Drawing Near

A Pastoral Perspective on Biblical, Theological, & Cultural Issues | The Personal Website of James B. Law, Ph.D.



October 2012



The Misuse of God’s Name

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I’m grateful for the reminders of this time of year to give thanks to the Lord for all of his care and provision in our lives.  As Matt Redman has eloquently stated in his song 10,000 reasons,

“Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great, and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find.”

However, in the course of life, we find that Redman’s words are a rarity, and instead we hear more often than not God’s name blasphemed and not praised. God has gone on record in the third commandment to addresses the problem of misusing His name. Exodus 20:7 reads, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”

The word “vain” is describing an empty expression or usage of God’s name.  This would include broken oaths or vows; irreverence; scorn; or cursing.  These violations carry  consequences, “…the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”

“The abuse of His name snaps open an umbrella that deflects the showers of grace God desires to give us,” wrote R. Kent Hughes.

The third commandment deserves some serious thought especially as we live in a culture that has become increasingly vulgar and irreverent.  We have become like the friend of Lord Byron, who according to Byron was described this way, “He knew not what to say, and so he swore.”

The right to free speech has been turned into everyone saying whatever they want without regard for how those words will impact others or how they line up with what God has established in the third commandment.

The advent of the Internet and email has not enhanced healthier communication either.  In fact, many seem empowered by the impersonal buffer of a computer screen to expel brazen and profane rants without a blush.

The profaning of God’s name is so commonplace that it is hardly noticed by many, and in fact, if “done well” is viewed as stylish and cutting edge.

While it may be popular to use God’s name as a throw away expression, God’s Word still stands: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.”

In the book of James, we are told that while we stumble in many ways, if we master what we say, we have mastered life.  However, an honest assessment of the words that pass through our lips in a given week cause us to admit that our speech is anything but mastered.

In Matthew 15:18-20, Jesus said that what comes out of our mouth reveals our greatest problem, “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man.”

Every violation of the third commandment is a reminder that we need a Savior who can transform our heart and forgive our transgressions.  In Christ, we find such a redeemer who came to this earth and as He died upon the cross he heard soldiers curse and blaspheme his name.  We need such a Savior because one day we will give an account of every word we have ever spoken. One of the first signs of a transformed heart is a changed vocabulary.

Thinking about the third commandment should lead us to such a resolve: Of the millions of words I will speak in my lifetime, I will save my references to God for worship, speaking the truth, and building up other people. 

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