Category: Ten Commandments

  The  definition of idolatry, according to Webster, is “the worship of idols or  excessive devotion to, or reverence for some person or thing.” An idol is  anything that replaces the one, true God. The most prevalent form of idolatry in  Bible times was the worship of images that were thought to embody the various  pagan deities.

From the beginning, God’s covenant with Israel was based  on exclusive worship of Him alone (Exodus 20:3Deuteronomy  5:7). The Israelites were not even to mention the names of false gods (Exodus 23:13) because to do  so would acknowledge their existence and give credence to their power and  influence over the people. Israel was forbidden to intermarry with other  cultures who embraced false gods, because God knew this would lead to  compromise. The book of Hosea uses the imagery of adultery to describe Israel’s  continual chasing after other gods, like an unfaithful wife chases after other  men. The history of Israel is a sad chronicle of idol worship, punishment,  restoration and forgiveness, followed by a return to idolatry. The books of 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, and 1 & 2 Chronicles reveal this  destructive pattern. The Old Testament prophets endlessly prophesied dire  consequences for Israel if they continued in their idolatry. Mostly, they were  ignored until it was too late and God’s wrath against idol-worship was poured  out on the nation. But ours is a merciful God, and He never failed to forgive  and restore them when they repented and sought His forgiveness.

In  reality, idols are impotent blocks of stone or wood, and their power exists only  in the minds of the worshipers. The idol of the god Dagon was twice knocked to  the floor by God to show the Philistines just who was God and who wasn’t (1 Samuel  5:1-5). The “contest” between God and His prophet Elijah and the 450  prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel is a dramatic example of the power of the true  God and the impotence of false gods (1 Kings  18:19-40). The testimony of Scripture is that God alone is worthy of  worship. Idol worship robs God of the glory that is rightfully His, and that is  something He will not tolerate (Isaiah  42:8).

Even today there are religions that bow before statues and  icons, a practice forbidden by God’s Word. The significance God places upon it  is reflected in the fact that the first of the Ten Commandments refers to  idolatry: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for  yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath  or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I,  the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the  fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Exodus 20:3-5).

Idolatry extends beyond the worship of idols and images and false gods. Our  modern idols are many and varied. Even for those who do not bow physically  before a statue, idolatry is a matter of the heart—pride, self-centeredness,  greed, gluttony, a love for possessions and ultimately rebellion against God. Is  it any wonder that God hates it?

The key to understanding this commandment is in the definition of the word  “covet.” Two different Hebrew words are used in the passages condemning coveting  (Exodus  20:17; Deuteronomy  5:21), and both mean “to lust after or to long for with great desire.” Since  the commandments are given as “you shall not’s,” the desire in this case is for  something that is not the property of the desirer and not rightfully his to long  after. In this commandment, the Israelites are told not to lust after their  neighbor’s possessions—his house, land, ox or donkey, or the people in his  life—his wife or servants, both male and female. The Israelites were not to  desire, long for, or set their hearts on anything that belonged to anyone else. Whereas several of the commandments prohibit certain actions, such as  murder and theft, this is one of the commandments that address the inner person,  his heart and mind. As James 1:15 tells us, the inner person is where sin originates, and in this case,  covetousness is the forerunner of all manner of sin, among them theft, burglary,  and embezzlement. At its root, coveting is the result of envy, a sin which, once  it takes root in the heart, leads to worse sins. Jesus reiterated this very  thought in the Sermon on the Mount when He said that lust in the heart is every  bit as sinful as committing adultery (Matthew  5:28). Envy goes beyond casting a longing glance at the neighbor’s new car.  Once dwelled upon, envy of the neighbor’s possessions can turn to feelings of  resentment and hatred for the neighbor himself. That can turn into resentment  against God and questioning Him: “Why can’t I have what he has, Lord? Don’t you  love me enough to give me what I want?” God’s reasons for condemning  covetousness are good ones. At its very core, envy is love of self. Envious,  selfish citizens are unhappy and discontented citizens. A society built of such  people is a weak one because envious malcontents, as stated before, will be more  likely to commit crimes against one another, further weakening the societal  structure. Furthermore, the New Testament identifies covetousness as a form of  idolatry, a sin which God detests (Colossians  3:5). In the end, envy and covetousness are Satan’s tools to distract us  from pursuing the only thing that will ever make us happy and content—God  Himself. God’s Word tells us that “godliness with contentment is great gain” and  that we should be content with the basic necessities of life (1 Timothy 6:6-8),  because true happiness is not attained by things, but by a personal relationship  with God through Jesus Christ. By this alone do we gain that which is worthy,  true, solid, satisfying, and durable—the unsearchable riches of God’s grace.

