Watch Your Mouth

Exodus 20:7

May 15, 2021 | 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 having three first names means 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 for good things to come to their mind.  That’s why it hurts so much when someone drags your name through the mud or attributes things to you you’ve never said or done.  I’m reminded of Proverbs 22:1: “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches; and favor is better than silver or gold.”  The converse is also true according to 1 Samuel 25:25: “Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he.  Nabal is his name, and folly is with him…”

Some names are so well-known they’ve become synonymous with a product.  For instance, most of us don’t look for a “tissue,” we reach for a “Kleenex.”  “Band-Aids” and “Scotch Tape” are examples of this as well.  Companies know the importance of their name, even putting trademarks on it so no one can use it wrongly.  

What we call God is a big deal to Him because His name reflects His nature.  He’s spent eternity building His name.  We could say God’s name is copyright protected.  

The second commandment prohibits wrong worship of God while the third commandment forbids wrong words about God.  Some of us think this command is easy to keep because we don’t cuss or curse (at least out loud).  As long as we don’t use God’s name as a swear word, we can skate on this one, right?  Actually, most of us break this command all the time.  It’s concise but quite convicting.  Listen to Exodus 20:7: “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.”  We could say it like this: When we see God as weighty, we won’t want to take His name lightly.

We’re encouraging everyone to take a bookmark and work at memorizing the 10 Commandments.  If you are ready to recite them from memory, please stand with me.  By the end of the series, I’m hoping we’ll all be able to stand and quote them.

  1. One God
  2. No idols
  3. Revere His Name
  4. Remember to Rest
  5. Honor Parents
  6. No murder
  7. No adultery
  8. No stealing
  9. No lying
  10. No coveting

I love hearing how families are utilizing the 10 Commandments as part of their discipleship.  I saw a post this week from Nate and Shannon Weaver showing Daniel, their two-year-old, standing in front of their refrigerator pointing to this bookmark.  This is part of what Shannon posted: Trying to memorize the 10 Commandments and not only memorize them but discuss them as well…when we were faced with a moment where correction was needed, the bookmark with the 10 commandments was brought out and discussed.”

I was so impressed with their intentional parenting I asked if I could share the post. I’m hoping it will encourage each of us to take these commands written in stone and imprint them on our hearts and in our homes.  Here’s part of a message Shannon sent me: “I took this picture because this is a 2-year-old trying to learn the 10 Commandments…and he WANTS to learn them…we have these bookmarks in the car and I have one by my computer at work.  Our bookmark is taken off the fridge so much it needs tape to be constantly replaced…this child loves Jesus, won’t eat until we have prayed, wakes up and wants to read his devotional.”

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 conclude with what it means to us.

Let’s walk through Exodus 20:7 phrase-by-phrase so we learn how to revere His name: “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.”

  • “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” comes from the courtroom and means, “to lift, to carry, to take up, bear and to raise.”  
  • “the name.”   In the surrounding cultures of Israel, knowing the name of a god gave one access and influence.  Even more so, knowing the name of the one true covenant-keeping God gave His people the special privilege of having access to Him.  In the Bible, a name was not only identification but an actual identity.  It represented one’s entire reputation.  A name stood for the nature of someone.  God’s name represents the totality of who He is and what He does.  
  • “of the LORD your God.”  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.”  The second name is Elohim, which means, “Mighty One” and refers to the one supreme and faithful God.  

God invites us to call Him by name and to 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 man runs into it and is safe.”  There are at least 300 different self-revealed names of God.  Some that come to mind are Adonai, Elohim, El Shaddai, Jehovah, Jehovah-Rapha, Jehovah-Shalom, and Jehovah-Jireh.

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] lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.’  So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

  • “in vain.”   The word “vain” means “empty, insincere, useless, wasted, with a worthless purpose.”  It refers to being “empty of content or void of meaning.”  We take God’s name in vain when we use it in a frivolous, casual, or careless way.  It’s tantamount to saying, “Your name is worth nothing in my estimation.”  More literally, it means, “You shall not lift up the name of the Lord your God for nothingness.”  

According to Leviticus 22:32 in the NLT, God is deeply offended when we empty His name of meaning: “Do not treat my holy name as common and ordinary.  I must be treated as holy.”  

  • “For the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”  The word “guiltless” means, “to be made clean” or “to lay bare.”  God wants us to know how serious He is about His name.  Ray Pritchard writes, “God is not a toy you can play with casually and then put back on the shelf.  It’s like those warning signs that say, ‘Danger!  High Voltage!’  If you ignore the sign, you will soon be electrocuted.  The Third Commandment is saying, ‘Danger!  God is a live wire!  Do not touch or trifle with Him.’”

In Leviticus 24 we read of a dispute between two people.  According to verse 11, as they fought, one “blasphemed the Name and cursed.”  The people who heard this were appalled and brought him to Moses.  Moses had him stoned and said, “Whoever curses his God shall surely be put to death.”

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.  God will not allow His name to be misused.  Those who treat God’s name as empty will stand empty before Him.

Before moving on, the word “takes” refers to a person who habitually takes God’s name in vain.  This is comforting because we’ve all fallen into this sin at one time or another.

