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Say it Like You mean It: The Third Commandment
Deuteronomy 5:11 – God: The Center of it All – April 5, 2020


This morning we’re continuing our series from Deuteronomy. But next Sunday is Easter, Resurrection Sunday. To help us prepare, readings on the blog. This Friday night from 7-7:30pm we’ll stream a brief service for Good Friday. A few songs and a reflection on the crucifixion.

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Yesterday as a sign that life hasn’t completely stopped, Joshua Taylor and Rebekah Taylor got married. Show Picture #1.

And as a reminder of WHEN they got married…Show Picture #2.

When a couple gets married it’s common for the wife to take the last name of the husband. He in a sense gives his name to her. She takes his name. And if they’re truly married, then this has not been in vain. He’s  excited to give his name to her. She’s excited to take it.

Sign that these two belong together. They are a couple. A family. He is hers. She is his.

This is a picture of what we’re talking about this morning with the 3rd Commandment. “You shall not take the name of the LORD Your God in vain.”

Taking the Lord’s name has to do with our speech, not flippantly saying God’s name. But it’s also our very lives. God has placed his name upon us. We’re to live in such a way consistent with that. If we do this we’re not taking his name in vain.

Our series in Deuteronomy, “God: The Center of it All.” What does it mean to have God at the center of it all? This morning we learn that it means we treat his name carefully.



I. The Third Commandment Itself

“‘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. (Deut 5:11)

Not an easy verse to translate. Doesn’t reduce easily to a single idea. It’s expansive.

Verb “take” can be “lift up” like you do in worship, lifting up his name. Or “bear his name” as a marker that we belong to the Lord. We have adopted the name “Christian,” which is really to bear the name of Christ on us.

God’s “name” is no small thing. One of the things that sets Israel apart from all other nations is that God revealed his name to them.

Names reveal a little about us….or our parents….ethnicity. Daniel Baker says English, a bread baker somewhere centuries ago. But to predict much about me from my name is a wild guess.

God’s names in the Bible are different. He uses his names to reveal important truth about himself. They tell us what he’s like, what kind of being he is. When he shares his name with us he’s sharing himself. He is…

  • Elohim, “God.” Creator and Supreme Being.
  • Adonai, “Master, Lord.”
  • YHWH, connected to “I AM WHO I AM” (Exod 3:14).
  • YHWH-Yireh, “The Lord who provides” (Gen 22:14).
  • El Shaddai, “God Almighty” (Gen 17:1).
  • YHWH Rophe, “Lord your healer” (Exod 15:26).

The names of Jesus reveal things about him as well:

  • “The Son”
  • “The Christ”
  • “The Lord”
  • “The Good Shepherd”
  • “The Light of the World”
  • “Lord of lords and King of kings.”

This name we aren’t to take up or bear “in vain.” English translations approach the phrase differently. They help us to see the range of possibilities:

Different English Translations for Deut 5:11:
“…takes his name in vain.” (ESV, KJV, NKJV, NASB)
“…make use of the name…for worthless purposes…abuses his name.” (NET)
“…misuses his name.” (NIV, NLT, CSB)
“…make wrongful use of the name…misuses his name.” (NRSV)
“…misuse the name…uses his name for what is false.” (NJB)

Taking the Lord’s name in vain (ESV) means taking his name and attach it to something “worthless” (NET) or “wrongful” (NRSV) or “false” (NJB). Doing that you’re “misusing” (NIV) or “abusing” (NET) it. In different ways it means taking the name of the LORD and then attaching it something that tarnishes it.

In very vernacular terms, God cares about his brand. He will not tolerate us taking his name and attaching it to whatever we want.

In the business world if you take an established and proven and respected brand and slap on something they don’t produce or support, lawsuits happen quickly and furiously. Companies go to great lengths to see that their name is handled carefully. In the language of the 3rd commandment, “A company will not hold him guitlless who misuses its name.”