Part of the Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue, this 9th commandment  forbids the Israelites from bearing false witness or giving false testimony  against one another (Exodus  20:16; Deuteronomy  5:20). To bear false witness against others is to lie about them, especially  for personal gain. The Hebrew word translated “neighbor” in this commandment can  mean an associate, a brother, companion, fellow, friend, husband, lover, or  neighbor. In other words, the Israelites were commanded to be truthful in all  things, but especially when speaking about another person. The people were not  to lie publicly, as in a court of law by laying at another’s feet any false  charge that could injure him, nor were they to lie privately by whispering,  talebearing, backbiting, slandering, or destroying his character by innuendos,  sly insinuations, and evil suggestions.

The reasons for God’s  prohibiting lying and testifying falsely against one’s neighbor are three-fold.  First, God’s people are to reflect God’s character. Jehovah is a truthful God  who does not and cannot lie. Numbers  23:19 tells us, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man,  that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise  and not fulfill?” The people who were called by God’s name and who represented  Him in the heathen world were expected to accurately reflect His character.  Lying to or about one another brought reproach upon His holy name, and this He  would not tolerate. Second, bearing false witness against another was  destructive to the individual who was the victim of the lie, and he suffered by  it in his character, credibility and reputation, as well as in his trade and  business. Leviticus  19:18 makes it clear that the Israelites were to love their neighbors as  themselves, a command reiterated by both Jesus and Paul (Matthew 22:39; Romans 13:9). Loving our neighbors precludes lying about  them.

Third, false witness was seen as so destructive to society that  courts of law, both in the days of the Israelites and today, could function only  if the witnesses who were called to testify could be trusted to tell the truth.  Without a trustworthy judicial system, based on eyewitness testimony from  reliable, truthful witnesses, societies are at risk of the breakdown of law and  order. When this happens, chaos ensues and the innocent suffer.

As noted  before, the New Testament is equally condemning of false witness. Colossians 3:9-10 explains the reason for the continued prohibition against lying. Christians are  new creations in Christ (2  Corinthians 5:17) and as such, we reflect His nature. We have been released  from our “old self” with its evil practices such as lying and bearing false  witness. As the Israelites were to reflect the character of Jehovah, Christians  are to reflect to the world the character of Christ that identifies us as His  own.

“You shall not steal” (Exodus  20:15) is one of the Ten Commandments people can readily recall, even though  it is number eight in the Decalogue. And while there may be those who attempt to  undermine the authority of the Ten Commandments by suggesting it is part of the  Old Covenant, our Lord Jesus, speaking to the rich young ruler, quoted five of  them, including this one (Matthew  19:18). The Ten Commandments are part of the moral law of God and, unlike  the ceremonial and sacrificial laws of the Old Testament which were given to  Israel, they apply to all men in all ages.

Stealing is defined as  “taking another person’s property without his or her permission.” However, there  are many other forms of theft. For example, taking longer over our lunch breaks  at work or arriving late and leaving early are actually forms of stealing from  our employers, stealing time they have paid for. Taking advantage of employers  in that way indicates a lack of love for others. The apostle Paul, when  discussing God’s commandments, sums up the entire law in the same way as our  Lord Jesus did, with “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31; Romans  13:9). And, again like Jesus, he states that this is the fulfilment of the  “Law” (Matthew  22:39-40). So, we know from such instructions that “Do not steal,” as with  all of the Ten Commandments, is about “loving one another” (John 13:34-35).