For the rest of our time, let’s consider how this commandment must affect our lives and our lips.  It’s common to think this command just has to do with cursing or cussing.  As we’ll see, it certainly covers that, but it goes much deeper.  

Watching our Lives

Do you know it’s possible for God’s name to be taken in vain even when His name is not uttered verbally?

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 Almighty.  Jesus had some harsh words for hypocrites in Mark 7:6: “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.’”

Jen Wilken writes, “We can also misuse the name of the Lord by speaking hallowed words while living hollow lives.  When we preach a moral code that we ourselves do not strive to uphold, we become just like those Jesus railed against in His ministry – a people who honor God with our lips, but whose hearts are far from Him.”

When a soldier of Alexander the Great deserted his post in battle, Alexander asked for the soldier’s 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.”  

Claiming to be a Christian in name and not living like one is a dangerous deal because this is a way of taking God’s name in vain.  Check out Titus 1:16: “They profess to know God, but by they deny him by their works.  They are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for any good work.”  Can people tell Jesus is your Lord by looking at your life or are you playing spiritual charades?

To claim to be a Christian means we are called by Christ’s name and are striving to follow Him

Taking up the name Christian is an honor because it means “little Christ.”  To claim to be a Christian means we are called by Christ’s name and are striving to follow Him.  We are the keepers of God’s reputation in our neighborhood and among the nations.  One of the most chilling verses in this regard is written to religious people in Romans 2:24: “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”  May that not ever be said of you or me.

Let’s go back to the idea of God’s name being trademarked property.  We could say 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.”  

Let’s watch our lives and not walk in worldliness.  Now let’s look at 15 ways we need to watch the words that come across our lips.

Let’s come back to our main idea: When we see God as weighty, we won’t want to take His name lightly.

Watching our Lips

1. Blasphemy

To blaspheme is to speak with contempt about God or to be defiantly irreverent.  Blasphemy is a verbal or written reproach of God’s name, character, work, or attributes.  The punishment for blasphemy in the Old Testament was severe.  

2. Cursing. 

A curse is an expressed wish that some form of adversity or misfortune will befall or attach to one or more persons, a place, or an object.  What a dreadful thing it is to take the most sacred name we could ever utter and use it to curse someone.  A man has a flat tire, and he curses the tire.  A woman stumbles over a chair in the dark and curses the chair. God’s name is not an exclamation point for our expressions.  

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 they won’t face damnation?

Someone may say, “I don’t mean anything by my profanity when I use the name of God or Jesus.”  That’s exactly what’s wrong with it because this kind of speech empties God’s name of meaning, which is the definition of taking it in vain.  A pastor friend paraphrases the third commandment this way: “You shall not use the name of the Lord without meaning something by it.”

3. Cussing. 

To cuss means to use an obscene or profane word, either towards God or against those made in the image of God.  Ephesians 4:29 calls us to watch what comes out of our mouths: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

4. Memorized prayers.  

I can still quote the dinner prayer our family used when I was growing up with the same speed, I spouted it off over 50 years ago: “Bless us O Lord and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ our Lord Amen.”  If you do use a memorized prayer, try slowing it down.

5. Vain repetitions. 

Sometimes we repeatedly insert the name of God into our prayers much like we use the word “um” in our sentences.  We’re to fear God’s name, not use it as filler.  In Matthew 6:7, Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”

6. Careless conversation. 

Expressions like “Good Lord” or “Oh my God” are often used carelessly with disturbing frequency.  I ran into someone who told me about his 20-year-old Converse All-Stars.  He used three different names for God to describe his shoes.  

7. Worship songs. 

It’s very easy when we sing to just mouth the words and not realize we may have just declared our willingness to do whatever God wants.  For instance, one of the songs we just sang had these words, “I live to say, God you reign.”  Is that true of our lives?  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.

8. Sneeze blessings. 

While I like it when someone asks God to bless me when I sneeze, 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. Crediting God for our own ideas.

  God certainly guides His people and reveals things to us, but we need to be careful about definitively declaring, “God told me” or “God led me” unless we are really sure.  Guys, don’t say these words on your first date, “God told me that we should get married.”  You’re welcome.

10. Irreverent titles for God. 

Someone once told me 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,” “my Homeboy,” “Golf Buddy, “Big Daddy in Heaven,” “JC,” or just “Someone who must be watching over us.”

11. Abbreviations. 

OMG is a shortened way to take God’s name in vain.  With texting, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, we must avoid any abbreviation which belittles God. 

12. Substitute swearing

While many Christians don’t use God’s name in vain outright, some of us have simply substituted euphemisms like “gosh” and “golly,” “what the heck” or “jeez.”  These are really polite ways to be profane.   

13. Christian clichés

Some of us insert, “Praise the Lord” without even thinking about it.  I’m sometimes guilty of saying, “I’m praying for you” when I really haven’t been.

