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.”

- Exodus 20:7

Moving on in our study of the Ten Commandments and their fulfillment in the new covenant, we now come to the third commandment, which prohibits taking the name of the Lord in vain (Ex. 20:7). We might wonder why there would be a commandment focusing on the use of God’s name, of all things, but when we consider the importance of names in the Bible, it is easy to see why the Lord would be concerned with how His name is treated. In Scripture, names reflect the character of a person, and this applies to God no less than it does to human beings (Gen. 32:22–32; Ex. 3:13–14). All that God is can be summed up in His name, and so to abuse His name is to hold contemptible His character. We must not misuse His name, lest we be guilty of this great sin. The third commandment reminds us that to set His name apart as holy is to give Him the reverence He deserves as our holy Maker.

The third commandment is the one modern culture is most adept at breaking, for hardly anyone blinks when the name of Jesus is used as an expletive in movies, on television, or in everyday conversation. The trivial use of this name has become ubiquitous; thus, we hardly remember that each misuse of the Lord’s name makes a person liable to the wrath of God. At the same time, this commandment is not always well understood in the church. Many Christians, for example, tend to think the name of God is taken in vain only when it is used in conjunction with four-letter words. Yet, while the third commandment certainly includes such cursing within the scope of speech that is banned, there are other ways that the Lord’s name can be taken in vain.

One way the name of God can be treated profanely is through cursing others. James 3:1–12 is clear that to mistreat human beings is ultimately to mistreat the Lord Himself, because all people are made in God’s image. To abuse and disrespect the part of creation that most reflects the Lord is to abuse and disrespect the Creator who made us to reflect His glory. There are innumerable ways to abuse and harm other people, but an often-overlooked violation of the third commandment is the sinful cursing of men and women, as the Westminster Larger Catechism indicates (Q. 113). Sinful cursing includes maligning the character of others, spreading rumors and gossip, and more, all of which are lesser forms of blasphemy against God.

Coram Deo

We can be careless with our speech and forget that the sinful cursing of others, spreading gossip, and other such things are ways we blaspheme the name of God. That is why it is so important for us to think before we speak, asking the Spirit to help us control our tongues. We should always think twice before we speak words that might hurt another person, because doing so can sometimes be to sin against the Lord.

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 5:11
Proverbs 21:23; 26:28
Matthew 6:9
James 1:26

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