In the Ten Commandments we are told to “not take the Lord’s name in vain.” When most people read that, the first thing that comes to mind is not using the word “God” flippantly. But is that all there is to it? Are we keeping this commandment as long as we say gosh instead, or is it not quite that simple? What does it mean to take the Lord’s name in vain?

What Was the Intent?

The most important part of this issue is the person’s intent. Is the person simply letting a phrase slip without thinking after they stub their toe? You might want to work on controlling your tongue more, but I wouldn’t panic over it. If you are intentionally misusing God’s name for a joke or flippant comment, you may want to rethink your words and actions.

“Let Your Yes Be Yes and Your No Be No”

The other aspect of this commandment occasionally brought up is swearing by God’s name. When the Bible brings up swearing, like in Matthew 5:34 and James 5:12, it’s typically referring to swearing an oath. Swearing in God’s name to take an oath is problematic not because God is so over-sensitive that he can’t handle mere mortals saying his name. It is a problem because we humans are often terrible at keeping our word. Maybe don’t appeal to God for credibility, because then when you don’t follow through, you’re putting his reputation on the line as well as your own.

Is Misquoting God Taking His Name in Vain?

An aspect of this commandment that many of us don’t consider is when we attribute something to God that he never said. This could come in the form of taking a verse out of context to make it say something never intended. In more extreme examples, some preachers claim to have prophecies from God, but their prophecies either don’t come to pass, or are so vague and non-committal that we could never test them. Those may sound like something different than taking the Lord’s name in vain, since we’re not directly invoking the name of God. In those examples, you are essentially making up your own claims and slapping God’s name on it to pass it off as divine truth. This is perhaps the most damaging way we can misuse God’s name. Not only does it trivialize God, but it can mislead the less informed. God’s name has power. Don’t abuse that power.

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