How Do You Use God's Name?
Dr. Joe Temple


Will you open your Bibles, please, to the book of Exodus, chapter 20. We are studying the Ten Commandments together; we have been looking at the Ten Commandments from the standpoint of why they were given, to whom they were given, and what obligations we may have in relation to them.

We have now begun a discussion of the Commandments themselves. The very fact that they are so familiar to us makes it possible for us to pass over a great many truths in relation to them, so we said we would spend some time amplifying these Ten Commandments–fulfilling them, in a sense. Not fulfilling them from the standpoint of obeying them, but fulfilling them from the standpoint of learning exactly to what they refer. Will you notice:

Exodus 20

1And God spake all these words, saying,
2I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
5Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
7Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Will you notice particularly the words of verse 7, because this is the Third Commandment that we want to think about together. Let us notice the words very carefully:

Exodus 20

7Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Shall we bow our heads together for a word of prayer:

Our Father, we have read Thy Word, and once again we do recognize our need of Thee–a need of the anointing of the Spirit of God–that we may be able to teach the Word so that it may be understood. We ask for enlightenment of heart for those who listen, that they may be able to grasp the truth of this Thy Word. Grant that we may be able to teach it in the power and the demonstration of the Spirit of God. for we pray in Jesus' name and for His sake. Amen.

Importance of the Name of God

This Third Commandment of the Ten is one very familiar to us. It is usually dismissed with just a remark or two to the effect that profanity is displeasing to the Lord. I would like for us to find out all that this Commandment does say. The Commandment says: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” This commandment hinges upon the importance of the name of God. It might be well for us to refresh our memory in some instances, and perhaps to inform ourselves in others, in regard to the importance of the name. Humanly speaking, in the Bible names are tremendously important. Names in the Bible usually represent the prayer, the prophecy, and the hope of godly parents in relation to their children. The book of Ephesians tells us that every family in heaven and earth is named of God. Here we are reminded that the people themselves got the idea of the importance of names by God's attaching importance to His name.

If you follow through the Word of God, you will remember that every time God had a special revelation to make of Himself, He made mention of His name. When Moses was being commissioned to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, as we have learned in our study of the book of Exodus, he said, “How will those people believe that I ought to lead them out? Where will they think I got my authority?” God said, “You tell them 'I Am' hath sent you.” That was one of the names of God.

Names of God Often Used

An interesting study which we have pursued at other times is the study of the compound names of Jehovah. “Jehovah” is one of three titles of God that are commonly used in the Old Testament. One of them is “Adonai,” and the third is “Elohim.” God, when He was pleased to reveal Himself in a special way to certain individuals, gave the name “Jehovah” and added some descriptive word to it, so that individuals could recognize the kind of God He was. For example, “Jehovah-Shalom, the Lord our peace;” “Jehovah-rapha, the Lord that healeth;” “Jehovah-nissi, the Lord our banner.” All these names God gives to emphasize certain aspects of His character.

Honor, Character and Authority

Can you begin to see why God says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain?” He is not referring just to an empty utterance of the name. He is referring to the fact that men, when they take the name of God in vain, are belittling His honor, His character, His authority. The Hebrew word for “name,” which is spelled “s-h-e-m” and pronounced “shame,” is a word which involves the idea of honor, character, and authority. When men use the name of God lightly, they are casting aspersions on His honor, His character, and His authority. Can you not see why God says, “This is a serious thing, to take the name of the Lord God in vain?”

I think the seriousness of it will become even more apparent if we will glance at a passage of Scripture or two. Will you turn with me, please, to Psalm 8. We are told in the very first verse that the name of the Lord is excellent. The Psalmist said:

Psalms 8

1O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens.

“Excellent” suggests “perfection.” The name of God is perfect.

Turn, please, to Psalm 20. We can expect references to the name of God in the Psalms because the Psalms represent the hymn book of the nation of Israel–the book of praise, if you please. Notice verse 5:

Psalms 20

5We will rejoice in thy salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners: the LORD fulfil all thy petitions.

The Name of Jesus

This remind us of what the Lord Jesus Christ said about His name. He, too, is God, when He promises that if we ask anything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, He will hear us (John 14:13). That brings to mind what we remember reading in chapter 4 of the Acts of the Apostles. It might be wise for you to turn there, to notice in verse 12 something that is said about the importance of the name of Christ. Perhaps this is the most important thing that is said:

Acts 4

12Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

Very closely akin to this passage of Scripture is one found in chapter 2 of the Philippian letter, where we read in verse 9:

Philippians 2

9Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;

Recognizing the Holiness of God's Name

You will remember that when the Lord Jesus Christ was teaching His Disciples to pray, in response to their own request, He said, “Men should pray after this fashion: ”Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name: (Matthew 6:9). “The first thing when you come to God,” Jesus said, “you must recognize the holiness of the name of God.”

