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About this series
God's Boundaries for Abundant Living
Psychologists tell us that boundaries provide security, protection, and self-esteem. Long before psychology, God provided ten clear boundaries to protect His people from harm and give them the highest values ever recorded on the earth. "God's Boundaries for Abundant Living" gives a fresh look at the Ten Commandments and will help you discover God's boundaries for your highest, best and most abundant living.More from this series
You’ll notice on the teaching handout, it says: A study in contrasts - Then and Now. And what I want to do is I want to give you a picture of something that was commonplace. A Levite was a man between the ages of twenty and fifty. He had to be out of the line of Aaron, the priesthood. And that was the section of the Levites that did the important ministry or priestly work.
And one of the jobs of some of the Levites was to transcribe the text of the Torah. And I want you to picture, as you can imagine, a man somewhere between twenty and fifty. At fifty, automatic retirement. And his job was to take the written text of the Torah and rewrite on another scroll exactly what was on the scroll that was given him.
And when he got to the word “Yahweh,” in fact, he would never pronounce it. It was too holy to pronounce.
The vowels were not written in. Just those four letters. Y-W-H-W. And when he got to that he would stop. And he would go into another room and he would remove his outer garment. He would ceremonially wash. He would put on a clean outer garment. He would come back in and then he would very carefully write those four letters. Y-W-H-W. In Hebrew.
And then he would take the utensil that he wrote the holy name, which is too holy to pronounce and he would destroy it. He would go into another room, take the robe off, the outer robe, when he wrote that name. Set it aside, ceremonially cleanse himself again, put on a new robe, and then come back and begin to rewrite the text again.
And you know what he did the next time he came to the word “Yahweh” or “Jehovah?” Exactly the same thing.
The name of God was holy. And what I want to talk about is how different that is. Their mindset and their reasoning then versus today.
Now, by contrast, let’s just imagine that you walked into a business office, an insurance agency, someone doing a few sales calls. Just any normal business office and it’s a Tuesday and things are kind of busy and it’s one of those open-ended places where there’s a lot of desks and a lot people on the phone and it’s easy to overhear and there’s a real dynamic.
And a guy in the corner has made a call and he’s having a real problem because the production people aren’t getting things out. And he says something like, “What do you mean, there’s a problem? They ordered that last week. For Jesus Christ’s sake! Get it out! What’s the problem here? My god, can’t anybody do anything right there?” Would that be pretty common in our day? Yeah, I think so.
The command is, you shall not misuse, or the word for misuse is, literally, “take up” in vain the name of the Lord your God.
That word “misuse” literally means to carry or to bear or to lift up. It’s used elsewhere in Scripture as someone would lift up a song or lift up a poem. It means to verbalize one’s allegiance. It’s the taking of a name, the verbalizing of a name. It’s lifting or carrying something on your lips.
And then the word here for “vain” means with no purpose, void, empty, or with evil intent. So, understanding the what is really not very difficult. Don’t bring to your lips, take upon your lips, the name of God in such a way where it has no purpose, no intent, never do it with any evil intent.
But it always has to have meaning. You have to be thinking about who that you’re talking about and we’ll learn why in just a minute.
That’s the command. The consequences are, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished or hold him guiltless, who misuses or takes His name in vain. And as we look at this, then, let’s dig in a little bit and see if we can’t figure out what’s in a name?
I mean, why is this command so heavy?
Name is synonymous with one’s character, reputation, and authority. You know, we don’t tend to think of it that way but in Scriptural times, ancient times, names were very, very important.
Abram, when God did a great work, changed his name to what? Abraham. Sarai, you know, God was doing something in her life, her name changed to Sarah. We had Saul who was the murderer and his name was changed to Paul.
You have multiple times in Scripture when God was going to talk about what was going to occur in a person’s life and Peter, right, used to be Simon. And upon this Rock. Names are very, very important because names are synonymous with one’s character, reputation, and authority.
Names are synonymous with a person’s character, a person’s reputation, and authority. In essence, God’s name reveals His essence. Who He really is. When the name Yahweh, in fact, often what they would do instead of using Yahweh, they would take another name for God, Adonai, so they wouldn’t have to give His covenant name. This is a God who always keeps His promises. When He’s making a promise to His people, it’s always, I the LORD, in your Bibles, capital L-o-r-d, say this.
