Welcome back to our journey through the 10 Commandments! We’ve already looked at the first two commandments. Now God continues with the Third Commandment.
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
How many of you have ever been taught that the commandment means “Don’t have a potty mouth!” and don’t swear and curse? But it’s not about profanity. It’s about making oaths and promises.
At some point, most of us have been lied to by someone. Sometimes the liar declares with total conviction that he’s telling the truth. Have you been in a situation like that? You don’t believe the story and they tell you, “SWEAR TO GOD!” In the military, sailors’ stories often start with, “I s*** you not.” Military member’s stories are less believable than any other stories – maybe only 20%!
Just because someone says, “Swear to God!” doesn’t mean that their words are going to be true. They can say that and still tell you lies. I asked some people about jobs that have reputations for being filled with liars: lawyers, contractors, politicians… It’s impossible to go through an election season without hearing both sides declaring the other guy is a liar! “He’s a lying lying-pants.”
I genuinely believe that most politicians are not trying to deceive the public. I think that they hear and believe spin, and then they repeat bad info without ever hearing the truth. Then they sully their name with “lies.”
Dale Carnegie talks about the power of the name. Our names are the most important word in our language. If you have an unusual name or a name that’s spelled or pronounced oddly, how do you respond when people say it incorrectly? Or when people are writing your name and misspell it? Like having the last name Linzey with no “d” and no “s.” Or when telemarketers call for my wife…
When I was in Chaplain School, we had a Nigerian national whose name was six syllables long. Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants would approach him, look at his name, and resort to simply calling him “Chaplain O.” They would never learn how to say his name. In his culture it was an insult. He took it as an insult every time someone refused to learn his name, so I took it upon myself to learn his name and the proper pronunciation. When I said it, his eyes got wide and his jaw dropped open.
The name of God is more important. God is saying, “Don’t take my name lightly. Don’t think you can throw my name around in your lying and in your declarations. My name is not cheap. My name is not dirt—don’t treat it as such. My name is holy. My name is sacred.”
He’s saying, “Don’t use my name to add weight to your words.” That’s what oaths are all about. It’s saying that our words alone are not trustworthy, so we give them added weight. “I swear….” If that’s not enough, we’ll swear on the Holy Bible—as though throwing God into the mix will increase the truthfulness. Have you ever heard, “Swear on a stack of Bibles!” As if each Bible increases the truthfulness of your statements. If we have to swear on a stack of Bibles to convince people, what does that say about all of the other words that come out of our mouths?
It tells me that we’re untrustworthy people. It tells me that people think we’re full of it—that people think we’re habitual liars unless we swear on a stack of Bibles. Don’t use God’s name. It really comes down to our character and our honor. Deuteronomy 25:13-16 says:
Do not have two differing weights in your bag—one heavy, one light. Do not have two differing measures in your house—one large, one small. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.
The scales were used to buy things. Some shop owners would put bogus weights on the scales to make the cost seem greater than it should be. But God is calling us to live a life that is so sparkly that resonates with honesty in every fiber that nobody EVER requires us to swear any kind of oath.
Even kids learn early on: “Do you pinky-swear?” Why the pinky? Why not the thumb? Who knows. What about “Scout’s honor”? As if my credibility as a Scout gives my words MORE weight than normal. Why do we swear? To give our words weight. Even the apostle Peter, when being accused of being a follower of Jesus, swore that he wasn’t part of Jesus’s crowd (Matt. 26:72; Mk. 14:71).
We are people who will swear false oaths to protect ourselves from trouble. Sometimes, we do it to manipulate others (used car salesmen, anyone?). We make all sorts of oaths, but it all comes down to adding credibility to our words because we feel that what we’re saying isn’t trustworthy enough. It’s a problem when we feel we have to call God in to lend weight to what we’re saying.
Integrity matters. Character matters. Why?
1) God is a person of integrity and character, so we need to be.
2) Relationships thrive on honesty and integrity but shrivel up and die without it. In marriage, it means that your spouse believes your behavior when you’re by yourself is the exact same as it would be if he/she were right beside you. That’s integrity. Honesty and integrity breeds trust.
People will never have to wonder or question our words when we live lives of integrity and honesty. How do we live swear-free lives (not profanity, but integrity)? It comes down to a yes/no lifestyle. Jesus says in Matthew 5:33-37:
Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
Jesus says don’t try to back up your words with something stronger. You’re saying that you’re not normally trustworthy, so you’re bringing in your big guns. Jesus says it’s not supposed to be that way. We’re supposed to live lives of honesty and integrity that does not throw around God’s name lightly. No oaths necessary. You should know that my character backs up my words.
I want to be known as a person of honesty and integrity. This world trains us to gloss over the truth. We are okay with “partial truths” and “white lies.” We train ourselves to be dishonest. We must start living a yes/no lifestyle. Forget about oath-making, just live honestly. “Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to it, to an agreed upon standard.”
Practice being honest in the little things. Practice being honest in the big things. No promises and oaths needed—we just live as people of our words in everything we say and do. When we become people of integrity, people will notice. They will take our words seriously. Don’t misuse the name of the Lord. Instead, live a life of honesty, regardless of the consequences. Let us be trustworthy people.
Questions for Reflection
- Am I a person of integrity?
- Can people trust my words or do I need to add weight to convince people?