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
You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. – Romans 8:15-16
If you are asked, “What does it mean to misuse or take the name of God in vain?” You should answer briefly: “It is a misuse of God’s name if we call upon the Lord God in any way whatsoever to support falsehood or wrong of any kind.” Therefore what this commandment forbids is appealing to God’s name falsely or taking his name upon our lips when our heart knows or should know that the facts are otherwise. Martin Luther, The Large Catechism
Texts: Josh. 7:10-12, 22-25; Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 2:10-11; Eph. 4:17-24
Hymn: “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord” LBW 163
Of God’s Holy Ten Commandments, the second might appear as if it’s easiest to keep. What more need I do than refrain from cursing and invoking God’s name frivolously? Yet this is to view the commandment in a purely outward way. What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart (Mt. 15:15). Thus the second commandment concerns not only external words, but also the inner spirit, which is being renewed daily in knowledge after the image of the Creator (Col 3:10). An image, like a mirror, reflects an object. So when we invoke God’s name aright, we put on a new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24). But if we invoke God’s name falsely, we have a mind of flesh, and replace the image of God in us with an idol (Rm 8:7).
To invoke God’s name is to call upon the Father. “When we cry Abba! Father! the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rm 8:16). As we call out to God the Spirit joins our prayer, purifying our hearts and minds so that our witness is true. For our spirit is fallible and prone to self-deception, but the Holy Spirit searches everything (1 Cor. 2:10-11). Thus David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! See if there be any wicked way in me” (Ps. 139:23,24). When we bear witness to God truthfully we are adopted as children of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Rm. 8:17). But if we bear witness falsely, we make God a liar and his word is not in us (1 John 1:10).
Those who willfully bear false witness before God risk blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:31-32; Mk 3:28-30; Lk 12:10). The Acts of the Apostles tells of the first Christians who sold their possessions to give to the church. But Ananias and Sapphira secretly held back money they had received for their property. They sinned, not because they kept earnings which were theirs to dispose of, but by falsely testifying they had given their wealth to God. Thus Peter said to Ananias, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” and to Sapphira, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?” Upon hearing God’s judgment, Ananias and Sapphira were immediately struck dead (Acts 5:1-11). It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31).
We call on God every time we turn to Him in worship and prayer. For this reason we will also take the Lord’s name in vain if we worship Him falsely. If I hate my enemy and pray for his destruction (Mt. 5:43-45), I take Lord’s name in vain. If I envy my neighbor and pray that he be outdone (Gal. 5:26), I take the Lord’s name in vain. If I quarrel with my brother and pray he be brought to shame (2 Tim 2:23), I take the Lord’s name in vain. False prayers defile the Spirit and justly deserve God’s punishment. Not that we should be afraid to turn to God, rather we should approach Him in confidence by the blood of Jesus, in the full assurance of faith, with hearts sprinkled clean and open to the Holy Spirit (Heb. 10:19-22). If we are quiet before the Lord, the Spirit will help us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought (Rm. 8:26).
In this time of COVID, churches confront weighty decisions about when and how to worship. Because what we know about the virus is disputed, the choices are difficult. They are made even more difficult by noise from a politicized society, of which we are all a part, that threatens to distort the way we listen to the Spirit. If a congregation decides it cannot assemble safely, is that because masks and social distancing do not offer adequate protection, or because the church’s leaders dislike the President? If a congregation assembles without wearing masks, is that because masks are incompatible with true worship of God, or because its members sympathize with a group engaged in a culture war? Answers to questions like these matter. A church which decides upon the form of its worship in response to COVID for the wrong reasons worships falsely, taking the name of the Lord in vain.
If we are to worship God in truth, we must set aside every weight of the world, and sin which clings to us so closely, and look to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:1-2). Jesus instructs us to love God and to love our neighbor (Mt. 22:37-39; Mk 12:30-31; Lk. 10:27). If we love God, we will worship Him; and if we love our neighbor, we will worship Him in ways that welcome and protect the vulnerable. Also because we love the neighbor, we worship God in a manner that respects the reasonable guidance of those who govern. For government is instituted by God for our good and that of the neighbor (Rm. 13:1), and we are obliged to obey its just decrees “not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience” (Rm. 13:5). Here great care must be taken not to abuse the right of religious freedom. Some churches have exempted themselves from public health directives by invoking God’s name and appealing to their religious conscience. But, as Paul instructs, Christians are bound in conscience to obey the governing authorities, until those authorities command something contrary to the will of God (Acts 5:29). Yet God does not require that we disregard guidelines concerning public health when we worship Him. Rather “this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Pet. 2:15).
Let us then bless God’s holy name by putting aside a mind of flesh and setting our minds on things of the Spirit (Rm. 8:5). For in Christ we are sanctified after the likeness of God in holiness (Heb. 10:10,14; Eph. 4:24). To this the Holy Spirit bears witness, saying, “I will put my laws on their hearts and write them on their minds.” (Heb: 10:15-16). Conforming to Christ in heart and mind let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:28-9)
Prayer to honor the 2nd Commandment
Holy God and Father,
Thank you for making me in your image so that I can not only recognize and honor your glory, but discover your will within myself. I confess that by confusing my will for your will, I have replaced your image with the graven image of my heart. I pray that you fill me with your Holy Spirit, so that by conforming to Christ I may put on a new nature which reflects your image in righteousness. Create in me a clean heart, O Lord.