What does “not taking the name of the Lord in vain” really mean?

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God's name“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).

The first four commandments represent our relationship with the Lord (Exodus 20:3-11). And the main purpose of the third commandment is reverence to God (Ps. 111:9; Eccl. 5:1, 2).

Believers that serve the Lord in spirit and in truth will avoid any irreverent use of His holy name. And they will not indulge in profanity or any careless language for that matter, for this violates the spirit of love and reverence.

The third commandment forbids false swearing. And Jesus added, “But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.  But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:34-37).

Jesus said, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.  For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:34–37).

The third commandment, also, condemns empty ceremony and formality in worship (2 Tim. 3:5), and exalts worship in the true spirit of holiness (John 4:24). The Jews had strict laws that forbade them from even uttering the name of God yet they crucified the Lord and rejected Him as the One sent from the Father to save humanity. (John 1:11).

Words originate from the heart, so in order to keep our words holy and not use vain language, we need to heed Paul’s advice, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8).

Check out our Bible Answers page for more information on a variety of topics.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team


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