You shall not misuse the name of the Lord, your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name (Exodus 20:7)
Q99. What is the aim of the third commandment?
A. That we neither blaspheme nor misuse the name of God by cursing, perjury, or unnecessary oaths, nor share in such horrible sins by being silent bystanders.
In summary, we should use the holy name of God only with reverence and awe, so that we may properly confess God, pray to God, and glorify God in all our words and works.
Many of us who grew up in Christian homes were taught to understand the third commandment as a call to watch our tongue. As long as we didn’t use any four letter words, use ‘Jesus’ as a curse word, or say ‘Oh my God’ (even ‘gosh’ could be suspect, depending on the tradition), we were good. As long as we kept from speaking words we should not, we were keeping this commandment.
There is something right and true about this interpretation. God takes the use of his name seriously – deadly serious (Leviticus 24). Saying God’s name flippantly, using it to justify our own selfish desires or personal opinions, or ‘making light’ of it in any way, shape, or form is sin. Exodus 20:7 says, “the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” Parents who cautioned children against casual or inappropriate use of God’s name were doing something right.
However, the third commandment reaches deeper than swearing. The Heidelberg catechism hints at this when it includes as a misuse of God’s name, “[sharing] in such horrible sins by being silent bystanders.” Even our silence can be a misuse of God’s name. Not only what we say, but what we refuse to say can bring dishonor to God’s name. This is because Christians bear God’s name as his people. When we go to church, to school, to work, and to our homes, we bear the name of God. Through our words, our actions, and our inaction we proclaim the name of God.
Do our lives, as much as our words, make light of the name of God?
Jesus Christ, who came in the flesh and died and rose again for our salvation, has been given the ‘name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.’ In Jesus, God’s name has been glorified. By virtue of our adoption in Christ, we have been called to bear this name into the world as brothers and sisters, adopted children of God.
Do we, through our silence as well as our speech, misuse the name of God?
Where might we need to repent of the ways we have vainly take the Lord’s name?
Where might God be calling us to speak or to act in order to bring glory to his name?