What is forbidden in the third commandment?

The following is provided by fellow Deacon Jean Pierre Eugene of Christ Presbyterian Church.

Q. 55. What is forbidden in the third commandment?
A. The third commandment forbiddeth all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God maketh himself known

This commandment commands us not to take the name of the Lord in vain. What is meant by the “name of the Lord?” In most churches, we know immediately that we should not use God’s name as a curse word or other irreverent blab (OMG). Yet, as my fellow deacons so eloquently explained before me, that’s not all that is meant by this commandment.

John Calvin states in volume 2 of “Harmony of the Law” that “It is silly and childish to restrict this to the name Jehovah, as if God’s majesty were confined to letters or syllables; but, whereas His essence is invisible, His name is set before us as an image, in so far as God manifests Himself to us, and is distinctly made known to us by His own marks, just as men are each by his own name. On this ground Christ teaches that God’s name is comprehended in the heavens, the earth, the temple, the altar because His glory is conspicuous in them. Consequently, God’s name is profaned whenever any detraction is made from His supreme wisdom, infinite power, justice, truth, clemency, and rectitude.”

And to that I say “Amen”.

What Calvin was explaining was that taking God’s name in vain is not just taking the name “Yahweh” or “Jehovah” and turning it into an expletive. Yes, that is surely a part but we also must be sure not to take God’s power, truth, wisdom in vain as well. Basically, we must not only treat the name “Yahweh” as holy but God as holy.

Per the previous question, we can see that the Divines saw that we were required to uphold:

  • God’s names
  • God’s titles
  • God’s attributes
  • God’s ordinances
  • God’s word
  • God’s works

In these areas, we ought to make careful use not to profane or abuse God. Today, I want to tackle each of these areas and expound on how we can avoid violating the third commandment at any of these points.

God’s Name’s, Titles, and Attributes

Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.”- Matthew 6:9

“Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in holy array.” – Psalm 29:2

The famous vision in Isaiah 6 shows the Angels crying out Holy, Holy, Holy. We sing that famous hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty”. This God whom we worship is holy and being the Holy One, we must treat His name as such. Blasphemy, therefore, is strictly forbidden. God does not deal sympathetically with those who – to quote a famous rapper – “put some respek on His name”.

Now the son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the sons of Israel; and the Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel struggled with each other in the camp. The son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name and cursed. So they brought him to Moses. (Now his mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan.) They put him in custody so that the command of the LORD might be made clear to them. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring the one who has cursed outside the camp, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head; then let all the congregation stone him. You shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If anyone curses his God, then he will bear his sin. Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.” – Leviticus 24:10-16

This person, while in some sort of altercation, cursed God. The text does not say whether he used God’s name as a curse word or if he just cursed God. What we do know is that whatever he said cost him his life. On top of that, we can see that the violation of this commandment was not punishable to just the native Israelite but also the Gentile.

Based on this example, we can glean that using God’s name in an inflammatory way is a no-no. God, being our Creator and Sustainer, does not want His name utilized in the same way a word used to described feces is utilized. There must be a reverence we have for our Lord and that reverence carries itself out in how we address God.

For example, if you love and respect your parents, you would never disrespect their authority or think to use abusive language with them. Chances are if you have no issues cursing parents, your relationship with them was either non-existent as a child or existed but quickly dissipated. Likewise, those who truly love God would and should avoid any type language which curses at that God.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” – James 1:13

We see in this verse that attributing to God something that He cannot or will not do is also a violation of the third commandment. We will talk about this more in depth when we discuss God’s works but suffice it to say here that we must not attribute to God an attribute He does not have. If you are tempted by lust, you must not complain that God is tempting you by sending a woman that you can’t help lusting after. This is to say that God is leading you into sin, which is preposterous.

Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘Y OU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT K ING. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.” – Matthew 5:33-37

When a vow is made, we are obligated to keep it. Enroe did a good job explaining our obligation to keep the vows that we make so I won’t spend too much time here belaboring the point. Simply put, when we make a vow and don’t keep it, we are essentially saying that God won’t hold us accountable for the things we say. We are either thinking that God doesn’t intend for us to keep vows that we made, or we simply don’t think God cares whether or not we mean what we say. Either way, we are taking God lightly in this area when we don’t consider the fact that He takes our vows seriously whether we do or not.

When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God.” – Ecclesiastes 5:4-9

In saying this, it does not mean that we are bound to an oath that causes us to sin.

In 1 Samuel 25, we see David, in a fit of anger, vow to exact vengeance on Nabal for not giving him and his servants food. Had David followed through, he would have sinned. Abigail, the wife of Nabal, brought food to David along with a plea. In doing so, she kept David from wrongly exacting vengeance by his own hands.

Then David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me, and blessed be your discernment, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodshed and from avenging myself by my own hand.” – 1 Samuel 25:32-33

Another example is the case of King Herod and the vow he made to the daughter of Herodias. He rashly vowed to give her anything she asked, “up to half of my kingdom”. Let’s take a look at what follows in Mark 6, starting at verse 24.