14. Perjury.

Perjury is when you swear you are telling the truth but are actually lying.  I wonder how many times we say, “I swear to God I’m telling the truth,” when actually we’re not.  Jesus tells us to just be honest in Matthew 5:37: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

15. Breaking vows

Some people say, “God if you get me out of this jam, I promise to serve you forever.”  Ecclesiastes 5:5 warns us about making rash vows: “It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it.”  I’m not piling on those who’ve been divorced because there is grace and forgiveness in Jesus.  I do want to say to those who are married or considering marriage that the wedding vows you make to your spouse are witnessed by God Almighty and the record is filed in the courthouse of Heaven.

When Someone Takes God’s Name in Vain

Have you ever struggled with what to say when you hear someone taking God’s name in vain?  Here are some suggestions.

  • Don’t be surprised when sinners sin.  Guess what?  Lost people act like lost people.
  • Weep and then worship. We should be grieved when God’s name is taken into the gutter.  I heard about a woman who started weeping when she heard a man cursing.  This broke him and he stopped.
  • Watch your words and adjust your attitude.  Be gentle.  Make sure you’re not 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 when I was a student at Moody.  While we were trying to save babies, someone (who didn’t go to Moody) told the security guard to go to     .   Colossians 4:5-6 says: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders; making the best use of the time.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
  1. Make a bridge to the gospel when you hear someone cursing or cussing.  We’re not called to be the profanity police, but according to Isaiah 26:8, we are called, “to spread the honor of His name everywhere.”  You could respond to cursing or cussing by saying something like this, “I didn’t know you were so religious.  I heard Jesus’ name and you even talked about Hell.”  Or, “Do you really want God to answer your prayer?  Are you serious about wanting God to send that person to the everlasting fires of Hell?”

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.  I knew every curse word and I used them often.  After coming to Christ, it took some time for my speech to be sanctified.  During 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.

Action Steps

Every now and then a politician is caught saying something when he or she didn’t know the microphone was on.  Would you be embarrassed to hear a recording of every word you’ve spoken this week?   According to Jesus in Matthew 12:37, He has a recording of everything you’ve ever said: “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Here are some action steps to help us watch our words so we don’t break the third commandment.

1. Hallow His name. 

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, the very first petition is focused on the Father’s holy name: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”  

Earnest Hemingway once wrote: “Our nada [nothing] who art in nadanada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada…”

That’s a clear example of breaking the third commandment because he’s treating God as nothing, as empty.  When we see God as weighty, we won’t want to take His name lightly.

Treat God’s name as weighty and you’ll be less prone to be profane.

If you want to refrain from taking His name in vain, revere His name.  Treat God’s name as weighty and you’ll be less prone to be profane.  Get lost in the magnitude of His majesty and you’ll find yourself worshipping God’s name instead of treating it as worthless.  Pray this prayer from Isaiah 26:8: “May your name and remembrance be the desire of my soul.”  When we see Him as weighty, we won’t want to take Him lightly even when we go through hard times.  Job 1:21: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

2. Watch what you watch and be careful what you listen to.


Have you allowed worldliness to creep into your life?  Have you compromised biblical convictions by surrendering Scriptural standards?  

This week I learned why movies have so much cussing and cursing.  One site revealed: “Swearing is an easy way to express emotion.  It can be used for humorous purposes, but also for dramatic purposes.  Plus, a lot of audience members like hearing swearing, especially teenagers.”  BTW, one of Martin Scorsese’s movies has a record 715 expletives in it!  A study by the Parents Television Council found that profanity increased nearly 70% in just a five-year time span

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

Let’s take back these weighty words by refusing to use them for ice cream, the weather, a sporting event, or a concert.  When we see God as weighty, we won’t want to take His name lightly.

4. Stop complaining. 

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.  

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

If you are a born-again believer, according to Matthew 28:19-20, God is laying a claim on you and He wants you baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

6. Bear His name unashamedly. 

1 Peter 4:16: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”

Clobbered by the Command

This command clobbers each one of us, doesn’t it?  Our lives and our lips betray our unholy hearts.  If you feel the sting of conviction, confess your sins, repent of them and start revering His name.

Our unholy words are linked to our unholy hearts according to Matthew 15:19: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”  Someone put it like this: “What’s down in the well comes out in the bucket.”  Ask Jesus for a new heart.

We also need a new name.  Revelation 2:17: “…I will give him a white stone with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”  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 passed away; behold, 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 he was drifting in and out of consciousness, and often delirious.  They were finally able to wake him long enough for him to grab a pen and sign the papers.  After he died, they discovered 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: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  Romans 10:13: “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  

Not only are we to revere His name, we’re to rely on His name.  Psalm 9:10: “And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.”

Because of His name, God will not forsake those who seek Him.  Are you ready to put your trust in His name right now?

If you’re ready to be saved right now, you could pray this prayer: “Jesus, thank You for fully keeping the commands because I haven’t and can’t keep them.  I’ve been guilty of misusing Your name by taking it in vain.  My life and my lips have not lined up with Your way and Your will.  I confess I am a sinner and I’m ready to repent of my sins.  I believe You paid the price for my sins by dying on the cross and You showed Your power by rising from the dead on the third day.  I now receive You as my Savior, my Mediator, and my Lord.  Come into my life and lead me to follow You faithfully from now on.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

Let’s make Psalm 86:11 our closing declaration: “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?