Cussing is bad enough. Passages like Ephesians 5:4 and Proverbs 17:20 exhort us to avoid vulgar speech and filthy language.
Passages like James 3:2-12 and Proverbs 18:21 remind us that the tongue is a powerful part of the body. It can be used for great good, or great evil. It can be used to glorify God or curse God. It is inconsistent for a person to worship the name of Christ, and then use the same tongue to curse his fellow man or pour forth a stream of vulgarities.
Thus, as Christians, we work to gain self-mastery over our tongues (James 1:27), and to “keep watch over the door of our lips” (Psalm 141:3).
Censors in Hollywood, who give PG, PG-13, and R ratings to movies based in part on the language spoken, may have a different opinion, but I think that it is even worse than cussing to use the Lord’s name in a vile or profane way.
All the way back in the Ten Commandments, God said to His people,
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain (Exodus 20:7).
In fact, it wasn’t long before that commandment was put to the test. While the children of Israel were still wandering in the wilderness,
The son of an Israelite woman (whose father was an Egyptian) … 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… 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’ ” (Leviticus 24:10–16).
If this seems like a drastic reaction to a simple slip of the tongue, remember how high and mighty is our God! Thus, the Bible calls God’s name “honored and awesome” (Deut. 28:58), “holy” (Isa. 57:15), “great” (Ezek. 36:23), “blessed” (Dan. 2:20), and “hallowed” (Matt. 6:9). God’s name is to be “remembered” (Exo. 20:24), “proclaimed” (Exo. 33:19), “called upon” (Exo. 34:5), “served” (Deut. 18:5), “blessed” (Deut. 21:5), “confessed” (1 Kin. 8:33), “praised” (Ps. 9:2), and “glorified” (Ps. 86:12).
Jesus Christ , the Son of God, was given “the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow” (Phil. 2:11). We are baptized into His name (Acts 2:38). There is no other name that provides salvation (Acts 4:12). Whatever we do, in word or deed, we do in the name of the Lord Jesus (Col. 3:17). We pray in that name (John 16:23). By calling ourselves Christians, we wear that name conspicuously (1 Pet. 4:16, Rev. 22:4). We are willing to suffer shame and persecution for that name (Acts 5:41).
With a name so pure and beautiful, so mighty and majestic, a name that means so much, it’s no wonder that God guards it so jealously. The Jewish scribes handled the name with extreme care, refusing to pronounce it, and using a new pen to write it. Maybe we don’t have to go that far, but we should take care to use it appropriately. We wouldn’t fling a beautiful jewel into the mud of the gutter, and nor should we sully the name of God. We must treat this name reverently, treasuring its worth and cherishing its holy significance.
Two Things to Avoid
One way to take the name of God “in vain” is to turn it into a cuss word. My head wants to explode when I hear someone miss a shot and spew out the name of God. Jesus Christ had nothing to do with your lack of accuracy! I want to ream out my ears with pipe cleaners when someone loses their keys and blurts out the name of God as an expletive. To me, this is a greater offense against Heaven than a four-letter word or scat phrase.
Another way to take the name of God “in vain” is to use it in a flippant way. Conversations all around us go something like this: “I mean, like, oh my Gaw-, he wore that to the party?” We must not use God’s name as frivolous filler, or He’s going to get angry and defend it. Jesus warns us, “I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment” (Matt. 12:36). I would challenge us to drop even the similar euphemisms, like, “oh my gosh,” and avoid texting “OMG.” They’re just too close to the real thing.
I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul will make its boast in the Lord; The humble will hear it and rejoice. O magnify the Lord with me, And let us exalt His name together (Psalm 34:1–3).