Psalm 111, verse 9, pretty well sums up everything we have said to you thus far:

Psalms 111

9He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name.

It is His name that is reverend. That is why no man should attach that title to himself. “Holy and reverend is His name.”

Meaning of ”Vain”

Can you see now why I said to you at the beginning of our discussion that the mere matter of profanity does not completely exhaust the suggestions that are made in this Third Commandment? What does it mean to take the name of the Lord in vain—this name that is excellent? This name that is reverend. This name that is holy. This name that is necessary to salvation. This name that is above every name. What does it mean to take that name in vain? Well, the word “vain” is the translation of the Hebrew word shav , pronounced “shawv.” It is a word which has for its root meaning the word “tempest.” Through the years, because the tempest and the storm seemed such useless and impractical things, the word came to mean “Useless,” “empty.” “void.”

If you will turn with me now to Psalm 127, I think you will understand the real meaning of this word “vain,” because it is used several times over in one paragraph. I think this verse emphasizes its meaning perhaps better than anything we could say:

Psalms 127

1Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.
2It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.

Did you notice: “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.” Their labour is in vain. “Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman stays awake for nothing, uselessly; it is vain for you to rise up early.” What does that mean? It is useless for you to rise up early if the Lord is going to take care of the situation.

These verses of Scripture should pretty well prove that the word “vain” carries the idea of uselessness along with it. What the spirit of God is saying here in chapter 20 of the book of Exodus is that God will not hold the individual guiltless who uses the name of God in a useless fashion for a useless purpose. The individual who will use the name of God to no purpose is an individual whom God says He will not hold guiltless.

Applying to More Than Profanity

I suggested to you that many of us dismiss this Commandment as merely applying to profanity; we talk about people who “cuss” as breaking this Third Commandment. I want to suggest to you that, although profanity is included in it, that by no means exhausts all its meaning. I am going to give you four words which will suggest ways in which we may break this Third Commandment.

The first word is “profanity,” and accompanying that is “perjury.” You might say that by profanity and perjury is one way in which you can break this Third Commandment. By punning is another way in which you can break this Third Commandment. By impiety or false piety is yet another way in which you can break this Third Commandment. by presumption is still another way in which you can break this Third Commandment. Those are the four words: profanity, punning, impiety, and presumption.

Profanity and Perjury

What do we mean by these words, and what do they suggest to us as a manner in which we may break the Third Commandment? Let us look at the first word: profanity. I said we should include the word “perjury” along with it, because the Bible does. Will you turn, please, to the book of Leviticus, chapter 19, verse 12:

Leviticus 19

12And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.

“Thou shalt not swear by my name falsely”–that is perjury–“ and thou shalt not profane the name of the Lord.” Thus profanity and perjury are both condemned in this verse as a means of breaking the Third Commandment.

This means of breaking the Third Commandment illustrates the meaning of the word “vain” perhaps more than any other thing we are going to talk about. I told you that this word is a translation of the Hebrew word shav , which originally meant “a tempest that destroys needlessly.” Isn't that where most profanity comes from? From a tempest of tempter? Why is it that you use profanity when you become angry? Perfectly normal people, responsive to God in so many other ways lapse into profanity when they become angry.

I say “lapse” into it, because certainly no Christian who is endeavoring to please the Lord would wish profanity to be a part of his vocabulary. Peter, you will remember, was a good follower of the Lord, desirous of doing His will. He wanted all that God had for him. But you will remember that because his heart was filled with a tempest of fear, when a little girl levelled her finger at him he lapsed into the old habit of profanity which he had picked up while he was a fisherman, before he knew the Lord. It was not that he wanted to do it, but before he knew what was happening, he was being profane again.

Why Profanity If Wrong

What is wrong with profanity? Well, there are a number of things that are wrong with it. First of all, it is a mark of insincerity. You don't really want God to do some of the things you say when you are profane, do you? Understand the spirit in which I say this. One of the most common expressions when men are using profanity is the phrase, “God damn it.” Do you really want God to damn an individual? Do you? If you realized what that meant would you really mean it? Would you really want to see someone in Hell? Well, that is what it means. There is a note of insincerity in relation to it.

Then, when you use such a phrase, you are casting aspersions, as we suggested earlier in our discussion, on the honor and the character of God. And you are being thoroughly unscriptural, for there is not one verse of Scripture that indicates that God has ever damned anybody or that God ever will damn anybody. Men who spend eternity in Hell make the choice themselves; God does not send them there. God does not damn them, and He will not damn them. It is an aspersion on the holiness and love of God to suggest that God would do such a thing.

