Scripture — Ex. 20:7
Subject — God
Theme — Not taking God’s name in vain
Proposition — The requirement to not take God’s name in vain should cause us to consider carefully all of our speech and living.
Purpose — Therefore, having considered, not taking God’s name in vain, we should rejoice that Christ is our righteousness in this matter, and so live with God’s glory before us.
The “Thou Shalt Not-ness” of the law. 8 of the 10 are cast in terms of “Thou Shalt Not,” and of the other two (Sabbath and Parents) the keeping of the Sabbath is defined largely by the “not working (Ex. 20:10, Dt. 5:14).” So of the 10 words 9 are cast in this mode of Prohibition.
We have to keep in mind that the law was given not only to inform and regulate personal individual behavior but it was also given in order to function as the law order for God’s people in their culture and social order. In light of this it is interesting that God gave the law primarily with a prohibitive character. There is sound reason for this.
First, the prohibitive (the Thou Shalt Not-ness) of the law deals with particular wicked behavior. Murder is prohibited or Adultery is prohibited. These are very concrete areas that are well defined for Magistrates to regulate. The law thus has a modest function in terms of how it operates in a social order or culture and so because the law has well defined limits so the State has well defined limits as to what it can and cannot do. The State, as God’s enforcement agency is thus limited to regulating concrete and specific evils and so is not allowed to control all men.
The second advantage of this negative character of the Law (the Thou Shalt Not-ness of it) is related to the first. As it is the case that the law is defined, for the social order, in a negative cast, liberty is encouraged. The State can control specific evil but it can not control that which man legitimately does. For example, theft is excluded but the Magistrate can not meddle in the area of honestly acquired property. As another example when the law prohibits Blasphemy and false witness, it assures that all other forms of speech are beyond control and regulation.
Law cast in terms of prohibition (as opposed to being cast in terms of “Thou shalts”) restricts the function of the Magistrate to very precise areas. God’s law cast in this prohibition mode serves not only to regulate man in very specific ways but also it serves to regulate the State. The State is only to enter in to control what God calls evil. And it is interesting that much of God’s law does not have outside enforcement mechanism. In those cases God is the one who enforces His own law.
Remember, at this point we are looking at the “Thou Shalt Not” character of the law. We are asking the question, “Why does God’s Law come to us in terms of these “Thou Shalt Nots.” And the answer is that such an approach is productive of liberty and provides sets parameters for the Controlling agency which is delegated to regulate these very specific evils.
If the law was cast in terms of “Thou Shalts,” (what might be called “positive law”) the result would be, not merely the regulating of evil, but the result would be a far more expansive regulating and control of men. For example, in our own Constitution we find people trying to create this “positive law” by invoking the “general welfare” clause. The idea of “promoting the general welfare” is used to drive through all kinds of legislation for the “good of the people.” The danger of a social order then, set up on the idea of positive law, is that it ends up deconstructing individual personal liberty in favor of a omni-competent Nanny State delegated to control men in the direction of what it believes are the best “Thou Shalts” for the people. God did not give His People, for their social order organization, positive law, but He gave them negative law that very specific evil should be outlawed and so that those functioning within the law would have personal liberty within the constraints of that negative law.
As we come to the third commandment again we might ask what is specifically forbidden.
Last week we dealt w/ the 3rd commandment in a general sense but what is specifically forbidden here?
I.) We would say that what the 3rd commandment forbids is profaneness, and what it requires is Hallowing God’s Name
Now it is interesting that the word pro-fane comes from the Latin pro (before) and fanum (temple). Profanity then is all speech, action, and living, that happens before or outside where God dwells. For the Christian, the earth is the Lord’s footstool and so all falseness in speech and action is a violating of the third commandment. To violate the 3rd commandment is to use in a unholy fashion the Holy name of God and His Holy things, especially we might say in the way of swearing false oaths in or under His name.
Oaths are serious matters that have fallen on hard times. Speaking to a judge friend recently he told me that people routinely lie under oath and are only caught at it a very small % of the time.
So … since oaths have fallen on hard times we would say that an oath is swearing with appeal to the name of God, who serves as witness that a person is speaking the truth or intends to fulfill a vow.
We can swear an oaths of assertion in court, to confirm the truthfulness of our statements (I swear to the tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth SO HELP ME GOD).
Or we can swear a promissory oath, a oath of office, obligating us to a careful exercise of our office or calling (e.g. presidents, members of parliament, judges, military oaths etc.).
As Christians, even if we don’t directly invoke the name of God in our oaths, we are not free to take God’s name in vain in our promises, if only because we carry God’s name on us as His people.
So, if we testify in court, under oath, or if we serve in some office where we have taken oaths, we are duty bound before God to honor Him in our testimony or in our oaths.
For example, I have promised to uphold the three forms of confession. When I sign the form of subscription I am taking an oath to uphold these Confessions. If I do not speak out when the confessions are violated, I am not hallowing God’s name and am taking it in vain. When someone enters into the Military they say,
“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”
Both in Church and in the civil realm we can clearly see that Oaths are not taken seriously. If they were taken seriously our social order would not be on the brink. But … God is not mocked, if a man will sow the wind in taking God’s name in vain he will reap the whirlwind in God’s response.
This casual dismissal of profanity … of taking God’s name in vain becomes both a personal and societal barometer that measures the health of a people and a society. The more men wander from God the more they will reveal their profaneness in a thousand different ways. Not only will language become coarsened but so will lifestyle. The more that men run away from Hallowing God’s name the more they will run toward profaning God’s name with all zeal. The more we forget God the more we will integrate into the void, and the more we will embrace a least common denominator civilization.
Christ Himself noted the special nature of God’s name in relation to the 3rd command when He taught us to pray that God’s name would be Hallowed. To Hallow God’s name is the opposite of taking His name in vain … of profaning God’s name.
II.) And Christ Himself hallowed God’s name being mindful of the third commandment,
Of course we already mentioned that the first request our Lord Christ taught us in the Lord’s Prayer was that God’s name might be “hallowed.” It should be our chief desire that God would pursue the Holiness of His name and our penultimate desire should be that in light of God’s hallowing of His name we should Hallow His name.
But Christ also was mindful of the third commandment when, during Holy Week, he could say,
27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
The Gospel reminds us that Christ died for our sins of blasphemy. Not only our blasphemy while dead in our sins and trespasses but also our taking the name of the Lord thy God in vain after being resurrected w/ Christ to newness of life. How many of us can hear a sermon like this and not be convicted of their own sin and failure in this regard? Do we really believe, that as Christians, that we Hallow God’s name perfectly? Do we really believe that we don’t fudge on our oaths and our living? Do we really believe that we adorn the name of God with all the comeliness and beauty it deserves?
In Christ’s death, Christ glorified the Father perfectly with the result that God’s name was vindicated and with the result that I do not have to pay for the sin of my constant profaning of God’s name and with the result that we as God’s people take seriously the charge to “not take God’s name in vain.” Because my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus and His righteousness, I am free to be increasingly obedient to hallow the name of God.