And so, it’s very important. He’s not only a covenant keeping promise keeper, but it’s His redemptive name. When He says, the Lord delivered you out of Egypt. The Lord delivered you from the Philistines. The Lord delivered you. The content of his name, Yahweh, has to do with, not only His covenant name, but His redemptive name. He’s the lover of His people. He’s their Savior.
And the third, it’s His personal name. When He met, remember Moses? Burning bush? I AM THAT I AM. It’s His personal name. It’s just not an idea about what He’s done but it is personal identity. I am the ever existing, eternal One.
And so, when the name Yahweh or Jehovah or, in our day, Lord or God is used, God’s character, reputation, and authority, the very essence of who He is. And so to evoke the name of God is to call upon to your remembrance, His personhood, His deeds, His promises, and His very presence.
So, how important is His name? When Jesus was asked by His disciples, you know, we notice that John, you know, he prays with his disciples and the Pharisees, boy, they, you know, they’ve got a pretty rigorous way that they pray.
And we notice You are very habitual about getting up early in the morning and getting away and there’s an intimacy that You have with God that we’ve never seen before. Will You teach us to pray?
And Jesus, in Matthew 6, taught them to pray. And the first thing He said what? There’s a different kind of relationship. When He taught them, our Father, who is in heaven. The concept of “Father” was radical.
The Hebrews of the day had a very strong sense of God’s transcendence and of His awesomeness. But not the idea that He could be imminent. That He could be close. And He used the word “Abba.” It was the word that small toddler children call upon their mom or dad to climb up into their lap.
But then notice right after He said, our Father who art in heaven. What’s the very first thing He taught them? Hallowed be Thy name. Holy is Your name. And so, He’s saying here that His covenant name, in essence, is we’re to take God, write in the word, seriously. We’re to take God very, very seriously. And that applies, not only, to God but to Jesus. Jesus’ identity and His name was discussed. Remember? What shall He be called? His name will be called Emmanuel. God is with us.
The word “Jesus” means what? Savior or salvation. Jesus made it clear. Remember in John chapter 8, before Abraham was, remember? I AM. And He made clear. He’s the Ego emi. He was taking, He said, I want you to know that your view of the eternal God, the I AM THAT I AM, when you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.
Remember in the garden, when they came? And they had swords and clubs and torches.
And He said, “Who are you looking for?” And He uses that same phrase. And when He says that phrase, do you remember what happened? The power of the name, the people fell down. I am He. I am the I AM. And so, there’s real power in the name of God and it’s to be taken very seriously.
And here’s the axiom. Our use of God’s name in word, in thought, or deed will reflect our view of God and our relationship to Him. How you think about God’s name, how you use God’s name in word, or thought, or deed will reflect the view and the relationship you have with Him.
And so what I want to talk about is in what ways do we use God’s name in vain? And by the way, you’re going to learn that profanity, of course, is one. But probably the most serious in the cultural context, this third command was not given, primarily, with regard to profanity, although it’s definitely included.
The primary application of this is in the taking of oaths. And you’ll notice in your notes, it says, in the taking of oaths that we do not keep, write the word “perjury.” It’s a legal term. Perjury.
And the historical context, you can jot down under that, Deuteronomy 6:13 and Deuteronomy 10:20. And both those say, “Fear the Lord your God and take an oath in My name.”
Again, you’ve got to remember, they’ve come out of this pagan culture, no one told the truth, there was no sense of right, wrong, this is good, this is bad. And so, you know, as God is teaching these people how to live before Him, one of the things He wants them to learn is to tell the truth.
And so, if you’re in a business deal and you say you’re going to do that and he’s going to do that. Well, then what you say, “In the name of the Lord…” because, I mean, it is so holy, you would never break your vow.
And by the time centuries roll on, by the time years and years would happen, people would then not use the name of the Lord in an oath. They would say, I swear by Jerusalem. Or I swear by this or I swear by that. They were looking for legal loopholes.
They took the very command of God and tried to use it as a way so that when they didn’t tell the truth, they’d say, well, you know, I didn’t swear by the name of the Lord.
