The third commandment is about the name of the Lord. “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)
So, what does this mean? Well, probably the best way I can explain this commandment is through examples from our culture. So here goes.
“OMG” – This is a thoughtless use of God’s name that we don’t say in the Wilson home. “But everyone says that. It’s even in some dictionaries now.” Maybe so, but God’s name is not to be dishonored. I could get on Facebook right now and see OMG used to talk about how someone’s NCAA bracket is busted, how hot it is outside, how that person hates it when people lie to him/her, or how someone found out that their bf/gf cheated on them. It is used for everything. It is used so much that the last word in the phrase, “God”, starts to lose any meaning or reverence that it might have. The phrase is a stupid throw-away phrase that is so overused that it doesn’t have any value anyway. God’s name should not be attached to such a phrase, especially if you love and worship that God.
“GD” – The third commandment is not about cussing, but “GD” is using God’s name as a profanity. I can’t think of anything that defames and dishonors His beautiful name more. Same with using the name Jesus or Jesus Christ as an expletive or an exclamation. It is just wrong. It is a gross defamation of God’s name.
“I swear to G_d” – Again, I have heard this used in sentences like this: “I swear to G_d. she is the most gorgeous woman I have ever seen.” Really? You’re going to swear by God’s name about something as insignificant as that? Wrong. Just wrong.
“Holy (anything)” – This is carelessly throwing around the term “holy” to describe things that are anything but holy.
I think you can see what all of these examples have in common. They are all throwing around the terms God, Jesus, Holy, etc in loose ways that have no connection at all to what those words really mean. The more we get loose with God’s name, the more we get loose with His holiness and righteousness. These are all “vain” uses of these words – and the Lord said that we are not to take His name in vain. This is not just taught in this one verse, but is taught throughout Scripture – as the name of the Lord is to be held in very high esteem.
When the rabbis and devout Jews read the Scriptures and came to the personal name of God “Yahweh”, they would not even pronounce His name, because they believed it “too wonderful and holy to even be taken upon the lips.” Out of reverence for the name of the Lord, they would pronounce it “adonai”, which means, “my Lord.” Which is why the name Yahweh is translated LORD in your Bible. Isn’t it a bit scary how far we have come from any respect or reverence for the name of the Lord?
This kind of thoughtless usage of God’s name in everyday vernacular does not rightly represent the unique value of Who God is. We ought not to devalue His wonderful name in how we speak about Him. If the second command is to guard against visual misrepresentations of God, then this third command is to guard against verbal misrepresentations of God.
Don Carson says that the third commandment is about God’s importance. The reason that we should not say OMG or GD or use Jesus’ name as an expletive is that it diminishes God’s importance. Undoubtedly, if I said something like, “Please don’t use my Savior’s name that way,” the other person would say, “I didn’t mean anything by it.” Which is exactly the point. He used God’s name in vain because it didn’t mean anything to him. The word “profane” simply means “common.” Terms like OMG, GD, Jesus’ name used as an expletive, etc. cheapen or make common God’s name. Carson writes that to profane God’s name in this way is “at best disrespectful, ungrateful and demeaning.”
We also take God’s name in vain when we talk about Him, even in a context like this blog post, but have no intention of doing what He says. I am praying as I write this that God would show me the things I do that dishonor His name and His reputation. I am praying that you will ask Him the same.