For the past few months, someone has been leaving disturbing messages on my voicemail. They go like this:
“This call is to inform you that your social security number is at risk of being deactivated, because of suspicious activity. To avoid this, call us back.”
Today I received another one of these messages, but with something added. The automated robotic voice said, “This is officer Gale Stone from the Social Security Administration. Call me back to avoid criminal charges against your S.S. number…”
Instead of blowing it off again, I did a quick online search for “officer gale stone social security administration.” (I’ll admit, I was a little more nervous than usual.) Immediately, I found a fraud advisory posted by the real Social Security Administration. (Shew!) Here’s what the real Gale Stone (yes, Gale is an actual person) says:
“It is unfortunate that scammers are exploiting the OIG’s reputation and authority to mislead and harm innocent people…We will continue to track these scams and alert citizens of their prevalence, so that citizens can stay several steps ahead of these thieves.”
The point of this story (and this post) is to illustrate the third commandment, which states, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).
What does it mean to take the Lord’s name in vain?
To pressure or sucker someone into trusting/following/obeying you for selfish reasons by using God’s name—that is taking the Lord’s name in vain.
The Psalms are a good example of not taking God’s name in vain. Many of them are songs of praise about how good and great the Lord is.
I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;
before the gods I sing your praise;
I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word. (Psalm 138:1-2)
Israel was supposed to praise the Lord’s name and proclaim his goodness to the nations. Israel was supposed to be a light to all the other nations. They were to bless all the families of the earth.
The way they were do this was by pointing other nations to the Lord. Israel’s temptation, however, was to falsely use God’s name for their own selfish interests. This is the church’s temptation, too.
The Lord knows his people are tempted to misuse his name, rather than to honor it. That is why he gave the third commandment. On an infinitely greater scale than Gale Stone at the Social Security Administration, the Lord is continuing to track such scams and alert his people of their prevalence.
Don’t Misuse His Name in Politics
Let’s apply the 3rd commandment to politics: don’t buy into political propaganda backed by spiritual vanity.
In this election season for P.O.T.U.S., be alert for propaganda dressed in spiritual garb. Test everything claiming to be about “faith,” “Christianity,” or “the Lord.” Don’t be scammed.
Don’t Misuse His Name in Seminary
Now, here’s one closer to home. Educational institutions that claim to teach about the Lord (seminaries, Christian schools, Three Fourteen Institute!), especially need to heed the 3rd commandment.
Institutions like these invoke the Lord’s name every day: at the beginning of class in prayer, and throughout class in teaching; in individual conversations with students and faculty; in correspondences, institutional promotion, and media (e.g., blogposts!).
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (James 3:1)
Here is the litmus test for authenticity in Christian educational institutions: Why are we invoking the Lord’s name? To bless, build up, and teach people to worship Him? Or, to market ourselves, please people, and gain more students?