Inside the offices of the largest companies are folks whose only job is to protect the reputation of the company’s name and trademarks. That name and those trademarks represent their “brand.” The goal is for the brand to be so well known and liked that people immediately associate what the company produces with them. There are many companies that make blue denim Jeans but only one Levi’s. There are dozens of shoe manufacturers but only one Nike. There are many “gods” but only one YHWH.
The third commandment reads, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7, NASB95)
We often take this verse as a prohibition against cursing or saying gd damn it. While that is included, it is not the primary focus of the commandment. To dig deeper, we need to consider the word “vain,” which in English means empty and worthless. In the Bible, the word translated as vain can also mean deceptive.
There are several avenues of misusing God’s name. Flippant use reduces God’s glory. Declarations of God’s will, character, or words that are false, misleading, or manipulative – “God’s going to strike you down if you (fill in the blank).” Prophets and proclaimers who manipulate by declaring “God says…” without actually hearing from God are breaking this commandment. So are those who blame God for something He didn’t do. Basically, anything that misrepresents God’s work, word, will, or character in any way for any reason is taking His name in vain.
When putting on the lens of love, what do we see? Loving God means that we must represent Him well. That’s what ambassadors do. Paul wrote, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20, NASB95) Jesus taught and demonstrated this as well, “Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19, NASB95)
There is a verse in Isaiah that sums this up, “Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.” (Isaiah 26:8, NIV84) If we love God, our desire is for our words and actions to reflect and proclaim His glory.