Victims of theft know the horrible feeling it produces. The very act of someone  taking what may have been an especially precious gift from a loved one really  pierces our hearts and makes us feel vulnerable and unsafe. Theft has a  tremendous impact not only on individuals, but on society as a whole. Theft  disturbs societal stability and the results are feelings of fear and insecurity  and a desire for revenge. One has only to look at some third world countries  where laws against stealing are ignored to see how detrimental it is to the  population. God’s laws are not only moral and spiritual; they are infinitely  practical as well.

Christians have received tremendous physical and  spiritual gifts from God, and we should desire to give back to Him all that we  have. When we withhold the things that are rightly His—our time and talents, our  possessions and our finances, indeed our very lives—we are in effect stealing  from Him. The prophet Malachi put it this way when addressing the Israelites:  “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ ‘In  tithes and offerings. You are under a curse — the whole nation of you — because  you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be  food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will  not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you  will not have room enough for it’” (Malachi  3:8-10). One day we will be judged by God and expected to give an account of  what we did with the gifts God has so generously bestowed on us (Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10Hebrews 4:13).

Before we can answer this question, we need to be clear on the definition of  adultery. The dictionary defines “adultery” as “voluntary sexual intercourse  between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse.” The Bible  would concur with this definition. In Leviticus  18:20, God told Moses, “Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor’s  wife and defile yourself with her,” and in Deuteronomy 22:22, we find a similar definition: “If a  man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her  and the woman must die.” It is clear from these definitions that adultery refers  to a consensual sexual union. What is not explicitly clear is whether or not  both partners in this illicit sexual union are married. The biblical commands  prohibit a man from taking another man’s wife, but do not indicate whether or  not the man is also married. Be that as it may, it is safe to say that if a  person who is married willingly seeks a sexual encounter with another person,  whether or not that person is also married, both people are guilty of committing  adultery.

God’s reasons for instituting His commandment against adultery  are two-fold. First, God established the institution of marriage as being  between one man and one woman (Genesis  2:24; reiterated by Jesus in Matthew  19:5 and parallel passages). God created marriage to be the building block  of His creation and of society. Even after the fall (Genesis 3), marriage is  still a sacred union and the foundation for society. In marriage, the full  expression of the image of God is made manifest as the man and the woman  complement and complete each other. The Bible also teaches us that marriage is  the vehicle through which God designed the procreation of the human race and the  preservation of godly offspring (Genesis  1:28, 9:1; Malachi 2:15). With such a  premium placed on marriage, it’s no wonder God would seek to protect this union  from defilement (Hebrews  13:4), and thus prohibit adultery, which is the violation of the sacred  marriage union.

The second reason for the commandment is found in Leviticus  18:1-5. As God’s chosen people, the Israelites were to reflect God’s  character in the Promised Land. God commanded His people to be holy for He is  holy (Leviticus  11:44), and part of holy living is sexual purity. God did not want His  people emulating the behavior of the Egyptians from whom He delivered them, nor  did God want His people copying the behavior of the people into whose land He  was bringing them. The implication was that adultery (and other sexual sins) was  commonplace in the lands where the Israelites had been and were going  to.

So now we know what adultery is and why God instituted this command.  Finally, we need to learn what God meant by the command itself. As with all of  the Ten Commandments, there are things we need to avoid doing (the negative part  of the command) and things we need to be doing (the positive part of the  command). The negative part of the command is self-explanatory: Do not commit  adultery. However, there is more to this command than the simple avoidance of  extramarital relationships. One can make the argument that wrapped up in this  prohibition are all sorts of sexual sin (e.g., incest, fornication,  homosexuality, etc.), and that argument can be made on the basis of chapters  such as Leviticus 18. Also important is avoiding things that would lead or tempt  one to consider adultery, such as the unnecessary withholding of conjugal rights  (1  Corinthians 7:1-5). Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, made further  clarification of this command (Matthew  5:27-30) by including all kinds of lustful thoughts. Fantasizing about  having sexual relations with someone is the same, in God’s eyes, as actually  committing adultery. Therefore, we must avoid all things that would create  within us lustful thoughts (e.g., suggestive songs, sensuous movies,  pornography, etc.). We should also avoid immodest clothing or anything that  might cause a brother or sister in the Lord to stumble in this area (1 Timothy 2:9; 1 Peter 3:3).

