What is the 3rd commandment anyway?


My oldest daughter was at church one Wednesday night at a carnival which she was very excited about. During the festivities we had a specific toy that was given out to all the children. After standing in line to receive hers, she decided she wanted another. Standing in line for some time, again, she was disappointed when the volunteer handing out the toys informed her that each child only received one toy. Her response, in her disappointment, however, was telling. Rather than humbly walk away, she quickly informed the volunteer that she was the pastor’s daughter, implying that special favors were due her because of her familial standing. Thankfully the good natured volunteer simply smiled, and assured her that this news would not change anything. Sad and humbled, my daughter left with just the one toy in her hand. So, what does this have to do with the third commandment? Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses His name.

So goes the third commandment. Many Christians seem to believe this commandment was specifically designed to push back against tv shows and movies that regularly use God’s name as a byword, or worse, as some form of cursing. It seems to have almost no application for the Christian and the church. While it is true that using God’s name in this fashion is evidence of a broken commandment, there lies in this commandment a greater concern; namely, the emptying of God’s name. Using God’s name as a byword is an example of breaking the third commandment, but the commandment itself is larger than that. The greatest challenge to the third commandment is our all-to-persistent eagerness to empty his name of its meaning by representing his name in a manner that is inconsistent with who he is.

The simplest definition of the third commandment is a command against emptying God’s name of its meaning. The word “misuse” communicates the importance of using the Lord’s name in a manner that is consistent with its meaning and character. In other words, when we claim the name of the Lord, but represent that name in a manner inconsistent with the character of the Lord, we are guilty of misusing his name; guilty of emptying his name of its meaning. More specifically, by emptying his name of its meaning, we are saying something about God that is not true; we are, in a sense, preaching a false gospel. Like my daughter, who tried to use my name for improper special benefits, we improperly represent the Lord, and in doing so we teach something about his character and gospel that is not true.

So, how do we misrepresent his name? Simply put, as ambassadors of his name and kingdom, our lives can occasionally reflect a different kingdom than the one he came to inaugurate. G. Campbell Morgan, in his book “The Ten Commandments” addressed the church’s failure:

The last and most subtle form of breaking the third commandment is committed by the man who says, “Lord, Lord,” and does not the things that the Lord says. Prayer without practice is blasphemy; praise without adoration violates the third commandment; giving without disinterestedness robs the benevolence of God of its lustre and beauty. Let these thoughts be stated in other words. The profanity of the church is infinitely worse than the profanity of the street; the blasphemy of the sanctuary is a far more insidious form of evil than the blasphemy of the slum. Is there a blasphemy of the church and the sanctuary?

It is far too easy to view the third commandment, and to believe that it applies only to the one who is far from God and who consistently uses God’s name as a byword. Yes, that matters, but it may not be the most grievous example. It can be our preferred example because it can seem to exempt the Christian who is trying to walk with Christ. We point fingers at those who employ it, and walk in a form of pious self-righteousness without realizing that the greater travesty are those who claim Christ; who enjoy his grace and his benevolence, and yet who do violence to his name and his character with lives that denies his character.

This post originally appeared on The Gospel Project blog. To see the entire series click here.

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