Ever wonder what the Bible really means when it says, “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain?”
I didn’t grow up in the church. So, when I first read the third of the Ten Commandments, part of me said, what’s the big deal? Does it really matter if you say God’s name this way or that way?
The command means literally: “Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” That word “misuse” literally means “to carry or to bear or to lift up and to verbalize one’s allegiance.” The word for “vain” means “with no purpose, void, empty, or with evil intent.”
Therefore, we are not to bring to our lips the name of God in such a way that it has no purpose or has any evil intent.
One of the ways we can do this is with profanity.
Profanity can happen when words just casually come out of our mouth or when we use God’s name as an expression of fear, like, “Oh God!” Or, as an expression of excitement: “Jesus, can that guy play!”
Now, some of you might be thinking, “Ok, Chip, I think you’re being really picky here. You know, sometimes these words just slip out. It’s just a habit. I’m not really taking the Lord’s name in vain because I don’t mean anything by it!”
But that is the point. We don’t mean anything by it.
Every time we use the name God or Lord or Jesus and we don’t mean anything by it – instead of meaning it to represent His character, His reputation, His deeds, His holiness, His love, His power, and what He means to us – it’s lifting up or verbalizing without purpose. It’s lifting it up vainly. It’s lifting it up, even unintentionally, with evil intent.
In Scriptural times, names were very, very important. A name was synonymous with one’s character, reputation, and authority.
So, to evoke the name of God was to call upon His personhood, His deeds, His promises, and His very presence.
When Jesus was asked by His disciples how they should pray, He first responded with: “Our Father, who is in Heaven.” The concept of using the name “Father” to refer to God was radical! Then, the very next thing Jesus taught them was, “Holy is Your name.”
In essence, we’re to take God, even His name, very seriously. And that applies not only to God, but to Jesus.
Therefore, how we think about God’s name, and how we use God’s name in our words, thoughts, or deeds will reflect the view and the relationship we have with Him.
When we don’t have a high view of God, it becomes visible and apparent in how we talk.
Over the years, our culture has gotten very casual with our words so that now the name for God no longer means much to the world – and unfortunately, in many ways, it doesn’t mean too much to the church either.
But our words do matter.
If we get to the point where we talk about God tritely and casually, then we are guilty of using His name in vain.
Jesus’ words make it clear that every single word that comes out of our mouths matters to Him. In Matthew 12:36-37, He says,
“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
To learn more about God’s Ten Commandments and what it means to take the Lord’s name in vain, check out Chip Ingram’s series God’s Boundaries for Abundant Living.
Founder & Teaching Pastor, Living on the Edge
Chip Ingram is the CEO and teaching pastor of Living on the Edge, an international teaching and discipleship ministry. A pastor for over thirty years, Chip has a unique ability to communicate truth and challenge people to live out their faith. He is the author of many books, including The Real God, Culture Shock and The Real Heaven. Chip and his wife, Theresa, have four grown children and twelve grandchildren and live in California.More Articles by Chip