Practical Application of the Word of God
I am a follower of God and Jesus Christ, but I, like you, am an imperfect follower. I strive to obey the letter and what I understand, so far, of the spiritual application of God’s commandments, but I, like you, fall far short in many ways at different times.
However, God’s word and God’s law, both as codified in the Old Testament (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5) and as expounded by the prophets and by Jesus Christ Himself (Matthew 5, 6, and 7), are continually on my mind as I consciously pray about them, study them, and endeavor to apply them to the flesh and blood realities of my daily life: my thoughts, my speech, my actions, my reactions, who I am, what I am, and how I am.
I see and hear so many things on a daily basis from people who claim to believe the same God that I do and to follow the same Shepherd that are completely inconsistent with God’s word and God’s law that I wonder sometimes if I’m the only one who’s actively trying to learn them and live by them.
One of those inconsistencies is obeying – with speech, with actions, with reactions, with general behavior – the Third Commandment: “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.” (Exodus 20:7)
The Hebrew word translated as vain in this verse is shav’. The means of this word in English are:
When we call ourselves godly and call ourselves Christians, we apply the name of God and Jesus Christ to our speech, our actions, our reactions, and our general behavior – in other words, who, what, and how we are.
When we take the name of another as our own, whether as children of parents or as spouses in marriage, we say we represent and are like that name and the entities behind that name.
So in essence, when we say we are godly and we say we are Christians, we say we represent and we are like God and Jesus Christ.
But are we taking their names in vain because of our speech, our actions, our reactions, and our general behavior?
Are we misrepresenting God and Jesus Christ? Are we giving them a bad name?
This is something we should be thinking about continually, because if we are misrepresenting them and giving God and Jesus Christ a bad name (the general tenor of which is, “If God’s like that, I don’t want any part of Him”) because of who and what we are saying and doing using their names, then we are guilty of breaking the Third Commandment.
How do Christians routinely break the Third Commandment?
One way is by expressing hate of and toward other people.
While God’s word clearly says we are to hate sin (recognizing it for what it is, refusing to take part in it, and condemning it as contrary to God’s word and character) – any words and actions that we and others say or do in direct violation of the word of God – it also clearly says that we are not to hate people (I John 4:20-21, Deuteronomy 10:18-19, I John 2:9-11, Leviticus 19:17-18, Galatians 5:20-21).
What is the essential difference between hating and rejecting sin and hating and rejecting people? The emotional component.
Hating and rejecting sin is not an emotional reaction.
It is a spiritual and objective application of acknowledging, understanding, and agreeing with God and Jesus Christ as being the absolute bottom line on what is right and what is wrong.
Hating and rejecting people, on the other hand, is a purely emotional reaction.
We as humans are highly susceptible to our emotions – how we feel – and it is often our emotions (which are subjective, biased, and often based on things that we think or have been told are true, but actually are not) that dictate our thoughts, words, and actions.
Satan uses our emotions to stir us up against each other in hate and rejection. Emotions are part of the heart, which God looks at, tests, works with to change, and against which, if we truly have and are using God’s Spirit, we are diligently, continually, and consistently exercising self-control to bring them into perfect and complete alignment with God and Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5).
Perhaps I am the only Christian who finds this battle to control my emotions and bring them into subjection to God and His word one of the most daunting and once in which I fall short often.
But because I know and understand that this is one of my weakest and most vulnerable spiritual areas, I am always attuned and alert to what my emotional state is and I have developed a highly-sensitive awareness of when my emotions are controlling me as opposed to me controlling them.
That doesn’t always mean there’s still not an emotionally-based train wreck completely of my making right around the corner, but there is the almost-simultaneous conviction of my sole culpability in the wreck occurring and my repentance and heartfelt pleas to God to help me overcome and eliminate this lack of self-control.
Another way we Christians use God’s name in vain is in how we treat other people.
We show partiality (James 2:1-19, Deuteronomy 10:17) either by fawning over “important” (in our minds only, and usually because we are selfishly motivated to either advance ourselves or to be seen and heard with the “right” people) people to the point of idolatry.
We also show partiality in promoting and practicing prejudice, bias, and bigotry.
