“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).
Today’s passage is one that many people use to discourage vulgar language. But this passage has nothing to do with vulgar language. It has to do with how God’s people use God’s name. First, it tells us not to use his name in vain, wrongly. But notice what that implies.
Ancient Jews had a practice of not writing down God’s full name when they copied scripture or other writings. Even today some people refuse to say or write God’s name. While the motivation of using God’s name correctly—by not using it at all—seems admirable, ultimately it is misguided. Why?
Consider the 3rd Commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7). In this sentence vain means profitless, pointless, senseless. The implication is that God wants us to use his name in meaningful ways. Did you catch that? God WANTS US to use his name. Even Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14).
Using names is an important part of cultural and relational identity. Have you ever heard someone say, “We’re on a first name basis?” The use of first names, familial names, even pet names, indicates intimacy. Refusing to use God’s name is actually a form of legalism that restricts intimacy with God. How can one call himself or herself a Christian and not want to grow in intimacy with God?
Nothing in scripture forbids you from using God’s name, or discourages it. By refusing to use God’s name we put a barrier in front of intimacy with God. Imagine never using your spouse’s name. Your spouse would be offended, even hurt. Imagine if you never used your children’s names? Intimacy with your children would be damaged. Names are important. Using them is necessary for a healthy relationship. So, why not use God’s name with him—with he who loves you far more than any spouse, child, sibling, or close friend?
“For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 1:11).
Use God’s name. Rejoice in God’s name. Recall his many titles and names and let the practice sweep you into greater intimacy with God.