Originally written a few years ago

by Zach Dietrich

For many church going folk, especially church leaders, we treat this command like the gimme question on a test. The teacher needed more questions to make it an even ten, so he chose an easy one. OMG has never been a part of your vocabulary, so you didn’t need to unlearn it. But I imagine that likely wasn’t the case for some of you who grew up in homes where “God” and “Jesus” were only used as cuss words. 

What all is implied in the third commandment? Yes, we should always treat the Lord’s name with fear and reverence by not using it as a profanity. OMG–even using it as an abbreviation—is irreverent. But there is so much more to the third commandment than cussing.

In addition to using the Lord’s name as a curse word, I taught the kids that this commandment means that we should not use the Lord’s name like a “hocus pocus” magic word, as if merely chanting it correctly will manipulate God. God’s name is not an incantation. We must not approach God the way the prophets of Baal did in 1 Kings or the way Gentiles do, supposing that their mindless babble or chants can persuade God. This is a little closer to home than we would like to admit. How many of us offer up last second bargains to God when our NFL team is on third down deep in their own territory, or when we didn’t study for that quiz?  

There is another implication of the third commandment. Even those who would never consider letting an OMG escape their lips can be blindly guilty of this.  The third commandment also means that we should not ascribe to God’s name what he has not revealed that he has done. Or to say it another way, we shouldn’t use God’s name just to justify our own decisions. How often have you heard someone say (or said yourself), “The Lord told me such and such”? Or “God led me to do this or that.” On what authority can we presume to say that it was God who told us or led us? Certainly nothing in the revealed will of God. Many times we are just using God’s name to justify a decision we decided that we already thought was correct. We are breaking the third commandment.

Let me use contrasting illustrations to help us understand what I mean. Suppose that you lost your phone somewhere and you search the house with no luck. When your exasperation reaches its peak you realize you haven’t even prayed. You calm down, pray, and five minutes later remember where you left it. “Thank you, Lord,” you pray. Would I knock you over the head with a stone tablet if you prayed like that? No. We can praise God for the details in our lives. We ought to regularly bring our praises to God for the little things without seeking to theologically interpret the mysteries of God’s providence. We boldly pray like this. “Thank you for protecting us on that trip.” And “Thanks for providing a meal through our church family.”  “Thank you for answering prayer.”

On the other hand, Kevin DeYoung offers an illustration about how even church leaders can piously break the third commandment. He wrote: 

I’ve always tried to keep this in mind when leading the church. When we were in the middle of a capital campaign and the elders found an existing church to buy and renovate, we were careful not to overstate our case. It would have been easy to say, “We’ve prayed about this and God has provided an open door. God wants us to have this building. But we need you to give generously. Will you be obedient to the Lord as we follow him?” Church leaders say that sort of thing all the time, and it’s not fair. We can’t claim divine authority for a capital campaign. What we can say is, “We’ve sought the Lord and spent a lot of time researching all the options. As your leaders, we all feel that this is the right move for the church, and we think God will be honored if we move forward together.” The difference between the two speeches is subtle but significant (The Ten Commandments).

As it turns out, church folk, especially church leaders, have a long ways to go on this commandment. Pastors can be just as guilty as pagans. We may not trip over OMG or cussing, but we can be blinded by our own piety to other blatant violations of the third commandment. 

As the leadership of TRCA worked through the process of starting the academy, we actually talked about how we needed to be attentive to this very commandment. We sought (and seek!) the Lord’s guidance at every step of the way: facility, curriculum, teachers, students, and so on. And we do believe we have seen God answer prayers! But we have also tried to be reverent in our language and practice what we teach at TRCA.