And she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” Immediately she came in a hurry to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And although the king was very sorry, yet because of his oaths and because of his dinner guests, he was unwilling to refuse her. Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded him to bring back his head. And he went and had him beheaded in the prison,” – Mark 6:24-27

Matthew Henry states regarding this verse, “The promise was rashly made, and could not bind him to do an unrighteous thing. Sinful oaths must be repented of, and therefore not performed.”

Francis Turretin tells us, “Every oath repugnant to the law of God and the lawful obedience to magistrates (concerning things either unlawful or impossible) does not bind the swearer to a performance of it. An oath ought not to be a bond of iniquity and no one ought to be compelled to do anything iniquitously. The apostolic maxim ought always to hold good here, ‘It is better to obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29)’”

So, we must exercise wisdom is making vows. Those lawful vows we make, we are obligated to keep it. Any sinful vow, we are not bound to keep.

God’s Ordinances

Much in the same way, we are to be reverent regarding everything I mentioned before; we must ensure that we are not denigrating God’s ordinances and worship.

A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?’ says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name. But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’ You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’ In that you say, ‘The table of the LORD is to be despised.’ But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts. “But now will you not entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us? With such an offering on your part, will He receive any of you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts. “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD of hosts, “nor will I accept an offering from you. For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD of hosts. “But you are profaning it, in that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is defiled, and as for its fruit, its food is to be despised.’ You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!’ And you disdainfully sniff at it,” says the LORD of hosts, “and you bring what was taken by robbery and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?” says the LORD. “But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King,” says the LORD of hosts, “and My name is feared among the nations.”” – Malachi 1:6-14

We see here that the priests were defiling the altar by presenting blemished animals to God. God explicitly says that these priests despise His name because of what they are doing. Likewise, we – although we don’t have to bring animals to church with us to sacrifice – must not presume upon the grace of God and come before him “blemished” so-to-speak. Am I saying, we must be perfect? Of course not. We must, however, not live a life contradictory to the life we say we are living in Christ.

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.” – 1 Corinthians 11:27-32

Many churches allow for anybody to come and eat the bread and drink the wine, regardless of whether or not that person has demonstrated faith in Christ. We see from this verse, however, that those who do eat and drink in an unworthy manner are only eating and drinking condemnation on themselves. At this church, we have a practice known as fencing the table. We do this because God will not be mocked. This sacrament symbolizes our union with Christ. If your life does not reflect a regenerate life, it is better to let the elements pass than profane the table of the Lord. We don’t take the partaking of this sacrament lightly.

Not only must we come rightly before the Lord as it pertains to the Lord’s Supper, but in all parts of worship, we must “present our bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1).

Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil.” – Ecclesiastes 5:1

“Let all things be done decently and in order” – 1 Corinthians 14:40

Not only must we be outwardly reverent in worshiping God but inwardly as well, lest we act like the Pharisees.

The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. [ Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation. ]” – Matthew 23:2-5, 14

“They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.” – Titus 1:16

God’s Word

The Holy Scriptures must be held in high esteem by the believer because they are the very words of God. Since we have God’s word contained in those 66 books, we must not add to what God has stated. In the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament, saying what God did not say was strictly forbidden.

But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’” – Deuteronomy 18:20

“Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar” – Proverbs 30:5-6

Not only must we be careful not to add to God’s word, we must also ensure we are not perverting it as well. We must not treat God’s word as putty that we can mold and shape into whatever we want. Rather, we are to carefully examine the Bible and speak only those truths contained in it.

If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.” – 1 Timothy 6:3-5

“and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” – 2 Peter 3:15-16

This is why an emphasis must be made for those who seek to be teachers of God’s word that they have been truly taught the things of God’s word.

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” – James 3:1

We must not misapply God’s word.

I’m sure y’all have heard the story of the man who was trying to figure out what God wanted him to do so he went to the Bible. He closed his eyes and opened the Bible and randomly pointed to a verse.

And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.” – Matthew 27:5

Then he closed his eyes again and flipped to another random verse.

Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do the same’” – Luke 10:37

I use this comical example to point out the obvious. This person clearly misapplied two verses to imply a message that is not taught in the Bible.

Because with lies you have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and you have strengthened the hands of the wicked, so that he does not turn from his wicked way to save his life.” – Ezekiel 13:22

We can see from this passage that there were those who gave false hope to wicked men and unnecessary anguish to righteous men. They were like those prophets crying “Peace, Peace” when there was no peace. In doing so, they were causing those who were righteous to become sorrowful. Even worse, they caused those who were wicked to not reflect upon their own life and need of salvation. As bad as it is to cause a believer to not have joy, it is terrible and downright despicable to purposefully keep an unrepentant sinner happy in their sin.