So much so that by Matthew chapter 5 about verse 46, remember when Jesus was talking about, “You have heard it said,” you know, swear by heaven or swear by earth… “but I say to you, let your yes be yes and your no be no.”
Basically, Jesus said, let’s forget all this oath stuff. The whole point of taking an oath in the name of God was to bring about integrity. And you’ve actually taken the command to build integrity into the life of Israel and used it for a legal loophole so you don’t tell the truth. So, He said, you know what I want you to do? Just tell the truth all the time. Forget oaths.
But when you would say to a person, “I, in the name of God, commit to marry that woman or that man. I, in the name of God, will pay so much for that field. I, in the name of God, have a treaty with this group of people that we’re at war with.” It is unbreakable.
On the basis of the name and the integrity of the Creator and the Deliverer and the Redeemer of all the people of Israel. I will never break this oath.
So the issue was, being a person of your word. And when you would take the name of the Lord and then not keep your promise, you were misusing or taking the name of God in vain.
Notice Leviticus 19:12. Do not make a promise in My name if you do not intend to keep it. That brings disgrace on My name. I am, and then you, here’s His name, the LORD, or Yahweh, your God.
How many times have you been to a wedding? I’ve done a lot of them as a pastor and isn’t there a place in the wedding where we say to this couple, “Before God."
When we, as Christians, break our vow or our oaths to God, we are taking the name of the Lord in vain. And would you mind going back if you don’t have it open and look at the very first page where it says we’re not to take the name of the Lord in vain.
And did you notice the consequences there? For the Lord will not leave him unpunished or hold him guiltless who misuses or takes His name in vain.
You might jot down Psalm 15:4. Psalm 15:4 is talking about the kind of man, the kind of woman that God promises to bless. And Psalm 15 opens with a question and it ends with a promise.
And it opens with the question, it says, “O God. O Lord. Who may abide in Thy holy tent? Who may dwell with You?” In other words, who can have intimate, wonderful relationship with You?
And then he goes through a list of things. He walks in integrity and speaks truth in his heart. You know, doesn’t take a bribe. And by verse 4, one of the evidences of a man or a woman that can have intimacy with God, that can dwell in His holy tent, he swears to his own hurt and does not change.
See, the fact of the matter is, there’s times you make a promise based on a certain set of circumstances and then the circumstances change, right? And you know what a man of God or a woman of God does? You swear to your own hurt. I said I would do this. I said I would come. And then, circumstances change and then a man of integrity comes. Or you do what you say.
You know what I think God does? I think He tests us. I think God brings little tests of integrity. Are you going to keep your word? And are you going to keep your word when there’s a price. And are you going to do it when it’s not - you don’t want to do it?
There was a fellow who had a good company out in California, actually from the same town where I was but went to another church. And he had made a very significant, he made a hundred-thousand-dollar intention to give and his business just went south.
And he just said, “You know, I’m sorry. I know you all need it and I know that all those people around the world are depending on me. But, I mean, I just, you know, I just don’t know what to do. You know, this is really tough.”
And, I don’t know. I can’t give you the exact timing and since I’m talking about integrity, I’ll tell you I don’t remember, rather than say two months later. But it wasn’t all that much later, we got a card from him with a check for a hundred thousand dollars.
And he said, “I got up early in the morning and I was reading through Psalms and I got to Psalm 15:4. And I’ve told God for twenty some years. This is your business. And I heard God say to me, ‘So, do you really believe that, or not? If it’s really My business, then why don’t you keep the commitment that you made? Swear to your own hurt, and watch Me take care of you.’”
And he said, “God provided.” He said, “I’m not going to tell you that, you know, everything’s over the top. We made it through a time, I didn’t know if we’d make it through.” And I said, “I just gotta tell you. I mean, obviously, the finances were great for people around the world. I mean, it was awesome, thank you. But,” I said, “your integrity blew me away.”
The first way we take the Lord’s name in vain is when we don’t keep our oaths. Question. This is not intellectual exercise. Any relationship, any commitment you’ve made that you have not kept your oath, that what you need to do is you need to pull out a pen and you need to make a little personal note to yourself.
