Summary: The word vanity, used often in the Old Testament, means “to empty of con-tent, to make irrelevant.” That’s what the The third commandment is about emptying God’s name of significance; making it irrelevant; identifying God as something He is not.
“WHAT’S IN A NAME?”
I played in a golf tournament the other day. I was in a foursome with three men whom I had never met. (The tournament format required that we be paired together because we all had similar handicaps. I didn’t know these guys because I make it a practice to never play with anybody as bad as I am). We had played about twelve holes when one of them got around to asking, “Well, Dan, what do you do for a living.” I said, “I am a pastor” and watched with glee as they turned white and swallowed hard trying to remember what they had said over the last two and a half hours.
Most of us know the third commandment from the King James Version: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” We usually consider it a commandment against bad language: cursing, swearing and profanity.
The word vanity, used often in the Old Testament, means “to empty of con-tent, to make irrelevant.” That’s what the third commandment is about: emptying God’s name of significance; making it irrelevant; identifying God as something He is not.
I. EMPTYING GOD’S NAME OF MEANING
We devalue God’s name when we take holy things lightly. This danger is greater for those involved in the life of the church. “God jokes” and satire of the sacred rob us of a sense of the spiritual. “A mouth full of words about God can never substitute for an empty heart.”
Profanity from the word profane, means that which is not sacred. A profane person treats life with contempt or a lack of reverence. He is insensitive to the sacred and excludes himself from its benefits. He is impure, defiled, and unholy.
Profanity is a symptom of a rebel heart. “Swearwords …are the angry shorthand for a long list of complains we have against the God who made us.”
A few years ago, the movie Gone With the Wind celebrated its fiftieth anniver-sary. The media recalled the flap created when Clark Gable used the word, “damn” in that movie. Today if the worst word used in a movie is “damn,” its probably “G” rated.
Lord Byron once said of a man, “And as he knew not what to say, he swore!” If we remove the words “hell” and “damn” from our language, some people would have difficulty framing a complete sentence. The late Colonel Sanders of fried chicken fame once said that his conversion to Christ cost him half his vocabulary.
The squalid and suggestive speech that sears our ears must not be magnified by our mouths. We need to pray with the psalmist, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
God’s name was also misused by people seeking to reinforce their lies. They used God’s name to witness to a lie, saying, “With God as my witness, this is true,” when it was not so.
Perhaps the greatest moral problem facing our nation is a decline in integrity! Constitutional scholar Robert Bork was asked, “What is wrong with our world?” He answered, “We have lost our common denominator of a moral language.”
A recent survey was conducted among college students on the subject of cheating. A Rutgers University anthropology professor, Michael Moffatt, led the study. Forty-five percent of the students admitted to cheating on tests occa-sionally, and another thirty-three percent said they cheated regularly. Dr. Moffatt, said that “cheating comes almost as natural as breathing,” and called it an academic skill almost as important as reading, writing, and math.
A woman of great wealth authorized a book about her genealogy. During the research, the author engaged for the assignment discovered that one of her grandfathers had been electrocuted in Sing Sing. He insisted that he would not delete this information from the book, though the woman pleaded for him to hide the truth. The final edit of the book read: “Her grandfather occupied the chair of applied electricity in one of America’s best known institutions. He was very much attached to his position and literally died in the harness.”
God says, “No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence” (Psalm 101:7). “The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful (Proverbs 12:22).
The Pharisees of Jesus’ time developed elaborate rules for oath-taking. They carefully kept the letter of the law, while creating formulas that allowed them to be untruthful. They insisted that oaths sworn “to the Lord” must be kept, but they welcomed the loophole of avoiding the specific mention of God’s name. Clever in their speech, they swore by heaven, or earth but painstakingly skirted the name of God. Their promises were impressive, but they had no intention of keeping them. They could say, “You didn’t hear me correctly...I didn’t make a binding oath. I didn’t use the Divine Name.”