The third of the Ten Commandments says this:
“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 (ESV)
Growing up, this commandment was considered satisfied as long as a person didn’t use the words, “God,” “Jesus,” or “Christ” in an oath or curse. While I agree that using these words in curses, exclamations of surprise or expressions of frustration are violations of this command, it seems that the command goes so much deeper.
I have long thought that what God is asking of us in this command is that we don’t do anything to misrepresent His character to those around us.
The Nation of Israel in the Old Testament, and the Church in the New, are called to be a witness to those who surround us. We are called to accurately reflect God’s character to those who are not yet in relationship with him.
Yet, sometimes what happens in churches misrepresents the very God we worship.
I grew up in church systems where harsh (and sometimes abusive) discipline of children, if not encouraged, was certainly tolerated even when it was done by church leaders. I grew up in church systems where external compliance to an arbitrary system of rules was more important than developing a godly character or the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). I grew up in church systems where leaders were more concerned about their own reputations than how they represented the God they claimed to worship.
Basically, I grew up in Church systems that portrayed God as a taskmaster who only cared about external compliance to a set of arbitrary rules and did not actually care about the well-being of those who worship him.
It has taken me years of reflection and counseling to overcome some of the false messages about God that I internalized as a child. Violation of the third command by church leaders caused significant damage to my soul.
Because of the consequences of misrepresenting God, those of us who consider ourselves church leaders should take the third commandment to heart.
Am I, in my words and actions, demonstrating the love of God for the world He created? Do I demonstrate a desire to represent the holiness of God along with his love of humanity? Am I living in a way that brings glory to the God I claim to worship?
Truthfully, the answer to these questions is not always in the affirmative. Like everyone else, I fail in these things and often have a need for repentance.
But my inability to keep the commandment does not nullify it.