At Southern Seminary Chapel, Dr. Al Mohler continued in his series on the ten commandments with a treatment of the third commandment–do not take the Lord’s name in vain. His scripture text was Exodus 20:7. You can listen to the audio of his message here.
The third commandment is presumed by evangelicals to merely be a list of words that can never be spoken. In my life, my mother was the keeper of this ever expanding list. Words are powerful because they can create such a swift response. The preached Word is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal.
Exodus 20:7 speaks to the idea of not taking the Lord’s name in vain. The general assumption about this command is far too superficial. People just want to create a list of do’s and don’ts. But this is the most routinely broken command by evangelicals.
The third commandment was a word to Israel from God that one of the distinctives of Israel was supposed to be its speech. God’s name must be spoken with reverence. God chose to reveal His name to Israel as ‘I am who I am.’ God gives Himself to Israel when He gives them His name. Though God gave Israel His name, it was quickly maligned by Israel. God’s revealed name should not be taken in vain because He is jealous about His name.
There is a pattern in scripture of God’s jealousy for His name. For instance, in Ezekiel 36:22-24, God brings salvation for His name’s sake…not because of who Israel is or who the church is. The kingdom of God will advance because of God’s zeal for His name. God’s zeal for His name vindicates His righteous actions in setting apart His name.
What if the third commandment wasn’t as simple as we thought? What if it was more than just a list of do’s and don’ts? How do we break this commandment?
The name of God is taken in vain through reductionistic theology. Reductionistic theology takes what is implied in God’s name and marginalizes it to make it more palatable for a post modern age. The name of God implies a certain theology. But His name is taken in vain among many theologians. There are entire libraries of vanity because the books therein display a marginalized view of God.
The third command follows the second because taking God’s name in vain treats Him like an idol. It redefines our image of God when we reduce him in our theology. Subverting His name is nothing more than a deceptive way of idolatry that robs God of his glory.
Reductionistic theology is a masked form of self love. It redefines God in our image which creates an ideological idol in the church. Reductionistic theology exploded after the Enlightenment as people tried to treat an unreasonable God in reasonable terms. It is an attempt to cut God down to size that we might handle Him…to make him comfortable to us.
The god of reductionistic theology is nothing more than a dehydrated, domesticated and demythologized version of God. It compromises the ‘omnis’ of God to make him something less than Omni. Open theism is an example of this reductionistic theology that takes His name in vain. Process theology and John Shelby Spong are other examples. It use to take testosterone to deny God but not with the new dehydrated deity of reductionistic theology.
We take God’s name in vain through triumphalistic piety. You can see it in our bumper sticker theology. You can see it with athlete interviews after a game as they claim God’s authority for what they’ve accomplished. I have a challenge to all the athletes out there…I will stay off your football field if you stay out of theology.
The triviality of our triumphalistic piety has the appearance of wisdom but is folly before the Lord. We take His name in vain when we speak as if God has spoken when He hasn’t. Time magazine’s cover story this week was, ‘Does God want you to be rich?’ The answer is yes, but He wants us to be rich in the things of God not in material wealth.
Prosperity theology is just one example of triumphalistic piety. We may not go as far as to say that God wants us rich. But many of us expect happiness, health, safety and satisfaction. This is taking God’s name in vain. God wants us satisfied in him and dissatisfied in all else.
We take God’s name in vain through superficial worship. God seeks worship in both Spirit and in truth. Evangelical worship misses the point of worship by assuming its end is to be fun and creative. As A.W. Tozer points out, ‘worship is the missing jewel of evangelicals.’
The horizon of our worship is too low. Our worship betrays us as we treat God like an invited guest to our services. While contemporary Christian music has its own set of problems, much of it is better than what it replaced. Some contemporary worship consists of 123 songs…1 word, 2 notes, 3 hours. But as John Piper has said, ‘a generation raised on ‘Do Lord, oh do Lord, oh do remember me’ is not in a position to give a critique.
Superficial worship betrays our view of God’s name. There is no clarity on musical taste in scripture, but there is a Name full of dignity and danger declared in scripture on which all worship should focus. This issue even includes feminist efforts to redefine God’s name in worship.
Manipulative God talk
We take God’s name in vain through manipulative God talk. God’s name is used more in the USA than anywhere else. Everyone is claiming God is on ‘their side’ in a way that seeks to manipulate Him for their purposes. It has the appearance of being theological. And the most concerning type is the manipulative use of God’s name by ministers who claim His authority in things He has not spoken about…like those claiming they know why Hurricane Katrina happened.
God has not given us license to explain His ways when He has not declared His ways. His thoughts are above our thoughts, and His ways are above our ways.
There is a threat in the third commandment…those who violate it will not be held guiltless. He will vindicate His name among the name breakers. This command includes–making oaths, forbidden words and taming the tongue–but it is so much more than that–it involves our worship, our heart, our obedience, our discipleship, our family, our parenting. Not taking the Lord’s name in vain involves the totality of our lives.
The third commandment is ultimately fulfilled eschatologically in Christ. Philippians 2:9 tells us, “at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow of those in Heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” There will, one day, be no more taking God’s name in vain as all of creation fully and finally confesses Jesus as Lord. Let us not take God’s name in vain today as we live in light of this glorious future reality.