In the Lord’s Prayer, Christ teaches us to hallow God’s name. This duty is a great one, but in our era it is not recognized as such. Some of the other commandments are generally recognized as important. As we shall see, this is not the case with this commandment, and repentance is in order. Countless Christians are far more offended by vulgarities and obscenities than they are by “God!“ “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“ (Ex. 20:7).
What are some of the key words in the commandment? First is the meaning of “take“ — this word means to carry, lift, or bear. And second is the meaning of “vain“ — this word means worthless, empty, false.
As Christians, we are called by the name of Christ. Names are truly important in Scripture; they have profound meaning. Throughout Scripture, the saints are called by God’s Name — they bear or carry that Name. “Then all peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord . . . “ (Dt. 28:10). “Everyone who is called by My name . . .“ (Is. 43:7). “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves . . .“ (2 Chron. 7:14). “. . . Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; for I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts“ (Jer. 15:16). “In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell safely. And this is the name by which she will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS“ (Jer. 33:16; cf. 23:6). “O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and act! Do not delay for Your own sake, my God, for Your city and Your people are called by Your name“ (Dan. 9:19). “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch“ (Acts 11:26). “Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?“ (James 2:7). Forgive the repetition, but the point is central.
This points to the central meaning of the command. Commonly this commandment is referred to the question of our speech alone — it is thought to be the commandment that prohibits cussing. As we will see, false swearing and false cursing are certainly included, but the fundamental prohibition here is this:
Someone in covenant with God (“the Lord your God“) has taken on the name of God. As Christians, we bear or carry the name of Christ. We carry it on our persons — not only in our speech. This is what our baptism means. We are baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Consequently, this commandment prohibits covenant hypocrisy, which of course includes a prohibition of false swearing, cursing, etc. But the law of God requires an obedient center. We must bear the name of God reverently, and as a result, we will certainly speak His name reverently. As we address the question of speech, remember the context. Hypocrisy is directly related the matters of the mouth. “For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you . . .“ (Rom. 2:24).
So this commandment addresses the heart and life. And the Bible teaches that these are revealed in the mouth. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks“ (Matt. 12:34). How do we violate this at the point of speech? When we pray and worship, not believing (Luke 18:11), we are guilty. We sin easily this way while standing behind hymn books and psalters. When we speak of Him lightly and irreverently (Matt. 12:36-37), we have offended. When we profane God’s name, or the things of God, we have stumbled. This includes all Scripture-twisting (2 Pet. 3:16). When we take oaths before God in the name of created things (Matt. 5:34), the commandment is violated. This includes swearing on a stack of Bibles.
But at the same time, we have a duty in swearing. When our life and profession match, and we tremble at the name of God, it is not a sin to swear in His name. Indeed, it is sin not to. “You shall fear the Lord your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name“ (Dt. 6:13). “For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute“ (Heb. 6:16). We must live always, and swear occasionally, as sober, serious Christians. After all, we bear the name of Christ. We are, all of us, walking oaths.