The  positive part of the command would entail doing the opposite of what the command  prohibits: chastity in body, mind, words and action; keeping watch over what we  take in with our eyes and the other senses; an attitude of temperance and  self-control (i.e., moderation); being discerning over the company we keep;  dressing modestly; and fulfilling our marriage vows in regards to sexual  relations and cohabitation. Regarding sexual sin, the Apostle Paul said, “Flee  from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body,  but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18).  When it comes to sexual sin, the best course of action is to remove ourselves  from temptation and avoid such situations altogether.

Adultery is the  complete corruption of God’s good creation of marriage. Through the sin of  adultery, Satan tempts us to seek sexual fulfillment in avenues other than the  one God has ordained—within the bounds of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.  Adultery rips at the fabric of society because it tears apart marriages and  families which are the building blocks of society. God’s law in general, and the  7th commandment in particular, is held up as the standard for Christian  behavior.

Simply stated, the sixth of the Ten Commandments forbids the unjustified taking  of a human life. However, the commandment itself has a couple of interesting  elements that bear mentioning. First and foremost, different Bible translations  give the appearance of different meanings, and there is potential for  misunderstanding the actual meaning of the verse. Second, man was never created  for the act of murdering another, and there needs to be an explanation for such  a violent and final act towards another human being. Third, because of the  translational challenge, we need to understand the difference between “murder”  and “killing.” And last but not least, how does God view murder? To God, murder  is not just physical in nature but also the condition of one’s heart towards  another.

There are two different Hebrew words (ratsakh, mut) and  two Greek words (phoneuo, apokteino) for “murder” and “killing.” One  means “to put to death,” and the other means “to murder.” The latter one is the  one prohibited by the Ten Commandments, not the former. In fact, ratsakh has a broader definition than the English word “murder.” Ratsakh also  covers deaths due to carelessness or neglect but is never used when describing  killing during wartime. That is why most modern translations render the sixth  commandment “You shall not murder” rather than “You shall not kill.” However, a  very large issue can arise depending on which translation one studies. The  ever-popular King James Version renders the verse as “Thou shalt not kill,”  therefore opening the door to misinterpreting the verse altogether. If the  intended meaning of “Thou shalt not kill” was just that—no killing—it would  render all of the God-endorsed bloodletting done by the nation of Israel a  violation of God’s own commandment (Deuteronomy 20). But God does not break His  own commandments, so, clearly, the verse does not call for a complete moratorium  on the taking of another human life.

Why does man murder? We know that  we were created in God’s image (Genesis  1:27) and we were made to live in harmony with God and with our fellow man.  This harmony became impossible once sin entered into the picture (Genesis 3).  With sin came the propensity for acting violently against one another. Anger,  jealousy, pride and hatred can fuel man’s evil bent towards life-ending  aggression. The first recorded act of murder was when Cain killed his brother  Abel (Genesis  4:8). From that moment on, taking the life of another has been commonplace  and, in some circles of society, acceptable. However, to God every life is  important, and since God knew that man was sinful and evil and had become  “lawless,” He enacted guidelines that would seek to modify man’s behavior (1 John 3:4).

So, is  there a difference between murder and killing? First, it is important to note  that not all killing is wrong. For instance, the apostle Paul talks about the  right of the state to take the lives of evildoers (Romans  13:1-7). This relates to what is commonly referred to as capital punishment.  Most countries have consequences for murder. In some cases this requires the  life of the perpetrator and a suitable means of putting one to death is chosen  and administered (Matthew  5:21; Exodus  21:14). Another instance of acceptable “killing” is that which is done  during times of war and at the command of superiors. There were quite a few  instances in Scripture where God endorsed and allowed the taking of other lives  (1 Samuel 11; Judges 6–7). And finally, although far from acceptable,  manslaughter is yet another form of killing someone. This unintentional act  apparently happened so often in biblical times that cities of refuge were  designated for the manslayer to seek refuge in (Exodus  21:13; Joshua 20). Again, it was never God’s intent to have to use such a  drastic measure as taking one’s life to rectify a situation. So, God does make  exceptions for the taking of another’s life as long as it lines up with His  will. However, premeditated murder of an individual is never God’s will.