God ends the commandment with a threat: Anyone who does this will be called to account. He will not be without guilt. He will be declared guilty by the Lord. It’s God’s way of saying, “This is a big deal. Don’t play around with this.”

What are some ways we can break the Third Commandment? Let’s look at a few…


II. Ways to Break the Third Commandment

First is the most direct: blasphemy. Here you’re speaking deliberately false or derogatory things about God himself. The OT punishment for this was severe. Leviticus 24:

Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death. (Lev 24:16)

The nation was to treat blasphemy like it was a potential virus that could spread throughout all the people. It needed to be dealt with quickly and completely.

But here we can also add the more common understanding of blasphemy where you use God’s name to give your words more punch. More impact.

Make your anger more satisfying. Or excitement to be more emphatic. But we can’t use the Lord’s name as a spice to liven up our speech. It’s a sacred thing.  

A part of so many tv shows and movies. Maybe as a parent you’ve had this experience. My son and friend wanted to watch a recent movie I knew nothing about. I was uncomfortable. So I thought, why not The Bad News Bears. Cute kids movie. A long time since I’d seen it. Didn’t do normal research on Next day they informed me of just how many cuss words and times Lord’s name taken in vain. Dozens. Oops.

There’s ways Christians try and dance around this. You’ve had those awkward moments where someone slowly gets out, “Oh my Gawwwwww…” For the sake of the rest of us, don’t do that.  

Other ways we can attach his name to unworthy things. One is when we attach his name to falsehoods, lies. We do this when we swear to do something or speak truth and then we don’t. Leviticus 19:

You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. (Lev 19:12)

This happens with perjury. In a court of law with sworn testimony you “swear…to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; so help you, God.” If you swear to tell the truth and then lie you aren’t just a liar. You also “profane the name of your God” (Lev 19:12).

Even in North Carolina law is an echo of this idea. These were passed in the original 1777 statutes but are still there in chapter 11:

11-1. Oaths and affirmations to be administered with solemnity.
Whereas, lawful oaths for discovery of truth and establishing right are necessary and highly conducive to the important end of good government; and being most solemn appeals to Almighty God, as the omniscient witness of truth and the just and omnipotent avenger of falsehood, and whereas, lawful affirmations for the discovery of truth and establishing right are necessary and highly conducive to the important end of good government, therefore, such oaths and affirmations ought to be taken and administered with the utmost solemnity. (1777)

11-3….I, A.B., do appeal to God, as a witness of the truth and the avenger of falsehood, as I shall answer the same at the great day of judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shall be known (etc., as the words of the oath may be). (1777)

Eventually this oath was replaced with do “you swear (or affirm) that the evidence you shall give…shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; so help you, God”?

In the older laws, little bit the newer oath, you can hear the echo of the 3rd commandment. Truth-telling and God’s name are to go together.

We also misuse his name when we slap it onto our ideas, plans, decisions.

The elders make a decision that seems right to us. We can’t slap the Lord’s name on it as if, “This is the Lord’s will and to do otherwise is to be outside of his will, to be opposed to God.”

Jeannette Matthews, an Australian OT scholar, reminds us that we can do this:

When individual Christians claim that God has given authority to their words or actions, “invoking the name of God as a kind of rubber stamp for one’s words to claim an authority or validity that otherwise would not be present,” as Patrick Miller puts it, the name of God has been lifted up wrongfully.
Jeanette Matthews, “The Third Commandment: Lifting the Lord’s Name”

Related to attaching his name to falsehoods is attaching his name to false prophesies. Deuteronomy 18 and Jeremiah 23:

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ (Deut 18:20)

I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ (Jer 23:25)

It’s one thing to think you’ve heard from God and then speak it. That’s a sincere mistake. In a church like ours that believes in prophecy, that can happen.

These verses are speaking of a different situation. This is when someone knows they haven’t heard from God and speak out a word as if they have. There’s deception involved. Not just self-deception but true deception.

The Jeremiah passage has the prophet lying about a dream they had where they slap on it, “The Lord gave me a dream.” Doing that is misusing his name.

