Names have a meaning in the Bible. They are not given without purpose. Adam was given that name because Adam meant “ruddy” or “red” from the color of the ground from which he was created. Eve was called “Isha” in the Hebrew because she was taken from the man-Ish. Abram’s name, which meant “exalted father,” was changed to Abraham, which meant “father of a great multitude.”

There is much in the Bible about the name of God. Of His name we read, “He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name” (Ps. 111:9). Any misuse of the name of God is a sin. It is a violation of the third commandment. One who misuses God’s name will not go without punishment. This misuse includes any manner in which the use of God’s name disallows the true meaning and character of God. Any misuse that is trivial, trifling, and serves no worthwhile purpose is an affront to God.

Various names that apply to God are important. Many of these names illustrate His many faceted relations with men. Elohim, for example, demonstrates a plurality in the Godhead, since the name is in the plural form. “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . .” (Gen. 1:26). Some interpret this plural form to be the plural of majesty as defined by the Trinity. Elohim, a uni-plural word, denotes exactly what the New Testament points out, that both Jesus and the Father are God. Another name for God is El Shaddai. This name means “The Almighty.” Yahweh, which is translated Lord in the Old Testament, means The Eternal-the “Ever-living One.” In the Bible the names of God have a purpose. In the New Testament, like the Old Testament, the two common names for the Deity are “God” and “Lord.” The One that Jesus revealed as the Father is called God. The Messiah was known as Jesus Christ-the name meaning “the anointed Savior.” English names do not reveal the specific functions of God as do the Hebrew names. Nevertheless, they do disclose His Divinity and Power.

The evangelist Billy Sunday is quoted as saying, “Cussing is the only sin the devil doesn’t pay you for.” He meant, of course, that there is no pleasure derived by anyone in swearing, not even the individual doing the swearing. There is one fact often overlooked in the matter of misusing God’s name. The one who does so will not go unpunished. “Thou 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” (Ex. 20:7). In the Hebrew text we read, “The Lord will not leave him unpunished that taketh His name in vain.”

What are some of the major ways men have misused God’s name?

Jesus gave a clear example of how God’s name is misused. “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:8-9). By using the commandments of men in place of the commandments of God, the people violated the Law of God. Jesus went on with this statement, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). These people used the name of God all right, but they refused to obey God’s commandments. This is a violation by misusing God’s name. Those who profess Christ and use His name can be guilty of breaking the third commandment also. Here is how this is done. “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work lawlessness” (Matt. 7:22-23). Again, we see those who call themselves Christians and disobey the commandments of God misuse His name. The Apostle Paul addressed this issue also. He wrote, “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16). The Apostle John adds, “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4). One who misuses God’s name and does not obey Him, not only violates the third commandment, but the ninth as well.

God’s name is often used in the taking of oaths. When one uses God’s name in an oath and then lies, he has misused that name.

Notice this example:

Hear 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 (Isa. 48:1).

This act is a denial of what God requires-truthfulness. It places a false representation upon God, as though He permits or approves of lying. Anyone who swears in a court of law should be aware of this. When God’s name is used, it should be done with reverence and respect. Anytime God’s name is taken lightly and used in conjunction with a falsehood or in an act that is disobedient to the Law of God, it becomes a serious matter.

Paul wrote:

Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written” (Rom. 2:21-24).

The very people who claimed to represent God were guilty of dishonoring the name of God by their actions. This is a misuse of God’s name. It is not possible to profess to be a Christian while at the same time disobeying God. This unwillingness to live up to what is represented by God’s name is the misuse of that name-a primary way of taking God’s name in vain.

