Exodus 20:7 (NKJV)
7 “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.
Commonly the third commandment is taken as a restriction on profane speech – and while it does have implications for our speech, the commandment is much broader. The third commandment is a stirring warning against hypocrisy.
The word translated “take” in the commandment can also mean to bear or bear up. Shortly after its use in the third commandment, the same word is used to describe the high priest “bearing” the names of the sons of Israel upon his shoulders. In other words, he stood as the representative for the tribes of Israel, taking their sins upon himself in the Day of Atonement and lifting up their prayers on the altar of incense.
To “bear the name” is, therefore, to represent another. So when God warns Israel about “taking” or “bearing” the name of the Lord your God in vain, he is warning them against representing him to the world in a way that is unfaithful and slanderous. Even as a wife takes the name of her husband and can no longer act as though unmarried, so those who take the Name of God are to live in light of that identity. This, of course, has application for one’s speech; but it actually addresses everything – starting from the heart and working its way out to the tongue.
When God chose Abraham and gave him the covenant of circumcision, he marked out Abraham and his descendants as His representatives on earth. It was through Abraham and his offspring that all the families of the earth would be blessed. God chose Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob and his twelve sons to be His special possession, a people called by His Name and who bore His Name. Israel was the people of God.
In the New Covenant, it is we who have been baptized into Christ who bear the Name of God and whom God now calls to bear His Name in truth. For how are we baptized? We are baptized “into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And having been baptized into the Triune Name, having had the Name of God placed upon us, we are to live lives that represent that God to the world. When we fail to represent Him faithfully – either through the worship of other gods, or through unrighteous living, or through the practice of injustice, or through the misuse of our tongues – then we bear His Name in vain.
We also see in our text that God takes this hypocrisy and deceitful bearing of His Name very seriously – He will not hold Him guiltless that takes His Name in vain. Repeatedly in the history of Israel and in the history of the Church, we see God vindicating His Name in the face of the unfaithfulness of those who bear it. And so this is a reminder to us, an admonition to us to fear the Lord and to serve Him sincerely, free from hypocrisy and double-mindedness. We are to represent God faithfully to the world.
One of the ways we do this is by acknowledging that He alone is holy and exalted and free from sin. The way we demonstrate this, publicly and privately, is by routinely confessing our sins and seeking His forgiveness in the Name of Christ. So this morning let us confess our sins – and in particular, the way in which we are tempted to bear the Name of God in vain and fail to represent Him faithfully to the world. Let us kneel together as we confess.