Fourth is the hardest one and the most humbling one. It’s hypocrisy. How we live. When you call yourself a Christian you’re taking on the name of Christ. How we live as Christians is often not fitting of the name of Christ. In Matthew 7 Jesus speaks to a more extreme version of this:  

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matt 7:21–23)

Public words, public actions, public claims they had the name of Jesus. But spiritually they were dead as stones. That’s a profound disconnect. The name doesn’t fit the thing.

Notice what Jesus says, “I never knew you.” Not, “You never me.” They didn’t. But Jesus says, “I never knew you.” He means, “I never had a true relationship with you. I know all things and always knew what you were doing and why. But I never knew you in a saving and real relationship.”

Michael Horton (The Law of Perfect Freedom) reminds us that hypocrisy is no new temptation. Here he quotes Stephen Charnock who died 1680:

“It is,” wrote Puritan Stephen Charnock, “a sad thing to be a Christian at a supper, heathens in our shops, and devils in our closets.” We bring disgrace to the name of God when we profess much and possess little. Self-righteousness is the greatest gift of all, but it is rendered even more grotesque when it combines with hypocrisy. No self-righteousness person has ever attained the righteousness of which he boasts, so when he falls his fall is great. Everyone notices, and not a few take pleasure in it.
Michael S. Horton, The Law of Perfect Freedom

God, help us not live this kind of hypocritical life!

But what about the name of Jesus? Does his name get treated differently in the NT than God’s name in the OT?


III. The Third Commandment and the Name of Jesus

The emphasis in the NT is not what to avoid by taking Jesus’ name in vain. The emphasis is on the power of it. The difference his name makes.

One example of lifting up his name in ways that glorify him is in Acts 3–4. These two chapters are filled with references to the “name” of Jesus and what it means to us.

See this in Acts 3 with the healing of the paralytic. Jesus’ name is infinitely better than any silver or gold. There is healing in his name. Here are Peter’s words:

But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!....And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all. (Acts 3:6, 16)

Take up his name as you pray for people. Pray for healing in Jesus’ name. “His name” brought the healing, “faith in his name.”

The Jewish leaders don’t appreciate what just happened. Far from it. They call a trial and ask Peter and John, “By what name did you do this?” (4:7). Peter is “filled with the Spirit” and then gives a powerful answer:

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:8–12)

You see that? It’s just not healing. It’s also “salvation” in his name. His is the only “name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Faith in his name brings “forgiveness of sins” (10:43).

Peter’s words reminds us take the name of Jesus—not in vain or for worthless purposes. But take his name because it brings healing. Take his name because it brings salvation. Take his name because it brings forgiveness!

It is truly the name above every name. No other name under heaven can do that. Only the name of Jesus.

And if you’re sobered by the reality of your hypocrisy then know his name is also the hope for hypocrites. If hypocrisy is having his name but not living like it, remember the name of Jesus that brings “forgiveness of sins” is the hope for hypocrites. The power in his name that heals is the power we need to live holy lives.



As we close a question and an encouragement.

First, the question: Does your speech communicate that the name of God is sacred to you? Not in some odd, superstitious way where you never actually say his name. But do you talk about him in ways honoring to him?

Second is an encouragement. Revelation adds a twist to this idea of taking God’s name. Identifies Christians as those who have God’s name on them. Almost a literal way. Revelation 22:  

They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. (Rev 22:4)

No need to imagine some Hebrew or Greek language tattooed on our foreheads. Reminder that we are his, we belong to him, we are his people. We are sealed by Christ and are protected by Christ.

In Revelation you’re either marked with the mark of the beast (Rev 13:15–18) or the name of the Father and the Son (22:4). Those marked as enemies of God will be judged and punished. Those marked with the name of the Father and Son will “see his face” and behold him forever. They will enjoy the salvation that Christ purchased for those “who believe in his name” (John 1:12).

May our lives be consistent with his name that is upon us.

Prayer and closing song