In that vein, I ask myself if I am the only one who has – or even heard what was actually read – a serious issue with the inherent and blatant prejudice at a Feast of Tabernacles location in Kenya where our Kenyan family members will rough it camping in tents and using primitive facilities outside a lodge with nice $100+/night rooms for non-Kenyans who attend that location?
Why would we not use our comparative better economic circumstances instead to enable our Kenyan family members be able to spend the entirety of the Feast in the $100+/night rooms? Would that be a better option and the opposite of partiality?
This is just one example, my family, of innumerable examples. They are all around us if we open our eyes and see them as God and Jesus Christ do. Too often, we don’t want to know and we don’t want to see, because knowledge and awareness leaves us without any excuse for our own behavior and inaction.
And we also are guilty of partiality when we completely ignore, to the point of invisibility, anyone who doesn’t fit into our agendas, our prejudicial ideas of acceptability, or our self-images.
A third way we use God’s name in vain is by exalting ourselves and our organizations (Matthew 23:5-7, 12, Isaiah 47:10-11, Galatians 6:3, Isaiah 5:21, Isaiah 29:13) by claiming the we/they are the only, the direct and the personal representatives of God on earth.
This is not only outright lying, but it is hubris of the worst kind.
This aspect of breaking the Third Commandment, quite frankly, is why there is such rampant idolatry of people and organizations among Christians today.
We actually prefer our tiny gods of people and organizations over the one and true God and the one and true Teacher, Shepherd, Lord and King.
Why? The standards of our tiny gods are human standards, human traditions, and human ideas and opinions. They are malleable, giving us wiggle room to do what’s right in our own sight and to be wise in our own eyes.
But then we sin even further by replacing God’s very laws, statutes, judgments, and words with the results of our idolatry of people and organizations and then attribute those very things to God and Jesus Christ, saying that we are speaking for them and on their behalf.
This is outright disobedience of God’s laws and God’s word (Zephaniah 3:4, Isaiah 50:10, Galatians 5:19-21, Isaiah 42:24, Isaiah 30:9-11, Isaiah 5:20, Isaiah 24:5), which is another way that we use the name of God in vain.
When we promote the sins of our idolatry as being God’s way, we are not only disobeying God ourselves, but we are encouraging others to disobey Him as well.
A final way – and this post is not meant to be comprehensive on this subject, but instead a starting point for each of us to go to God asking for understanding and wisdom on how this commandment applies to our individual thoughts, words, and actions and for His help to repent of the ways in which each us break the Third Commandment in who and what we are and we say and we do – that we break the Third Commandment is by claiming to be God (Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28) just like Satan claims to be God (Genesis 3).
“Oh, but we don’t do that! We know we’re not God!” I can clearly hear the vociferous protests in indignant unison.
Shakespeare put a telling observation in the mouth of one of his characters in Hamlet who had just listened to a woman – who, ironically, was the alter ego of the character speaking – go on and on denying something that was obviously true: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
Are we like Queen Gertrude in our protests that we don’t routinely claim to be God? I submit that we are.
We claim to be God when we assert with absolute certainty that we know what God is thinking and doing to or in the lives of other people, when God clearly tells us that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways.
Job’s friends did this with Job, unaware as Job was also unaware (the same position we often find ourselves in when we are going through times of trouble and testing, which makes the words of the people around us who claim to be God by knowing why and what we’re suffering like salt being poured into the deepest crevices of already bleeding and gaping wounds, exacerbating the pain of the burning and aching we’re already experiencing) that Job’s suffering resulted from a series of conversations between God and Satan and not from anything that Job did or didn’t do.
We also hear it all the time in statements like the following:
This too is hubris and an idolization of ourselves when we claim to be God. It is also following directly in the footsteps of Satan, who also has claimed, from the very beginning and will claim until he is no longer able to, that he is God, knowing God and speaking for God.
There are many other ways in which we as Christians routinely break the Third Commandment without realizing it (that is my hope, anyway; if we do know we’re doing it, and do it anyway, that’s willful disobedience of God and that’s a place none of us should want to be or should be).
Now that we have a door opened on some of the ways in which we are all guilty of this, what are we going to do about it?
The choice, as always, is entirely yours and entirely mine. I pray that we choose wisely.