The Third Commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” is asking us to become aware of the connection — or the gap — between our spoken words and our innermost thoughts, between our public face and our private truth. (And you perhaps thought it was just about swearing!)
God knows each of His children. Nothing can be hidden from Him. Yet, people fool themselves all the time, believing they can hide from God their true motives or desires.
Perhaps they do it with a wordy prayer, or a recitation of Bible verses, or maybe a superficial act of charity done for show rather than from brotherly love.
Some people may also try to impress others with a public display of words or emotions that are designed to show how God-like they are, or how well they know the Bible, or certain religious teachings. Their motives may not be bad, but their words do not heal the hearts and minds of others, because they are nothing more than words.
Then, there are some folk who simply don’t care about God one way or the other, and have no problem using His sacred name to curse or swear, in order to shock others into paying attention to them.
Others might use God’s name to dress up in formality an oath or promise they may have no intention of keeping.
The examples above are just a few of the ways in which the Third Commandment can be broken, even unintentionally. Basically, these people are using God’s name as a shield to cover their sins, or their lack of true understanding. Or, they are using God’s name for empty or unworthy purposes. They are taking His name “in vain.”
And, we are all guilty of disobeying this Commandment from time to time in our life’s journey. This Commandment is a sign telling us to stop and take a look at how we might be using God and His name for the wrong purposes. Or, perhaps God’s name, spoken loud and long in public, has become for us as a window-dressing, fronting an otherwise empty store: a heart and mind void of real love and understanding of God and His creation.
How does this happen to those of us, whose original motive was simply to worship God, learn more about Him, and share the good news with others? I’m sure others will have different answers, but in thinking about this, I feel it is a case of stopping too soon, or not digging deep enough into the lessons and ideas revealed to us through God’s Word. We become satisfied with immature ideas and the early progress we have made, but are unwilling to
devote time and personal sacrifice necessary to plant ourselves firmly in the spiritual understanding of God.
Think of it like this: we may have an “ocean of knowledge” — Bible verses to spout, church laws and traditions learned and upheld without fail, anecdotes and sentimental quotes for every occasion to share, and — for those of us who are Christian Scientists — countless paragraphs of Science and Health memorized and available to counter every suggestion of error that comes to us in our daily life. However, no matter how vast our “ocean of knowledge,” what happens when we try to stand upon the ocean? We sink!
Superficial knowledge of God and His nature, will not hold us up. What does? The “dry land” of understanding. We need to use what we learn about God, apply it to our daily life and the problems that come to us, until the ideas take form in our consciousness as something definite and usable. You might want to compare this stage of spiritual enlightenment to the third day of creation, as described in the first chapter of Genesis. By then, the firmament of Spirit has divided the waters, but in the third day, dry land appears. This is when creation becomes something definite, rather than formless and vague. It is then that the land begins to bear fruit. So, if we want those new and higher ideas of God that have come to light for us, to stick around and bear fruit, we must take our stand on the land!
Consider how children learn math. They are first taught the theory or basic facts, and then are given problems to solve. If they have trouble solving them, the teacher and child work together, going back and forth between discussing theory and solving problems, until suddenly the child “gets it.” As long as they continue to use and practice that new concept of math, they will make it their own. It will “bear fruit.” But, how far would a child get if all they were required to do was simply read math books. They might be able to spout a few rules and theorems for their parents or teachers, but accomplish little. They would be “taking the name of Math in vain.”
With all this in mind, the next post will go over some possible approaches to teaching children the Third Commandment, along with additional thoughts on its meaning and ways to happily obey.