Another manner of taking God’s name in vain is to use it in an oath of condemnation. This is done by “damning” other people. This is one of the most common ways God’s name is misused. Those who “damn” others, using God’s name to buttress their imprecation, are misrepresenting God. Remember, God will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. There is a day of judgment coming. It is not God’s wish that anyone should perish. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 33:11). Yet, it is sinful to make God a party in “damning” another person. It is a violation of the third commandment. How often do we hear someone “damning” someone else in a fit of anger or resentment. Those who practice this do not realize the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

To use God’s name in a careless or frivolous manner is another common way His name is misused. Profanity certainly applies here. Often dirty jokes include the name of God. Aside from swearing falsely we are instructed, “. . . neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:12). While “swear” means to take an oath, to “profane” means to pollute. God’s name should never be polluted by using it lightly. God’s name is too holy to use in such a common manner. God’s name should never be placed on the same level as other names. When the Israelites attacked the Midianites, they shouted “the sword of the Lord and of Gideon” (Judges 7:18). They recognized the precedence of God’s name over that of a man. People who use profanity have no idea how God views this sin. Those who curse and use profanity often substitute improper words for God’s name. When substitute names for God and expletives are used in jokes, God’s name is being misused. Our speech should consist of “Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks” (Eph. 5:4). “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Eph. 4:29). “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth” (Col. 3:8).

Then, there is the matter of using God’s name in oaths for the purpose of backing up one’s word. An example, mentioned earlier, is swearing in a court of law. One need not swear in a court of law. Simply say, “I affirm.”

Jesus’ instruction was:

Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil (Matt. 5:33-37).

The word of a Christian should be all that is necessary; no oaths should be used. James wrote, “But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation” (Jas. 5:12). To repeat, the word of a Christian should be sufficient.

Using God’s name in a court of law is almost meaningless now. Why? Because judges and lawyers know witnesses lie even after swearing to tell the truth. The general approach in court is for the lawyers to “impeach the witness,” that is, to make him appear to be lying. The entire process requires the misuse of God’s name. During the Old Testament period, taking an oath was a serious business. One who lied under oath faced severe penalties. “If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: Then shall an oath of the Lord be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good” (Ex. 22:10-11). During this time period a man’s word could generally be relied upon. Why? Because the use of God’s name in an oath was regarded as sacred and few would think of lying before a judge. Look at the world today. The word of so many people is so unreliable that many written contracts, let alone verbal ones, are worthless. Little can be done in many cases because of the expense involved in litigation. During Old Testament times swearing by God’s name was meaningful. God instructed, “And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:12). Today, this is no longer true.

The third commandment can also be broken when human beings appropriate to themselves titles that belong to God. Notice Jesus’ instruction. He observed how the Pharisees loved “. . . greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ” (Matt. 23:7-10). These titles belong to God. The same is true with the title “Reverend.” As we noted earlier, the Bible tells us, “He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name” (Ps. 111:9). Titles such as “Holy” and “Reverend” do not belong to any man. They belong to God alone and should be avoided by men.

God’s name can also be misused by constantly repeating it over and over in religious services. This is vain repetition; it has no worthwhile purpose. Heathen often use the same type of vain repetition for the purpose of detaching the self from the mundane world. God instructs His people not to carry on this practice. “Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise” (Deut. 12:30). Jesus instructed, “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Matt. 6:7-8). Look at the example of Elijah and the priests of Baal. Their repetitive entreaties to Baal did little to thwart the purpose of God in that encounter (1 Kings 18: 26, 29). Elijah’s brief prayer was answered in a great display of God’s power (v. 36, 37).

How serious was the misuse of God’s name in the Old Testament period? Here is an example:

And the son of an Israelitish woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel: and this son of the Israelitish woman and a man of Israel strove together in the camp; And the Israelitish woman’s son blasphemed the name of the Lord, and cursed. And they brought him unto Moses: (and his mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan:) And they put him in ward, that the mind of the Lord might be shewed them. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death (Lev. 24:10-16).

During Old Testament times, to take God’s name in vain was a capital offense. Is the justice of God any less today? Notice what Paul said,

He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:28-31).

Misusing God’s name is a serious offense. Yet, one can hear this misuse in any number of ways and places. The theaters are filled with indecent language today, something unheard of a generation ago. We need to think seriously about this sin and make every effort not to be guilty of it ourselves!