Unfortunately, the misapplication of God’s word is something that runs rampant in our time as well. You see this when people take verses like Jeremiah 29:11 (“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”), as a promise of material wealth, although they themselves have not spent any time in Babylonian captivity. Or when they take verses like Proverbs 18:21 (“Death and life are in the power of the tongue”) and Psalms 82:6 (“I said, You are gods, and all of you are sons of the Most High”) to imply that we have the ability to create our destiny with our mouth; to speak things into existence. You also see it when preachers talk about the love of God, absent of any talk of God’s justice or our sin problem. When we do that, we are not honoring God at all. We are simply using the words of God to say ultimately what we want to believe.

As saints, our desire should be to understand clearly what God has taught in the Bible and live that out. In doing that, we are showing God that we not only love Him, but that we also respect the word that He has given us. When we do the opposite, we are testifying to the fact that it is not God we are wanting to please but our own desires. To use God’s word to do that very thing merely demonstrates how little we think of God’s word. As the great church father, Augustine of Hippo once said, “If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.” Likewise, when you don’t preach the truth of God’s word but pervert it to fit whatever you are trying to sell, it is not God that you are honoring, but your selfish desires.

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” – 2 Timothy 4:2-4

God’s Works

This has to do with God’s providence and our reaction to it. Thomas Vincent gives three instances that demonstrate how God’s works are profaned.

1. When people pamper their flesh and gratify their lusts.

Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” – Romans 13:13-14

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,” – Ephesians 5:18

Wine, food, and intimacy with our spouse are all good things that God has given to us to enjoy. These things were not meant to replace God, but rather, we glorify God with those things. When we are drunk, we profane God and His gift of wine. When we are sexually promiscuous, we profane God’s design for marriage and sex. We must not allow good gifts to become objects with which we abuse and profane God.

2. When, in prosperity, people are forgetful of God, unthankful for mercies, and indulge themselves more in sin, because of God’s patience and bounty.

Yet I have been the LORD your God Since the land of Egypt; And you were not to know any god except Me, For there is no savior besides Me. I cared for you in the wilderness, In the land of drought. As they had their pasture, they became satisfied, And being satisfied, their heart became proud; Therefore they forgot Me.” – Hosea 13:4-6

You would think that when times are good and the money is rolling in, a professing believer would be in a state of constant thankfulness. Yet oftentimes, it is in those moments of prosperity that people tend to think more highly of themselves. You hear the constant praises from other people telling you how great you are. You start to compare yourselves to others and start looking down on them. You start to look at your hard work and persistence and tell yourself that it was YOU who made all this happen. I built this empire! I made this money! I did all this! All praises to me! How sad it is to think so highly of yourself and so little of your Lord who graciously gave you the blessing.

How often have we seen people who, through the blessings of God, work hard, follow the biblical pattern relating to work ethic, and reap a bountiful harvest only to forget God and indulge in sin. It is the utmost disrespect to take a blessing from God and use it to sin against Him. We must always be thankful for the blessing God gives us. If God chooses to gift us with plenty, we must remain humble and not allow our hearts to grow in pride. Just as God can gift us with plenty, He can also take away plenty.

3. When, in adversity, people murmur, are impatient; when they are incorrigible, and grow more hardened in their sins.

[Do not] grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” – 1 Corinthians 10:10

“O LORD, do not Your eyes look for truth? You have smitten them, But they did not weaken; You have consumed them, But they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; They have refused to repent.” – Jeremiah 5:3

Just like those who have plenty and, in their pride, forget about God, you have those who in adversity, get angry with God. In modern Christianity, there is a tendency to think because we are in Christ, everything will be peachy. No problems will come because God will handle them. Just put the car on cruise control, kick your feet up and relax. When trials do come, those same Christians are perplexed. “This isn’t supposed to happen.” “I thought Christians didn’t get cancer.” “Christians don’t lose jobs.” “Christians don’t have miscarriages.” Because of their false idea of the Christian life, they become embittered and angry with God. “WHY GOD?! How can a loving God let this little child die from an illness?!” As Christians, adversity will come. Trials will happen. There will be times when we are struggling, either with a sin, or with some issue. It is in those moments when we must lean on God. We must not start to question God or get angry with Him. Rather we must be like the Psalmist in Psalm 121, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth”.

God is not our enemy; He is our refuge and our strength, He is our ever present aid in danger. To grumble, complain, and murmur at the trials God places in our lives is not to realize that perhaps those trials were given for a reason. To complain and get mad at trials is to forget that while we are shaking our fist at God, He is still sustaining us. We are still breathing, eating, and moving. We must not profane God by allowing adversity to cause us to become hard-hearted and angry with Him.

Two things I asked of You, Do not refuse me before I die: Keep deception and lies far from me, Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion, That I not be full and deny You and say, “Who is the LORD?” Or that I not be in want and steal, And profane the name of my God.” – Proverbs 30:7-9

So there you have it. As Christians, we must not take the name of our God in vain. In keeping with this commandment, we must seek not to profane God in His name, titles, attributes, ordinances, word, and works. God is Holy and we must strive in all that we do to keep His name Holy as well.