I need to go back and make it right with Bob or Mary. Or I need to make a phone call before I leave here. Or I need to jot a note to myself and make a commitment that when I get back I’m going to call a breakfast meeting with so and so and I’m going to own my part and I’m going to deal with this. You know what? You’re a human being. You’re going to break your oaths. You’re going to take the Lord’s name in vain. I have, I will. But what’s God want us to do? He wants us to make it right. He wants us to deal with it.
And by the way, I don’t know about you but my estimation of people has often gone up when they’ve owned their stuff that I never dreamed they would. And when they did what was right when it was humbling for them.
And my experience too, it’ll do your soul a lot of good. You know, grace flows towards humility. And I don’t know anything more painful than when I’ve said something or said something I shouldn’t or done something or not followed through and God brings it to my mind.
And I’ve gone back to that person and said, “You know, sixteen years ago, I made a commitment to you and I blew it off and I had lots of reasons and I rationalized them. But you know what? None of those reasons work. I want to be a man of integrity. I want to keep my oath.”
The second way that we break the third command is in our attempts to use God for personal gain. And if you’ll write the word here “pretense.”
This is when we use the name of God to impress other people. I don’t know if you’ve ever done this, maybe you’re a little tired and have you ever been in a little small group meeting and they’re people you really know.
And I’m going to just admit this so I get this out of the way. And, you know, you’re praying and maybe you are not feeling as close to God or you’re not quite as in tune as you want to be and your mind is, kind of, wandering.
And there’s four or five people and, I mean, it’s a prayer meeting at church and it’s really important or in a small group and so and so prays and so and so prays and so and so prays.
Or, like, Saturday morning, we were out on this piece of property praying. And as we were praying, I mean, this lady, she was so moved by God, she started to, kind of, weep.
And you know, have you heard someone in that, “Oh, God, thank you.” And down deep in your heart of hearts you’re sort of at a, Oh, God, I’d like to be a little more connected right now but I’m just not quite into this at this level but I’m going to trust by faith.
But instead of, praying and speaking in a tone of voice of where you’re really at, you found yourself doing something like, “Oh God, please…”
Because other people in the room were praying in a way that demonstrated a level of intensity and sincerity and what you wanted to project was, you had that same level of integrity and sincerity and the fact is, you didn’t.
But the way you used God’s name was in a way that indicated that you were a lot closer to Him and a lot more serious about what you were praying than was really true.
You ever done, has anyone other than me ever done that? Please don’t raise your hands. But that’s, you take the Lord’s name in vain. You see, it’s pretense.
A second way of pretense is to exploit others for financial gain. I mean, Jesus vitamins. Jesus dolls. I got news for you. There’s going to be some people that give an account of using the name of God to sell stuff. You don’t use God’s name to exploit. When you hear someone in a letter, or an evangelist, or a Bible teacher on TV, on the radio and say, “If you don’t give this money, God is going to take me home and kill me.”
That’s called exploitation and manipulation. That’s using the name of God. “This ministry will not last unless you send this money. You have to do it now. God has revealed to me that you’re to give it. And if you give it, I guarantee God will give it ten times back to you.”
That is manipulation. That is misusing. That is lifting up or bearing or taking the name of God in vain. It’s pretense. It’s exploitation.
Or I’ve actually, historically, seen the name of God used to justify evil and prejudice. Do you realize there are a lot of Bible believing Christians that were saying, slavery! Slavery! I mean, it’s real clear. Some people are one color, other people, the Bible.
You know, Cain! Cain had a mark on him. We know what the mark is. And in the name of Scripture and God they promoted slavery, the Inquisition, the Crusades, racism.
There’s a lot of things been done in the name of God, the misuse of His name that it violates the third command.
Jot down, if you will, Isaiah 48:1. “Hear, O Israel, house of Jacob, who swear by the name of the Lord and evoke the God of Israel but not in truth or righteousness.”
Anybody here ever had someone call you from your church and you don’t know them? Or get a letter from a company and you realize, how did they get my name and it sounds real personal?
You know, at our church, you know, we had thousands of people involved and so we came out with those directories, right? With the pictures?
I wonder how many Christians use that directory as a mailing for their business. Or for finding all the phone numbers so they can make calls to solicit business. You know what that is? That’s using the name of God in vain.