What is murder in God’s eyes? From the human perspective, murder is the  physical act of taking another’s life. However, we also must consider that God  defines murder as any thought or feeling of deep-seated hatred or malice  against another person. In other words, it is more than just a physical act  that constitutes murder to God, who tells us that “everyone who hates his  brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in  him” (1 John 3:15  ESV). When we harbor hatred in our hearts for another, we have committed the  sin of murder in God’s eyes. The disdain towards another person never has to be  demonstrated outwardly because God looks upon the heart for the truth (1 Samuel 16:7; Matthew 15:19). As  Christians and as human beings, we know that unjustified killing is wrong. God’s  Word is very clear on this point: “You shall not murder.” And what God says we  must obey, or we face the consequences on judgment day.

God exhorts us to honor  father and mother. He values honoring parents enough to include it in the Ten  Commandments (Exodus  20:12) and again in the New Testament: “Children, obey your parents in the  Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother which is the first  commandment with a promise, so that it may be well with you, and that you may  live long on the earth” (Ephesians  6:1-3). Honoring parents is the only command in Scripture that promises long  life as a reward. Those who honor their parents are blessed (Jeremiah 35:18-19). In  contrast, those with a “depraved mind” and those who exhibit ungodliness in the  last days are characterized by disobedience to parents (Romans 1:30; 2 Timothy  3:2).

Solomon, the wisest man, urged children to respect their  parents (Proverbs  1:8; 13:1; 30:17). Although we may  no longer be directly under their authority, we cannot outgrow God’s command to  honor our parents. Even Jesus, God the Son, submitted Himself to both His  earthly parents (Luke 2:51) and  His heavenly Father (Matthew  26:39). Following Christ’s example, we should treat our parents the way we  would reverentially approach our heavenly Father (Hebrews  12:9; Malachi  1:6).

Obviously, we are commanded to honor our parents, but how?  Honor them with both actions and attitudes (Mark 7:6).  Honor their unspoken as well as spoken wishes. “A wise son heeds his father’s  instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke” (Proverbs 13:1). In Matthew 15:3-9, Jesus  reminded the Pharisees of the command of God to honor their father and mother.  They were obeying the letter of the law, but they had added their own traditions  that essentially overruled it. While they honored their parents in word, their  actions proved their real motive. Honor is more than lip service. The word  “honor” in this passage is a verb and, as such, demands a right action.

We should seek to honor our parents in much the same way that we strive to  bring glory to God—in our thoughts, words, and actions. For a young child,  obeying parents goes hand in hand with honoring them. That includes listening,  heeding, and submitting to their authority. After children mature, the obedience  that they learned as children will serve them well in honoring other authorities  such as government, police, and employers.

While we are required to  honor parents, that doesn’t include imitating ungodly ones (Ezekiel 20:18-19). If a  parent ever instructs a child to do something that clearly contradicts God’s  commands, that child must obey God rather than his/her parents (Acts 5:29).

Honor begets honor. God will not  honor those who will not obey His command to honor their parents. If we desire  to please God and be blessed, we should honor our parents. Honoring is not easy,  is not always fun, and certainly is not possible in our own strength. But honor  is a certain path to our purpose in life—glorifying God. “Children, obey your  parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Colossians  3:20).

At first glance, the question “What is the Sabbath day?” seems fairly simple.  According to Exodus  20:8-11, the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, on which we are to  rest, in remembrance that God created the universe in six days and then “rested”  on the seventh day. However, due to the misunderstanding and misinterpretation  of some Christian groups, the meaning of the Sabbath day rest has been confused.

Some Christian groups, such as the Seventh Day Adventists, view the Sabbath  as the day of worship, the day on which Christians should attend church /  worship services. While these groups typically also teach that no work is to be  done on the Sabbath, the concept of the “day of worship” is sometimes more  emphasized than the “day of rest.” The problem with this is that the Bible  nowhere commands that the Sabbath be the day of worship. In Exodus 20:8-11, “keeping  the Sabbath holy” is defined as not working on the Sabbath. Nowhere in this  passage is the Sabbath described as a day especially set aside for worship.  Similarly, other Scriptures command against working on the Sabbath, but say  nothing of the Sabbath being the ordained day for worship (Exodus 16:23-29; 31:14-16; 35:2-3; Deuteronomy 5:12-15Nehemiah  13:15-22; Jeremiah  17:21-27). In the Old Covenant, there was not one day set aside for worship.  Sacrifices were made daily at the tabernacle / temple. The “worship” was  continual. The idea that the Sabbath day is the God-ordained day of corporate  worship is not biblical.

