Watch Your Mouth

Exodus 20:7

July 8, 2012 | Brian Bill

People get mixed up on my name all the time.  Some people call me “Bill” and I’ve even been called “Brain,” though I’m not sure where that one comes from.  When I’m called “Mr. Bill” people around my age think of his sidekick “Sluggo” and start laughing.  I like to joke that having three first names means that when people say my name three guys come running!  I tell people not to worry if they get my name wrong because it happens all the time.  It’s not a big deal to me.  

When someone says your name, the hope is that good things come to their mind.  That’s why it hurts so much when someone takes your name through the mud or attributes things to you that you’ve never said or done.  I’m reminded of Proverbs 22:1: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”  The converse is also true according to 1 Samuel 25:25: “May my lord pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal.  He is just like his name – his name is Fool, and folly goes with him.”

All you need to do is hear the name Judas Iscariot or Hitler or the Chicago Bears and strong negative images come to your mind.  Some names make us laugh like Dweezil Zappa and his sister Moon Unit.  Some people are assigned nicknames by the media like “Octomom.”  Names are a big deal though, aren’t they?  We search for just the right name for our children.  Have you ever noticed that celebrities seem to go out of their way to choose names that are very unusual?  Here are some actual names that I came across: Dandelion, Fifi Trixibell, Jeronimo, and Ocean.  

Other celebrities have changed their names like former Miami Dolphin Mark Dupas who changed his name to Mark Duper.  That didn’t quite say what he wanted it to say, so he changed it to Mark Super Duper.  The musician Prince changed his name to a symbol and now it’s back to Prince.  NBA player Ron Artest, wanting to turn over a new leaf and get away from his reputation as a fighter changed his name to “Metta World Peace.”  I don’t think that’s going so well for him.  A couple months ago he decked another player with his elbow and was suspended for seven games, which is nothing compared to his suspension of 86 games in 2004 for fighting with a fan.

Some names are so well-known that they’ve become synonymous with a product.  For instance, most of us don’t reach for a “tissue,” we reach for a “Kleenex.”  “Band-Aids” and “Scotch Tape” are example of this as well.  Companies know the importance of their name, even putting trademarks on it so no one can use it wrongly.  Related to this, Beth and I saw a coffee shop in Bethlehem with the name “Stars and Bucks.”  Companies enforce copyrights and trademarks because they don’t want anyone infringing on their name.

What you call God is a big deal to Him because His name reflects His nature and He’s spent eternity building His name.  We could say that its copyright protected.  I show respect for Him when I handle His name with care.

Let’s review the Commandments we’ve been learning in consecutive order.  We’re doing this because many of us don’t know them.  If we don’t know them, we won’t be able to grow through them.  I recognize that we have new people each Sunday but you’ll be able to pick them up pretty quickly…if you participate.  Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says that these commands are to be inscribed on our hearts so that we can impress them upon our children.  Would anyone like to come up front and help me with them?

1: Hold up one pointer finger – point to the sky (one God; no other gods)

2: Hold up two pointer fingers – have one bow before the other (no idols)

3: Hold up three fingers – place over mouth (don’t take God’s name in vain)

4: Hold up four fingers – place on cheek as if to nap (Sabbath rest)

5: Hold up five fingers – place hand over heart (honor parents)

6: Hold up five fingers on one hand and the pointer finger of your other hand – turn pointer finger into a “gun”  and aim at the other hand (don’t murder)

7: Hold up five fingers on one hand and the pointer and middle finger on the other – intertwine them by putting the middle one over the pointer to show that they are bonded together (no adultery)

Let’s add another one today.

8: Hold up four fingers on one hand and four on the other – using one hand grab the other four fingers (no stealing)

Let’s listen to the third commandment in various versions and paraphrases:

NIV – “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” 

KJV – “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.”

MSG – “No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter; God won’t put up with the irreverent use of his name.”

AMP – “You shall not use or repeat the name of the Lord your God in vain [that is, lightly or frivolously, in false affirmations or profanely]; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”

NAS – “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.”

Our approach today is simple. We’ll start with interpretation and then we’ll move to application.  We’ll look at what this command means and we’ll end with what it means to us.

I’m going to use the New American Standard as our base line because of how literal the translation is.  Let’s walk through God’s Word phrase-by-phrase from Exodus 20:7: “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.” 

  • “You shall not take” – Like the first two commands, this one also begins with a very strong negative: “Absolutely do not do what follows…”  The word “take” means, “to lift, to carry, to take up, bear and to raise.”  
  • “The name of the Lord your God” – In the Bible, a name was not only identification but an actual identity.  It represented one’s entire reputation.  We could say that a name stood for the nature of someone.  To know someone’s name is the first step in beginning a relationship with him or her. That’s why Jacob wrestled until he knew his opponent’s name (Genesis 32:29).

