“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.”
Vain – Without real significance, value, or importance.
This commandment for the longest time has meant for me be careful how you use the word “God” because of course, God is God’s name, right? 🙂 The most outright application of this commandment then, since the time of being a child, has been, don’t say, “God damn” unless of course you are really wanting God to damn something. The essence being, don’t unthinkingly use the word God or any other word for Him.
Though this can have some value, I don’t see this really fitting the full intent of the commandment. I think the fullness of the commandment stems around the taking of the name, not in the sense of how we use a name, but in the sense of entering into a relationship or a family and taking on the name of that family for our own.
I heard an example of taking on a name with a family member recently, an aunt, who after getting married was told, “Remember, you’re an [insert name here] now, you don’t have to take shit anymore.” 🙂
You see, Israel, as we’ve laid out already in commandment one and two, is leaving behind the world of Egypt with their many gods and entering into a new world. Israel is learning how to relate to this one God who has just delivered them from Egypt and slavery. This God is teaching Israel that they are to take their relationship with Him seriously, that they are becoming His people. He is taking them on as His own, as He says over and over, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” And with this command, God is informing Israel this is not a meaningless label or a loose affiliation, it is a marriage and to be a deep and primary identity.
For our day, I don’t think this needs much translating but does need clearer understanding. Taking God’s name in vain is not merely, “God Damn,” or “Oh my God,” or even cussing “Jesus Christ.” Taking God’s name in vain in our day is more akin to a politician claiming to be in Christ to secure Christ follower’s votes, a religious leader using their position for their own gain, or someone viewing God as just one of a handful of things that will help them get what they want in this world.
When one truly grows in this command, grows in learning from God and living intentionally in His ways, they will find other identities, other names, begin to slip away… political party, nationality, ethnicity, gender… That is why Paul says so definitively that “IN” Christ all our worldly distinctions are meaningless. In God, if we continue in Him in all seriousness and not in vain self-serving displays, we learn among many other things that all are loved, even our enemies. That knowledge then begins to change us from the inside out into a people who truly are God’s people, but it begins with following this commandment, “follow me in earnest and above all else.”