Now that is not to say the Sabbath was not set  apart for worship. The New Testament records Jews and converts to Judaism  meeting in the synagogues on the Sabbath (Mark 6:2; Luke 4:31; Luke 13:10-16; Acts 13:14,27,42-44; 15:21; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4). Obviously, with no work being done on the Sabbath  day, the Sabbath day would be the ideal day to have organized worship services.  However, again, the Bible does not command that the Sabbath day be the day of  worship. The Bible describes worship on the Sabbath, but does not prescribe  organized corporate worship on the Sabbath.

Further, once the New  Covenant was established by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the  Bible nowhere describes Christians setting aside the Sabbath day as the day of  worship. The only Scriptures that describe Christians in any sense meeting on  the Sabbath are in fact pointing to evangelistic efforts at Jewish synagogues,  which met on the Sabbath day. Acts 3:2 records the early Christians meeting every day. The Bereans studied the  Scriptures every day (Acts 17:11).  Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2 both mention Christians meeting on the first day of the week. There is no  evidence in the New Testament that the Apostles or the early Christians in any  sense observed the Sabbath day as the prescribed day of worship.

Traditionally, Christians have held their primary corporate worship services on  Sundays, the first day of the week, in celebration of Christ’s resurrection,  which occurred on a Sunday (Matthew  28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). It is important to understand, though, that  Sunday is not the commanded day of corporate worship either. There is no  explicit biblical command that either Saturday or Sunday be the day of worship.  Scriptures such as Romans  14:5-6 and Colossians  2:16 give Christians freedom to observe a special day, or to observe every  day as special. God’s desire is that we worship and serve Him continually, every  day, not just on Saturday or Sunday. Please read our other articles on the Sabbath day and Sabbath keeping to explore this issue  further.

It is our contention that the Sabbath command, which,  biblically speaking, is to rest on the seventh day of the week, is not binding  on Christians, but is rather a matter of grace. However, even if the Sabbath  command does apply to New Covenant believers in Christ, the command would be to  observe the Sabbath as the day of rest, not necessarily to set aside the Sabbath  day as the weekly day of corporate worship.

Although many people believe taking the Lord’s name in vain refers to using the  Lord’s name as a swear word, there is much more involved with a vain use of  God’s name. To understand the severity of taking the Lord’s name in vain, we  must first see the Lord’s name from His perspective as outlined in Scripture.  The God of Israel was known by many names and  titles, but the concept embodied in God’s name plays an important and unique  role in the Bible. God’s nature and attributes, the totality of His being, and  especially His glory are reflected in His name (Psalm 8:1). Psalm 111:9 tells us His  name is “holy and awesome,” and the Lord’s  prayer begins by addressing God with the phrase “hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9), an indication  that a reverence for God and His name should be foremost in our prayers. Too  often we barge into God’s presence with presumptuous “to-do lists” for Him,  without being mindful of His holiness, His awesomeness, and the vast chasm that  separates our nature from His. That we are even allowed to come before His  throne is due only to His gracious, merciful love for His own (Hebrews 4:16). We must  never take that grace for granted.

Because of the greatness of the name  of God, any use of God’s name that brings dishonor on Him or on His character is  taking His name in vain. The third of the Ten  Commandments forbids taking or using the Lord’s name in an irreverent manner  because that would indicate a lack of respect for God Himself. A person who  misuses God’s name will not be held “guiltless” by the Lord (Exodus 20:7). In the Old Testament, bringing dishonor on  God’s name was done by failing to perform an oath or vow taken in His name (Leviticus 19:12). The  man who used God’s name to legitimize his oath, and then broke his promise,  would indicate his lack of reverence for God as well as a lack of fear of His  holy retribution. It was essentially the same as denying God’s existence. For  believers, however, there is no need to use God’s name to legitimize an oath as we are not to take oaths in the first place, letting  our “yes be yes” and our “no be no” (Matthew  5:33-37).