Look back at verse 2 where we see God declaring who He is: “I am the Lord your God” and in verse 5: “…For I, the Lord your God…”   The first name in verse 7 is Yahweh and means “I am who I am.”  This is sometimes called the tetragrammaton, because in Hebrew it only has four consonants: YHWH.  Translated as LORD (with capital letters in your Bible), it’s used over 6,500 times in the Scriptures.  God introduced himself by this name to Moses in Exodus 3:14-15.  The second name is Elohim, which refers to the one supreme and faithful God.  

God invites us to call Him by name and we can find safety in the shelter of His name as stated in Proverbs 18:10: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”  There are at least 300 different names for God.  Here are some that come to mind: Adonai, Elohim, El Shaddai, Jehovah, Jehovah-Rapha, Jehovah-Shalom, and Jehovah-Jireh.

Ancient scribes so feared misusing God’s name that when they came to “Yahweh” they would take a bath and use a new pen before writing the word, leaving out the vowels.  This word then became Jehovah and then finally LORD.  Only the high priest could utter the name and only on one day of the year, the Day of Atonement.  Orthodox Jews today don’t write out the name God.  When we were in Israel we saw it this way: “G   D.”

Let me just say that while this shows the reverence for God that is due His name, we are invited throughout the Bible to call Him by name.  God does not forbid the use of His name but its misuse.  Even the beautiful blessing found in Numbers 6:22-27 involved God putting His name on His people: “‘[Yahweh] bless you and keep you; [Yahweh] make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; [Yahweh] turn his face toward you and give you peace.’  So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

  • “In vain” – The word “vain” means “empty and useless, nothingness, wasted, with a worthless purpose.”  We take God’s name in vain when we use it in a casual and careless way.  It’s tantamount to saying, “Your name is worth nothing in my estimation.”  Or to give a more literal translation, “You shall not lift up the name of the Lord your God for nothingness.”
  • “For the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”  This phrase refers to “being made clean” or “to lay bare.”  There is a threat attached to the third command because God wants us to know how serious He is about His name.  My mind goes to the story of Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6.  When King David told the men to bring the Ark of God, which incidentally “is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty” back to Jerusalem, they carelessly put it on a cart, which was a clear violation.  The Levites were to carry the Ark using two poles that went through rings on the sides.  When the oxen stumbled, Uzzah reached out to steady it and was immediately struck dead.  We see this in verse 7: “The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.”

In Leviticus 24 we read of a dispute between two people. As they fought, one called out a curse against God.  He “blasphemed the Name and cursed” according to verse 11.  The people who heard this were appalled and brought him to Moses.  Moses had him stoned and said, “Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord will surely be put to death.”

God will not allow His name to be misused even though some seem to get away with it…for now.

Taking the Lord’s name lightly could result in severe and swift divine retribution.  For a New Testament example consider what happened to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.  The opposite of trivializing God’s name is to give Him the weightiness He deserves.  When Jesus taught His followers to pray the first thing he said was, “Hallowed by your name.”  God will not allow His name to be misused even though some seem to get away with it…for now.

For the rest of our time together I want us to consider how this commandment must affect our lives and our lips.  It’s common to think that this command just has to do with cursing or cussing.  As we’ll see, it does apply to that, but it goes much deeper.  That’s why the NIV translators use the phrase, “Misuse the name of the Lord your God” rather than “take the name of the Lord in vain.”  Let’s look first at our lives.

Watching our Lives

Check this out.  God’s name can be taken in vain even when His name is not mentioned.

Hypocrisy breaks the third commandment and gives God’s name a bad reputation.  I profane the name of the Lord when my life does not match the majesty of the Lord.  Jesus had some pretty harsh words for hypocrites because while they claimed God’s name, their lives did not match up.  Mark 7:6: “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’”

I remember reading about a soldier in the army of Alexander the Great who deserted his post in battle.  When asked his name, the soldier stuttered in fear: “Alexander, my Lord.”  To which Alexander the Great said: “You have three choices.  Fight, get out of the army, or change your name.”  I sometimes wonder if God is thinking something like this: “How dare you slap my name on a life like yours?”

Claiming to be a Christian and not living like one is a dangerous deal.  Check out Titus 1:16: “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.  They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.”  I wrote down some ways that we’re prone to be pretenders:

  • When we live in conflict with another Christian and refuse to follow Biblical peacemaking to resolve it.
  • When we have a cold spirit or a hard heart toward God.
  • When we don’t give God our time, talents and treasures.
  • When we allow a root of bitterness toward God and others.
  • When we break our marriage vows.

