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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, November 16 2023

The third commandment: from profanity to praise

"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). The Third Commandment addresses the way we communicate our feelings about God to others and to Him. It encompasses our attitudes, speech and behaviour.

The New Revised Standard Version translates the Third Commandment: “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.” The use of God’s name in a flippant, degrading or in any way disrespectful manner expresses an attitude of disdaining the relationship we are meant to have with God.

The book of Psalms emphasizes the respect we should have toward God. “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him” (Psalm 33:8). King David wrote: “I will extol You, my God, O King; and I will bless Your name forever and ever… Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised…” (Psalm 145:1-3).

Most of us have at times expressed disrespect for God.The Third Commandment makes it clear that God Himself does not take disrespect lightly. Misusing His name in any way spiritually defiles us in the eyes of God. Probably the most obvious way of breaking the Third Commandment is through the use of profanity—using God’s name in abusive, vulgar and irreverent slang and jargon. The defiling of the name of God—or that of His Son, Jesus Christ—is nearly universal. We should never even exclaim “O my God!” unless it is part of an actual prayer to God.

The same goes for euphemistic expressions many consider innocent, such as “O my gosh!” and “Geez”— substituting similar-sounding words for God and Jesus. Anyone who carelessly uses the name of God—or Christ—in his everyday speech is breaking the third commandment. Even saying something like “Thank God!” can break the commandment if God is not being truly and consciously thanked.

God so desired that we understand what He is like— especially His nature, or character—that He sent Jesus Christ as the perfect example of all that He is. Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father…” (John 14:9). In Hebrews 1:3 we are told He came as “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person.”

By revealing—through His own example—what His Heavenly Father is like and what He expects of us, Jesus Christ has opened the way to eternal life for us (John 17:1-3). The name Jesus, means “God is salvation” or “God saves.” Christ means “anointed [one]”—the same as the Hebrew word transliterated into English as Messiah—a title of the One prophesied to rule over all nations. As the Son of God, Jesus Christ is both our Savior and King, and we can only receive salvation through Him. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Using Jesus Christ’s name in any manner that would bring reproach, disrespect or shame on that name is a sin and violates the Third Commandment. The name of Jesus Christ is crucial to our salvation, but simply repeatedly saying His name without understanding its significance and allowing it to influence our lives is meaningless. Paul told Timothy, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity’” (2 Timothy 2:19), and he admonished “...whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).

Moses explained to ancient Israel that if they honored and obeyed God their example would cause others nations to obey and respect Him: “Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me…Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is to us…?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-7).

Ancient Israel, however, failed to honor God. Through sin they profaned and brought so much shame upon God’s name among the nations, that He allowed their enemies to remove them from their land as prisoners, but He promised to later bring back their descendants and restore them as a nation for the purpose of reclaiming the honor to His name. (Ezekiel 36:21-28). At that time, after Christ’s return, the earth’s inhabitants, seeing the blessings of obedience, will understand the reality of the true God and honor His name (Isaiah 2:2-4). (See the free study guide The United States And Britain In Bible Prophecy for further information.)

People are often quite comfortable giving accolades to God—as long as they can pursue their own point of view and way of life. Jesus pointedly asked, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). The Apostle Paul explained that even some who regard themselves as Christians can disgrace God’s name by their conduct: “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’” (Romans 2:21-24).

It is not enough to just avoid misusing God’s name. Honoring Him begins in our thoughts. We need to stand in awe of His power, recognizing that our existence depends on His goodness. We should talk to Him every day in prayer, acknowledging His greatness, giving Him praise and expressing our appreciation for all that He gives us. We honor God most of all by loving Him so much that we desire above all things to be like Him and to accurately represent Him to everyone who sees or knows us.