Back when my son was about four years old I remember sitting down with him one day to watch one of his favourite kids’ programs. During the course of this half hour program I was shocked to hear various characters exclaim, “Oh my g-d” no fewer than six times. Now that my son is older we’ve moved away from (some) children’s programs and sometimes will watch a hockey game together. Now, during hockey games, one of the networks sometimes puts a mic at ice level to allow the audience to hear the players talking to one another. What a revelation! I had no idea that NHL players were so religious! It’s amazing how much they talk with one another about Jesus Christ during hockey games (that’s what they were doing, right?). So, when did it become acceptable to teach pre-schoolers to take God’s name in vain? When did it become okay to throw God’s name around as one would a slang term?
In Exodus 20:7, God says, “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.” Now, it’s one thing to hear non-believers trivialize God’s name; one might not expect a non-Christian to treat God’s name with reverence. Yet, trivializing God’s name has become commonplace even in church circles. We justify it by saying, “Oh well, it’s just words,” or “It’s just an expression.” But words have meaning. Words have significance. And when we trivialize God by the words we use it has an effect on us, on our children, and on those around us. There is a reason why God included the third commandment among the Big 10. Surely something so important to God ought to be important to us as well—even if such a concern is counter-cultural.
Of course, taking God’s Name in vain involves much more than what we say. For believers, we honour or we dishonour God’s Name (or, if you prefer, His reputation) by how we live our lives. What do I mean? In Colossians 3:17, the Apostle Paul wrote, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus . . . .” Paul is saying that every time you open your mouth you are honouring or dishonouring God’s Name. Every time you lift your hand to do something you are honouring or dishonouring God’s Name. Why? Because, rightly or not, the people around you are going to (at least in part) base their opinion of God on how, as a believer, you live your life. When you speak to people with patience, forbearance, and gentleness—when you live a life marked by compassion, humility, and integrity— people are going to take notice—and they will note, too, that you are a believer. And, of course, people will notice as well when you say and do things that don’t live up to your calling as a Christian.
The bottom line is this: As a follower of Jesus, you’re carrying God’s Name around with you wherever you go. Whether you’re at home, at school, in the office, or at the gym God’s reputation goes with you. If you live in such a way that people think well of God, you’re honouring His Name. If your life dishonours God’s Name, you’re taking God’s Name in vain.
“Lord, may our words and our lives draw people to you. May nothing that others see in us push them away from you or dishonour your Name. Amen."