About a year ago we were at a local restaurant with a group of friends from church. Titus was almost 2 years old at the time, and he was quite a busy hand-full of a boy. Our time in public with people was volatile, so we always planned on the possibility of having to leave somewhat abruptly.
The restaurant where we were eating had been the subject of a couple of stories I had heard concerning their service. Some of the stories were simply about the lack of quality service on the part of the waiter or waitress. Other stories were just bizarre. One story I heard involved the waitress responding to a customer’s complaint about their drink by using her own straw to taste the customer’s drink , and then proceed to tell the customer that their drink was fine. Yes, you read that correctly. The waitress took a drink of the customer’s drink. Albeit, with a separate straw.
Our experience wasn’t that horrible, but there were a couple of things about the hospitality of the waitress that was off. She wasn’t rude, just inattentive to details. As we were finishing our meal, our toddler was getting to that “point.” The point where expecting him to sit still and behave was simply going to be an exercise in failed expectations. He wanted to move and explore and talk and play. So he got under the table and then started to walk towards other tables. Our waitress started to interact with him to “help.” He hammed it up. She then proceeded to say, “You want come with me.” After which she took him by the hand and walked him behind the double doors to the kitchen.
Again, you read that correctly. Our waitress took my son into the kitchen. Our table was right beside the kitchen, so she didn’t take him far. And no, we didn’t protest. Not because we were ok with it, but because both my wife and I were in shock. Both of us had questions like this going through our heads: “Did she just do that?”, “Is that even ok?”, “Should we say something?”, “Is this socially normal?” She was only gone for a few seconds before coming back out, but needless to say, we left shortly after that and have never been back.
Wearing the Uniform
If you eat out at all, you have also probably had your fair share of negative experiences with service. Maybe there are places that you will never eat at again because of how negative your experience was. Even if it is a chain restaurant that has other locations that have better management, more hospitable service, and good quality food. It only takes one really bad experience to ruin the reputation of a name.
Why is it that one, individual waiter or waitress has the potential power to ruin the name of an entire restaurant chain? It’s because they wear the uniform. They are an extension of that restaurant because that restaurant’s name is on their uniform. While wearing the uniform, they are representatives of the restaurant’s name.
There are a lot of Laws in the Old Testament that were culture, context, and covenant related to which modern day Christians do not believe we are bound to. However, the Ten Commandments are still generally affirmed as being important to observe. We still affirm that murder is not a good thing.
Commandment number three is usually stated as “Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain.” Growing up, this commandment was understood by a number of Christians as barring believers from saying the phrase, “Oh my G-d.” Or, saying Jesus’ name as a swear word. Or, saying either “God” or “Jesus” flippantly. As a kid, I remember some of us Christian kids would say, “Oh my gosh” to communicate surprise or amazement without breaching the command. Even still, I remember some of us were not allowed to say “gosh” because it sounded too much like “God.”
While I agree that it is really not beneficial to use the English term for the Divine or Jesus’ name as swear words or slang words or whatever, that is really not what the commandment had in mind when God gave it to Moses. Exodus 20:7 reads, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” The KJV translates it as “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.” The phrase “Thou shalt not take” in the Hebrew (נשא nasa’) contains the idea of “bearing or carrying with.” The idea communicated is that the Israelites, who were God’s people, were not to misuse the name of Yahweh. They bore His name as His people, and they were not to represent Him in a way that distorted or devalued His name. They were not to carry the name of the LORD with them, and misrepresent it.
Sort of like how a waiter or waitress bears the name of the restaurant. Their actions reflect the values of the restaurant. Likewise, the people of God bear His name, and they should not misrepresent His values, character, love, holiness, heart—they should not misuse His name.
Why It Matters
I believe understanding the heart of the command matters for two significant reasons. For one, I hope you can see that what this commandment is calling God’s people to observe is not less than not saying “O.M.G,” but it certainly involves more than that. It is a much higher calling to realize that, if we claim to be followers of Christ, then we wear the uniform bearing Jesus’ name. Meaning, you can never use the phrase “oh my God,” and still misrepresent our Lord by your actions, inactions, words, social media presence, personal reputation, and reactions. The opposite of taking His name in vain is to realize that you have been adopted into the family of God and you represent the family name. All of your life represents His name. Not just the words you do or do not say.
The other reason I feel this matters is because when we miss the heart of the law we can become legalistic about the letter of the law. Legalism creates one of two things in a person: either self-righteous pride or a habit of toeing the line of sin. When the line is “don’t say ‘Oh my G-d,” we find a way around the line by saying “Oh my gosh.” When the line is “don’t say such and such,” we look down on people who do all the while harboring judgment in our hearts. Legalism does this because legalism can’t and doesn’t touch the heart. It doesn’t change our affections. The heart of the law exposes our self-righteous legalism and calls us to represent God’s name in an honorable way because we love God. Because we are part of the family. This is a more accurate understanding of commandment three, and I would argue, a more transformative one too.