Did you know that according to George Barna, 66% of Americans fall into the category of “Casual Christians?”   Here’s what he says: “Casual Christianity is faith in moderation.  It allows them to feel religious without having to prioritize their faith…To them, Casual Christianity is the best of all worlds; it encourages them to be a better person than if they had been irreligious, yet it is not a faith into which they feel compelled to heavily invest themselves” (

Taking up the name Christian is a big deal because it means “little Christ.”  When we are called Christian it means that we are called by Christ’s name to follow Him and we now represent Him to a watching world.  We are the keepers of God’s reputation in this community, in this county, in this country, and on the continents.

Let’s go back to the idea of God’s name being trademarked property.  We could say that He has licensed the use of His name to anyone who will use it reverently.  One author puts it like this: “God retains legal control over His name and threatens serious penalties against the unauthorized misuse of this extremely valuable property.”  One of the most chilling verses in this regard is found in Romans 2:24: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”  May that not ever be said of you or me.

And so let’s watch our lives so that we don’t take God’s name in vain.  We also need to watch our lips.

Watching our Lips

Profanity can be understood as taking lightly that which ought to be taken seriously.  To profane is to “treat something sacred with neglect or disrespect.”  A pastor friend paraphrases the third commandment this way: “You shall not use the name of the Lord without meaning something by it.”

I wrote down some ways that our lips can offend the Lord.

  1. Outright Blasphemy.  Merriam-Webster offers this definition: “the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God.”  Isaiah 52:5: “And all day long my name is constantly blasphemed.”
  2. Common Cursing.  When we tell someone to go to hell, we’re sending them to a place that they’ll never get out of.  When we say, “God you” we’re asking God to sentence someone to eternity in hell.  Why would we ever want to call down divine damnation on anyone?  Isn’t it our job to share the good news of Jesus Christ so that they won’t be damned?
  3. Memorized Table Prayers.   I can still quote the prayer we said growing up with the same speed as I spouted it off over 40 years ago: “Bless us O Lord and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ our Lord Amen.”  Beth and I have taught our girls a prayer that we often use but this week I’ve avoided it because I realize that many times I’m just racing through it to get to the brats.  If you do use a memorized prayer, try slowing it down.
  4. Prayer Pauses.  Sometimes we insert the name of God into our prayers like we use the word “um” in our sentences.  God’s name is not to be filler in our prayers. In Matthew 6:7 Jesus said to “not keep on babbling like pagans…”
  5. Careless Conversation.  Some of us aren’t technically swearing or cussing but we don’t think anything of adding God’s name to our conversations.  I ran into someone this week who was telling me about his 20-year-old Converse All-Stars.  He used about three different names for God to describe his shoes.  
  6. Singing Songs.  It’s very easy when we sing to just mouth the words and not realize that we may have just declared our willingness to do whatever God wants.  One commentator said, “It has been well said that Christians do not tell lies, they just sing them in their songs.”  Be careful about sinning when you’re singing.
  7. Gossip about other Christians.  When we pass along gossip about another Christ-follower or listen to someone else who is dragging a believer’s name through the mud, we’re party to denigrating God’s name.  Someone has said, “A gossip is just a fool with a keen sense of rumor.”  Remember this rule about gossip: “The more interesting it is, the more likely it is to be false.” When you hear gossip, stand up for the other person’s name by saying something like, “Oh, I like Ray.  He’s a good guy.  Kay is a super woman.  I can’t imagine she would do that.”
  8. Sneeze Blessings.  Don’t get me wrong, I like it when someone asks God to bless me when I sneeze, but I wonder if we’re really serious about seeking God’s blessings on sneezers.  I guess if we really mean it, it’s a good thing.
  9. Giving God Credit for Our Own Ideas.  While I’m not discounting that God guides His people and reveals things to us, we need to be careful about declaring definitively, “God told me…” or “God led me…” unless we are really sure.  I tried that with Beth on our first date by telling her that “God told me that we should get married…”  Just kidding.
  10. Avoid Irreverent Titles for God.  This week someone told me that I must have a hotline to the “Big Guy.”  I smiled and said, “Do you mean Yahweh?”  It was kind of a conversation stopper.   God is not the “Man Upstairs” or “Big Daddy in Heaven” and He’s much more than “Someone who must be watching over us.”
  11. Shortcuts and Abbreviations.  OMG is a shortened way to take God’s name in vain.  With texting, Twitter and Facebook, we must avoid these abbreviations that belittle God.  I saw a believer (who doesn’t attend here) this week on Facebook post this: “OMG, this is really me off.”  Really?  
  12. Substitute Swearing.  While many Christians don’t use God’s name in vain outright, some of us have simply substituted words like “gosh” and “golly,” “what the heck” or “jeez.”  These are really polite ways to be profane.   According to the dictionary, these kinds of words are euphemisms or even “nicknames” for God.
  13. Jettison Christian Clichés.  Some of us love to say, “Praise the Lord” but we don’t really mean it.  I’m sometimes guilty of saying, “I’m praying for you” when I really haven’t been.