You know why you make a pictorial directory and put everybody’s address and phone number? Is so brothers and sisters can get to know one another and love one another and support one another.
Not so somebody, somewhere, somehow can use a buck. To go to a church for business contacts, to make appearance in certain places at certain times to be aligned with Christian things in order for financial profit is taking the name of the Lord in vain.
And God says, stop. He says, stop. Don’t misuse My name.
The first way is perjury. The second way is pretense. And the third is the most common in everyday, irreverent conversation called profanity.
This is when, just, words, kind of, casually come out of our mouth. I’ve divided profanity because I don’t think we want to lump it one big basket into, what I call, level one, level two, and level three profanity.
Jesus’ words make it clear that every single word that comes out of your mouth and my mouth matters to Him.
Matthew 12:36 and 37. I’ve put it in your notes. Jesus speaking says, “I say to you that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified and by your words you will condemned.”
I don’t know about you, that’s a verse that I almost wish I hadn’t memorized. Do you think of that? Every careless word that men shall speak. You know why? Because in Luke 6:45 He tells us what our words really mean.
It’s why James in James 3 says, if you could ever get a hold of your tongue, I mean, you ever get a hold of your tongue and what comes out of your mouth, you will be able to guide your entire life.
Because Jesus would teach that the good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good and the evil man or the evil woman brings forth what is evil. For that which fills your heart comes out of your mouth.
If you ever really want to know your attitude about a person. If you ever want to know what’s really going on in your heart, if you will, kind of, listen to your speech and your tone of voice and whether it’s negative, or cynical, or put down, or critical. You can know exactly what’s in your heart when you hear the words coming out of your mouth.
And according to this, it’s very clear that profanity, the casualness of our words with regard to the name of God is serious business to Him.
So, level one profanity is what I called it is casualness with God’s name.
Last night, we sang a lot of songs and God’s name came up in them. If you were thinking about God as Redeemer and Lord and what He’s done for you as you sang those songs, with that word, you were worshipping Him in spirit and in truth.
If, however, when you were singing some of those songs, your mind, kind of went, and you kept saying the words. I think it’s fine to stop if you need to think about something.
But if you kept singing and saying the word “God” but your mind was over here about a business deal when you get back, or your mind was over here or mind was over here in a casual way, you were saying the name Yahweh or God or Jesus but there was no thought behind it.
You weren’t engaged with the Author of that name. His character, His reputation, who He is and what He’s done. That’s casually taking the name of the Lord in vain.
Or if you’re like me, there’s been times where, in a group, you couldn’t think of what to say and you were just saying, “Well Lord, well Lord, well Lord, I just, Lord…” have you ever been in prayer meeting where you wonder, people can’t figure out, it’s like it’s a filler word. It’s like a filler word.
We pray to God as though evoking the name of the Creator of the universe who sent His Son and died, and bled, and rose from the dead, and will bring all of life and all the galaxies into judgment, that holy, most sacred name… we use it as a filler word. Well, I’ll tell you what, that doesn’t go over well in heaven. That’s a casual use of His name.
Or as an expression of fear. “Oh God!” Or as an expression of excitement. “Jesus, man alive, can that guy play!” And I know what you’re saying. Chip, I think you’re being really picky here.
You know, it just slips out. It’s just a habit. I’m not really taking the Lord’s name in vain. I don’t mean anything by it. I really don’t mean anything by it. I mean, really, I’m not taking His name in vain. I don’t really mean anything by it.
Listen carefully. That’s the point. You don’t mean anything by it. That’s the point. Every time you use the name God or Lord or Jesus and you 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 you, it’s lifting it up without purpose. It’s lifting it up vainly. It’s lifting it up, even unintentionally, with evil intent. Do you get it?
Boy, you know, this is one too, I just have to confess. Not growing up in the church and not studying the Ten Commandments until I was a pastor for, you know, ten, twelve, fifteen years.
Man, I got news for you, I violated this the greater part of my Christian life. Man, I had to start retraining my mind about what would come out of my mouth when the name Jesus or God or Lord.
The second level of profanity is contempt for God’s name. This is calculated malice toward God. This is the line I saw in a little Bart Simpson cartoon where Bart bows his head and says, “We made all this stuff so thanks God for nothing.”
