“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."
Exodus 20:7 (One of the top 10)
Let's reflect for a moment on the high calling of discipleship, and how it's far easier to just make rules that we have to follow instead. WELCOME TO RELIGION!
While Jesus simplified and summed all of God's commands by telling people to love God and love others, I still find value in looking to the famous ten commandments of Exodus regularly. Their specifics continue to help us understand some of the ways that life in God looks.
We won't do a summary here, but the commands are pretty broad and far reaching about how we treat others and maintain healthy rhythms that align with God's kingdom. So isn't it interesting that in the midst of these deep, overarching character commands, we also just have to make sure that we don't say "Oh my gawd" in the wrong attitude as one of the big 10? Have we missed something?
Yeah, we have. And maybe we missed it intentionally, because we've sure made it easier on ourselves.
It doesn't take a ton of sleuthing to realize that the original 4th commandment has little to do with saying any particular phrase. It never did. While you may have learned that taking God's name in vain meant that you weren't allowed to utter a certain set of words, you didn't get the whole story.
In Hebrew, names mean reputation and character. Taking something is about bearing it as a representative. And taking something in vain is about it being devoid of meaning.
So after 5 minutes of Hebrew work by a non-Hebrew scholar, you can get this correct meaning of the commandment:
Don't carry God's reputation with emptiness.
Why do we humans have such a propensity to take things that are about character and turn them into silly rules to check off?
Now, I'm not fond of using the name of Jesus as a curse word (it should be used as a word of blessing!), but we really have kicked the ball in the complete wrong direction with this one.
It's easy to not say "Jesus Christ!" when you step on your kid's lego piece in the middle of the carpet.
It's much harder to respond with love and patience to your child after prying that same lego out of your foot.
And THAT, friends, is what it means to obey the third commandment.
Saying a curse word may be up for debate... but cursing someone isn't. That's breaking God's law.
And when you consider how Jesus responded to those who held religious power and used God's name to condemn, control, and exclude others, you can understand why Exodus says that God gets really angry with the people that do this. (Also, politicians using pseudo-Christian language to win loyalty and promote political agendas fall into this category too.)
Discipleship is not about avoiding taboo phrases. It's about embodying and displaying the character of Jesus at all times.
The literal translation of the word Christian is "little Christ.' This description (whether it was derogatory or not is debated) was given to the first disciples because to onlookers, they seemed to look like little versions of Jesus. Their actions, character, and lifestyle imitated his values.
They were bearing the name of Jesus with integrity. They were not taking the Lord's name in vain.
So integrity becomes our standard. We don't need to be perfect, or we have no need of Christ. But we do need to have character, and we do need to be people of truth, whose lives reflect the same heart of the God we profess.
A good question as you go about today is this:
When I make this choice/say this thing/interact with this person, am I representing Jesus' character with integrity?
By the grace of God, may it be so for both you and me today.
Jesus, bearing your character feels like pressure, but knowing your grace feels like freedom. Help me to do the first, because I have experienced the second.