Is there anyone in America who is not somewhat familiar with the ten commandments? I suppose such a person would be hard to find. Exodus 20 reveals those commands, the third of which says, "'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.'"
The common application is that we don't curse saying G.. D... or use use His name--God or Jesus or Jesus Christ--to express angry or negative emotions or even to express surprise ("O my God!"). To some the latter may seem innocent, but if you understand what is behind why God included this commandment in the Ten, it won't seem innocent anymore. Further, there is another application of misuse or vanity in using the name of Jesus worth great consideration. But before I speak about that take a quick look at the Hebrew understanding of the command.
In the Hebrew, the word "take" means to lift up, magnify or extol, which is a sign of respect for something or someone important and special. The word "name" refers to one's fame, honor and character. And "vain" means to use something in a destructive, useless or deceptive way. Said differently, we are not to uselessly, destructively or deceptively magnify any name or the fame or character of the supreme God of the universe.
There are quite a few occasions when I hear Christians using His name in vain in a way they think and often the hearers think is honoring Him. For example, is it not an issue of misuse, vanity, uselessness or deception when people say things like: "Jesus is the answer to every question and every problem...Only Jesus can heal...Jesus is all we need" or saying, "God bless you" to one in need and where no action is taken on behalf of that individual? Let's get realistic. The individual and his or her thought processes, beliefs and faith are interactive with the work of God. It is most often Jesus and our faith, for example. That's why Jesus couldn't do many miracles in His own hometown. Also, people find some healing in secular counseling and medicine and Jesus isn't going to solve my garbage disposal problem. Almost never does God go against the laws of nature and never against true knowledge, but encourages our getting understanding and wisdom. He expects us to participate in life and our future by cultivating these because they help us know what we are responsible for and how to handle situations that can add years to our lives, as Proverbs tells us. Again, it is most often Jesus and us. That is honest and not a deceptive and romantic portrayal of God who does everything and is the answer for everything. In my opinion, this does not diminish the power or glory of God, but adds to our understanding of our place and the part He expects us to take in the world.
I'll use my name to demonstrate the effect of misusing some one's name in a positive way and a negative way. You can replace it with your own name or the name of a loved one to see how it might feel. Image if every time a person was angry, hurt, afraid, etc., they said derogatorily, "Oh, Frank Mancuso." If you didn't know me, what would you associate with my name? Something negative at least and you would likely develop an insensitivity to my name. In other words, it wouldn't mean much to you over time. It would lose it's intended good feel and it's usefulness.This is what happens when we misuse His name in whatever form it takes. We make His name common, thereby reducing it's effect and power in the hearers. It's a matter of impugning one's reputation by association. In time, associating a "good name" with a negative emotion separates the "good" from the "name".
On the other hand, if people go about telling others I, as a counselor, am the answer to every one's problemed personality or marriage, that I perform miracles in counseling and there is absolutely no one better, what will those false and deceptive statements do to my clients in the end? I love Coke, but there is only one "real thing"--the truth. Either way, if my name is used in the spirit of a fairy tale or derogatorily, it would hurt me and the hearers of such.
There are further consequences of misusing God's name through overstating the work or fame of God. Non-Christians, as well as Christians, experience disappointment, disillusionment, broken trust and sometimes a crisis of faith when God doesn't live up to the romantic claims of who people say He is or what He does. It tarnishes His name, makes Him appear unreliable and unloving and, overall, gives Him a bad rap.
Consider this quote from Benjamin Disraeli who was an 1800's British Prime Minister, "Favor or disappointment has been often conceded, as the name of the claimant has affected us; and the accidental affinity or coincidence of a name, connected with ridicule or hatred, with pleasure or disgust, has operated like magic."
We all would do well to be cautious about when and how we use the sacred names of God. Anyone who cares about himself or herself will do whatever is necessary to protect their good name, so is God by His command.
What do you think?