It’s just contempt. This is the Da Vinci Code. This is when someone who says, this is all based on historical fact and they make Jesus out to be having an affair with Mary Magdalene and all this gross kind of stuff. Or the Last Temptation of Christ where Jesus is a homosexual. That’s contempt for God’s name.
The third way, third level of profanity is cursing God’s name. Literally, when someone says, take this in the right spirit, since we’re teaching, “God damn” something. They’re uttering a prayer.
God, damn - They’re asking that the One who has the power to separate someone from Him, all eternally, and place them apart from Christ and His love forever and ever. They’re uttering a prayer: “God, I want you to damnate this person and their soul forever and ever.”
That’s what people are saying when they use the name of the Lord in vain.
And notice Exodus 20: 7 says, “I the Lord will punish anyone who misuses My name.” And jot down under that just before you turn the page, Leviticus 24. If, by chance, you’re thinking, you know what? The first two commands, I was with you. I think you just went a little bit over the top. You know, I think you’re being a little bit too nitpicky.
Leviticus 24 is the first violation of the third command I can find in Scripture. Can anyone tell me. Two men are fighting. And in their fighting, one of them takes the name of the Lord in vain.
You know, I can only guess, you know, he caught a right upper cut and, you know, then he got hit in the stomach and then he got really upset and then he blurted out the name of the Lord in vain.
Can anyone tell me? That was the offense. What was the punishment? It was capital punishment. They were to stone him to death.
See, here’s what I want you to know. God’s name isn’t something to be carelessly thrown about. God’s name is holy. God’s name is reputation. God’s name is who He is. God’s name is what He’s done.
When it comes to our lips, our hearts and our minds need to be filled with who the God of the universe is. What He’s like, what He’s done, and what He means to us.
And you know, here’s the deal. If you, over time, can discipline and practice and ask the grace of God to help you do that. If you never take the name of the Lord in vain, you’ll never violate commands number one and two.
Because there’ll be no other gods before you because you’ll be thinking about Him in a way like never before. And I’ll tell you what. Your means of worship, it will be holy. It’ll be the right way. There won’t be any idols because His name and who He is and what He’s done will come out of your mouth in such a way that some major transformation will have occurred in your heart.
Well, let me apply this as we wrap it up because here is a, I think, a pretty important question. Is, why is it, then, that otherwise intelligent people profane God’s name?
I mean, I’m just going to guess, in a group this size, there’s got to be a handful of people at least who basically came into this morning, had a nice breakfast, thought it was going to be a real nice sunny day. A little bit cooler than you thought.
But it was going to be a great time around God’s Word. And you are now sitting here, in your most honest moments thinking, I take the name of the Lord in vain on a regular basis. And whoa. So, how could a person who loves God, like you, who’s an intelligent person find themselves sitting in a room where you came to learn about the Bible and possibly be someone who takes His name in vain on a regular basis?
How could that happen? I’ve got three explanations. One. The spiritually uninformed. You just simply don’t know better.
Don’t take - help me - the name of the Lord in vain, and I thought that was not cussing. And I do pretty good. I mean, now and then, when a hammer on my thumb it sort of pops out but, you know? I don’t cuss. I don’t take the name of the Lord in vain.
You were spiritually ignorant, okay? Until this morning. Consider yourself now informed.
Second, is not only the spiritually uninformed but the spiritually undisciplined. You know, you’re a believer, you’re trying, it just slips out. Casual profanity. And what I would suggest is, if it slips out, whether it’s casual profanity with God’s name or whether it’s cursing, I would suggest that rather than getting all down on yourself, what I would say is, there’s probably something that God wants to do in your heart.
And then third is what I call the spiritually dead. You know, I want to guard God’s name. But, you know, people that don’t know God, it doesn’t bother them when they take His name in vain.
Lord, I want to thank You for the time together, and God, I confess to You now that I still fall short, and I thank You for this reminder that You are high, and holy, and lifted up.
I pray that it would matter more because You would matter more. And that You would fill in the name Jesus, and God, and Lord with content of Your love and Your holiness, and Your concern, and the Your eternality and the reality of who You are in our hearts like never before. In Christ’s name. Amen.