirst at all.”

         Third, we take the Lord’s name in vain by superficial worship. God takes worship seriously. This was most evident if you remember Leviticus 10:1-3, in the Old Testament, when two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, brought strange fire to the altar of God in the Tabernacle, fire that had not been commanded by God. Listen, “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective fire pans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘It is what the Lord spoke, saying, ‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored.’’”

         In the New Testament, in speaking to the woman at the well, Jesus proclaimed that the Father seeks those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth – never the one without the other. As Mohler says, “This is the glory of worship that is Word-centered, biblically regulated, scriptural established, Christ-focused, and Trinitarian.” And yet, folks, many times evangelicals turn worship into a laboratory of frivolities and a circus of creativities.

         Some experts tell us that our worship must be fun and must be creative. All idolatrous worship is fun and creative because many times it is about us, being narcissistic and self-focused. There are times people tell me that they got nothing out of worship. I hate to say this, but we don’t come here to worship you. We come to worship God. We come to bring our best to him. If you got nothing out of the worship service, then you came with the wrong attitude. Worship is what you give to God, not what you take. We live in a society now that likes to be entertained. God does not need to be entertained. He needs to be worshiped in excellence with our whole being. That is why he created you and me, to worship him. God takes his name seriously, even if we don’t at times. There is necessary reverence and dignity attached to that name. Just ask Nadab and Abihu.

         And lastly, we take the Lord God’s name in vain by our manipulative God-talk. You see, we have no right to speak where God has not spoken. You see, the Lord’s name is taken in vain when we say things like, “We know why God did that,” or “I can tell you why you have cancer,” or “I can explain to the nation why Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.” How many politicians end with “God bless America,” as if this is the only country he will bless. Everyone thinks God is on their side. We do not know the thoughts of God or his ways. This is taking God’s name in vain. How dare we speak for God? God has revealed his Word in the Bible that we all have. I think we need to spend more time in that to know what God does and thinks.

         Most important in the third commandment is this: “the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” Very simply, there will be a price to pay if you take God’s name in vain.

         Mohler writes this. “So , does this commandment have application to the taking of oaths by Christians? Of course it does. Does it have to do with profanity? Yes, of course, that is included too. There are many biblical principles concerning the importance of speech and the danger of the tongue. Does this command warn us against the misuse of the divine name? Yes. Is there a list of forbidden words? Yes there is, and you don’t have to have a degree in linguistics to understand why. The tongue betrays and reveals the heart.” Mohler ends with this, “The Third Commandment has everything to do with our worship, with the disposition of our heart, and with our knowledge or ignorance of the one true and living God….God makes total claim upon us by His name.”

         “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”

         Be careful little lips what you say,

         Be careful little lips what you say,

         There’s a Father up above, Who is looking down in love,

         So be careful little lips what you say. Amen.

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