There is a larger sense in which people today take the  Lord’s name in vain. Those who name the name of Christ, who pray in His name,  and who take His name as part of their identity, but who deliberately and  continually disobey His commands, are taking His name in vain. Jesus Christ has  been given the name above all names, at which every knee shall bow (Philippians 2:9-10),  and when we take the name “Christian” upon ourselves, we must do so with an  understanding of all that signifies. If we profess to be Christians, but act,  think, and speak in a worldly or profane manner, we take His name in vain. When  we misrepresent Christ, either intentionally or through ignorance of the  Christian faith as proclaimed in Scripture, we take the Lord’s name in vain.   When we say we love Him, but do not do what He commands (Luke 6:46), we take His name in vain and are in danger of  hearing Him say to us, “I never knew you. Away from me” in the day of judgment  (Matthew  7:21-23).

The name of the Lord is holy, as He is holy. The name of  the Lord is a representation of His glory, His majesty, and His supreme deity.  We are to esteem and honor His name as we revere and glorify God Himself. To do  any less is to take His name in vain.

The Mosaic Law is built upon the Ten Commandments, and the law was built upon  the first commandment: “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land  of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me”  (Deuteronomy 5:6-7 NKJV). Here we see not only God’s  prohibition against idolatry, but His reasons for that prohibition. It was the  Lord God who had the power to bring His people out of bondage in Egypt. He alone  cared enough for them to choose them to be His own, and He alone delivered and  protected them. For all this, He declares that He alone deserves to be  worshipped and reverenced. No idol made of wood or stone is God. Idols are deaf,  dumb, blind, and powerless (Isaiah  44:18).

Paul’s letter to the Romans indicates the worship of things  in creation themselves—not just their images—is wrong in the eyes of God (Romans 1:25). Paul also  warns the Colossians against worshipping other supernatural beings: “Do not let  anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you  for the prize” (Colossians  2:18a). Jesus expanded the definition of “other gods” to include concepts in  addition to images, living things and other supernatural beings. In Matthew 6:24, He warns  against the worship of material things. “No one can serve two masters. Either he  will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and  despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money”. The Greek word  mammonas, translated here as “money,” does not mean the money in one’s  pockets. It is the personification of wealth or money (especially wealth gained  through greediness), the love of which, in modern terminology, is “materialism.”  The dangers of worshipping material things are clearly outlined in the story of  the rich young ruler (Matthew  19:16-26) who turned away from Christ because he could not part with his  wealth.

Samson (Judges 14–16), even though he was set apart for God as  a Nazirite, worshipped another god that was much closer than the rich man was to  his wealth. Samson’s god was himself, and his pride and self-worship led to his  downfall. He was so confident in his own abilities that he believed he no longer  needed God, and in the end—despite being beaten, blinded, and humiliated—Samson  neither repented nor learned that his way was not God’s way. He was more  concerned with revenge and his eyesight than with God’s plan for His chosen  people. He served himself and his priorities, making them his idols.

Those who worship “other gods” will ultimately face the same fate as the  prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel where they were challenged by Elijah the  prophet to a duel. Elijah and the prophets of Baal offered sacrifices to their  respective deities, but they did not burn the sacrifices. The god who responded  to their entreaties and took their sacrifice would be declared the one true God  for all Israel. The prophets of Baal started early and prayed and pleaded with  Baal to burn their sacrifice. Meanwhile, Elijah taunted them. “Shout  louder…Surely he is a god. Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling.  Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kings  18:27). In the end, the prophets of Baal were all killed by the Israelites  after the one true God demonstrated His power, burning up the offering, the  water, the wood, the stones, and the soil at the altar.

Our God is never  busy, asleep, traveling, or distracted. Paul describes the sovereignty of God:  “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth  and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands  as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and  everything else. …Therefore, since we are God’s offspring, we should not think  that the Divine Being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by man’s  design and skill” (Acts  17:24-25, 29). God  commands us not to serve other gods because there are no other gods except the  ones we make ourselves. David describes what awaits the person who puts God  ahead of all else: “Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does  not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods” (Psalm 40:4).