Action Steps

Every now and then someone is caught saying something when they didn’t know a microphone was on.  It’s happened to presidents and politicians.  Would you be embarrassed to hear a recording of every word you have spoken this week?  Guess what?  Jesus said this in Matthew 12:37:  “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Here are some action steps that we can put into practice.

1. Watch what you watch and listen to what you listen to.

Check out Focus on the Family’s website called Plugged In to find out the number of curse words in a movie before you decide to go see it or allow your child to view it.  Change the channel when you hear cussing or cursing.  A newly released study by the Parents Television Council found that profanity increased nearly 70% in just a five-year time span and that harsher profanities are being propagated during what used to be known as “Family Hour.”  During the BET Awards a week ago, entire segments had to be bleeped out.  In fact, there was so much profanity that the censors could not keep up and many words were heard anyway. 

2. Reserve words like “awesome” and “glorious” and “amazing” for God alone. 

Let’s take back these weighty words by refusing to use them for ice cream or a sporting event or a concert.

3. Stop complaining. 

While many Christians don’t cuss or curse, we sure do complain, don’t we?

I don’t have time to develop this but all complaining is ultimately an assault on Almighty God and an attack on His name.  While many Christians don’t cuss or curse, we sure do complain, don’t we?  To read more about the seriousness of this, see Numbers 14.  

4. Start praising. 

The best way to stop profaning is to start praising. Do a study on the names of God as found in the Book of Psalms.  Fill up God’s name with meaning and you’ll be less prone to be profane.  Get lost in the magnitude of His majesty and you may find yourself worshipping God’s name instead of treated it as worthless.  When we see Him as weighty we won’t want to take Him lightly ever again.  1 Chronicles 16:28: “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name.”

5. If you’re a believer it’s time to get baptized.

God is laying a claim on you and He wants you baptized in the “Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

When Someone Takes God’s Name in Vain

Because we live in a society that is permeated with profanity, I thought it would be helpful to give some suggestions on how to respond to someone who takes the Lord’s name in vain.

  • Don’t be surprised when sinners sin.
  • Weep and then worship. We should be grieved when God’s name is taken into the gutter.   I heard about a young woman who started weeping when a man started cursing.  This broke him and he stopped.
  • Watch your words and attitude.  Be gentle.  Don’t be self-righteous or spiritually smug: “I told him off because he used God’s name in vain…now he knows where I stand.”  I’ll never forget what happened when I was doing sidewalk counseling outside an abortion clinic in Chicago. While we were trying to save babies, someone who was also counseling told the security guard to go to .   Colossians 4:5-6: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
  • Use some questions to spark conversation. “I didn’t know you were so religious.  You’ve just preached a sermon.  I heard God’s name and Jesus’ name and you even talked about hell.”  Or, “Do you really want God to answer your prayer?  Are you serious about wanting Him to send that person to the fires of hell?”
  • Point people to Jesus Christ.  Bad language shows how far away someone is from God but it also proves the existence of God, otherwise they wouldn’t use His name so much.  Before I was saved my language was terrible.  After coming to Christ, it took awhile to clean up.  After the Welsh revival of 1904, foul mouthed miners who had been converted had to retrain their mules because they were no longer able to understand their commands without the use of profanity.

Clobbered by the Command

This command clobbers each one of us, doesn’t it?  Our lives and our lips betray our hearts.  We’re called to live the commands but we can’t.  But Jesus did.  And when we receive Him He gives us the power to live them out.  But first we need a new heart because Jesus tells us in  Matthew 15:19: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”  Someone put it like this: “What’s down in the well comes out in the bucket.”

We also need a new name.  Revelation 2:17: “I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” 

And with a new heart and a new name comes a new nature.  2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

When Salvation Army founder William Booth was dying, there were some legal matters to tend to.  His lawyer said to Mrs. Booth, “If you can get him to sign these papers matters will be executed much more smoothly.”  The problem was that he was drifting in and out of consciousness, and often delirious.  They were finally able to wake him long enough and he grabbed a pen and started singing the papers.  After he died, they discovered that he hadn’t signed his name. Instead on every paper he had signed the name Jesus.

The name of Jesus is a big deal.  Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  Romans 10:13: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Philippians 2:9-11: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Will you call on His name right now?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?