The third thing that is wrong with profanity, why God forbids it so, is that you are assuming when you use profanity–taking the name of God in vain–that God is going to do your bidding. You are ordering Him about, as a servant boy, to do what you want Him to do. You know very well God is not going to subject Himself to that.

Wrong of Using Substitutes for Profanity

These are practical reason I have given you as to why profanity is displeasing to the Lord, why He must condemn it, why He says He will not hold him guiltless who taketh His name in vain. Now I am going to say something with which many of you will not agree, perhaps, but it needs to be said: It is no more pleasing to the Lord for you to use the contractions of profanity than it is for you to use profanity itself. For example, how many of us are guilty of saying the word “gosh,” without thinking? The word “gosh,” which has proved a safety valve, as psychiatrists would say, for people with pent-up emotions, is a variation of the word “God,” and it is no more pleasing to the Lord than if you took His name in vain literally. We could go on, but we will not take the time now.

Various words and phrases that we are guilty of using thoughtlessly every day are but substitutes for words and the language of profanity. We don't feel quite as guilty using them as we would if we were using the actual words themselves, but we would like to remind you that it is just as displeasing to the Lord for us to be profane in that fashion. I believe that we grieve the Holy Spirit more often than we realize because we are careless with the language that we use in place of raw profanity.

Joking About Sacred Things

The second word I gave you is “punning.” I am using the word “punning” not because it completely describes that about which I wish to speak to you now, but because it is a word that begins with the same letter, and alliteration has its value in helping you to remember truths. When I speak of punning, I am speaking of joking about sacred things. I am speaking of telling stories in which the name of God is used, and which presents God in a frivolous or bad or common light–making God profane, and the subject of our everyday conversation in a frivolous sort of way. God condemns that.

The Holy Spirit has a different word for it in the New Testament. You might like to turn with me now to the book of Ephesians, chapter 5, and notice a suggestion concerning what I have just referred to as punning:

Ephesians 5

4Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient…..

This is a suggestion that all uncleanness or covetousness be put away from us–that it not be once named among us, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient, which are not best, but rather the giving of thanks be the order of the day. Many Christians stand condemned when we talk about punning in relation to the name of the Lord, when we talk about jesting in relation to the name of the Lord. The Holy Spirit says in this passage in the book of Ephesians that it is not a convenient thing at all.

False Piety

Will you turn with me, please, to the book of Isaiah, chapter 48, as I call to your attention the third way in which we can violate this Commandment. We can violate it by profanity, we can violate it by punning, and we can violate it by impiety, or by false piety, shall we say. God says:

Isaiah 48

1Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the LORD, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness.

This is one way t o profane the name of the Lord, to take His name in vain: by mentioning His name and yet not mentioning it in truth and in righteousness. That is the reason why Paul said in his second letter to Timothy, chapter 2, verse 19:

II Timothy 2

19……… And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.

There are many people today who are naming the name of Christ, yet living lies which are inconsistent with everything for which that name stands. We say to you that if any of us are guilty of living lives inconsistent with our testimonies, then we are taking the name of the Lord our God in vain, for we are casting aspersions on His honor and His character, and He will not hold us guiltless for taking His name in vain.


We could spend our entire time talking about that one thing. We will have to hurry on to the last thing I want to suggest to you as a way of taking the name of the Lord our God in vain. It is suggested by the word “presumption.” When people presume to use the name of the Lord when they have absolutely no right to use it, then they are being presumptuous. In being presumptuous they are taking the name of the Lord God in vain, and God will not honor it. He cannot honor it, and He will not hold the individual guiltless who takes His name in vain in that fashion.

You possibly are familiar with the record of such an occurrence in chapter 19 of the Acts of the Apostles. Paul had been using the name ofthe Lord wisely and well:

Acts 19

13Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the LORD Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.
14And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so.
15And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?
16And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

Here is a case of people's presuming to use the name of the Lord when they had no right to do so, and they were taking the name of God in vain. That is the reason why we read in chapter 7 of the Gospel of Matthew, verse 21, that there will come a day when people will say, “Lord, I did this and that in Your name,” and He will say, “I never knew you.” It is not the mere repeating of the name of Jesus that makes it legal; it is the right to use that name, and when we do not have that right, then we are taking the name of the Lord our God in vain.

Not Considered Clean

We are going to stop now. We want you to remember the last part of the commandment: “The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.” The word “guiltless” is a word that could be translated “clean,” so this simply says that the Lord will not hold the individual clean, will not consider him clean, if he takes His name in vain. There may be a lot of cleaning up for us all to do.

Shall we bow our heads together for prayer:

Father, we ask that Thou wilt bless the Word to our hearts now, accomplishing Thy purpose in our lives through it. For we pray in Jesus' name and for His sake. Amen.

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