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The importance of the Ten Commandments
I want you to imagine the setting of the Ten Commandments. Israel was just taken out of Egypt, and the Lord desires to turn them into a holy people. He wants them to become so righteous and sanctified that He can step down and walk amongst them. Unfortunately, they weren’t quite prepared for that experience. But no matter. The Lord has a plan to help them get to that point. And what does He start out with?
The Ten Commandments.
Out of all the commandments that the Lord could have chosen for His people, these are the ten that He chose. He could have made one of those commandments, “Listen to the prophet,” or, “Be modest,” but He didn’t. These were the Ten Commandments that the Lord chose in order to start a foundation for these people who hardly knew Him. This was going to be the basis on which these people would eventually become exalted.
Anyone who has started any kind of long process or journey has come to appreciate the importance of a strong foundation, a clear understanding of the basics.
There was something absolutely essential about each of these commandments that the Lord chose.
The name of the Lord
As we grow older, we often learn that commandments go much deeper than we originally believed. For example, modesty is much more than just clothing; it entails how you hold yourself and what you choose to show the world about yourself. It is often an indication of what you value about yourself. Keeping the Sabbath Day holy goes far beyond simple activities and becomes a day in which the Lord uses us for the most important work on earth. There are so many examples of commandments and standards that seem to deepen as you get older.
Many of the Ten Commandments are like this. There is one that jumped out to me particularly this week.
Exodus 20:7 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord the God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
As I grew up, I feel like this commandment was taught veeeeery simply. The extent of this commandment was not to take the Lord’s name in vain. In other words, don’t say, “Oh my….” You know. Maybe your lessons were more in depth, but I feel like this was the case for most people. Which is fine…I strongly believe that we shouldn’t be saying that. However, I feel like this was not meant to be the extent of this commandment.
This is actually incredibly ironic when you consider where this commandment originated from. Moses gave it to the Israelites. Something tells me that the Israelites weren’t walking around using the Lord’s name in vain in that sense of the phrase.
So what does this commandment really mean? Why was it included as a foundational teaching for the Israelites? Why was it as important as not killing or committing adultery or stealing?
The various meanings of taking the Lord’s name in vain
I feel like there are actually quite a few meanings that go along with this commandment.
The definition of the word vain is “producing no result, useless.” It’s more than taking the Lord’s name upon you and then turning back. It’s about taking the Lord’s name upon you in a way that’s useless. In my mind, it means that we shouldn’t take the Lord’s name upon us unless we’re actually acting in His name or representing Him accurately.
I think of the people in my life who loved me fully and appreciated the characteristics that made me who I am rather than just tolerating me; I think of the people who told me it was fine when I failed because they recognized my efforts. I think of the people who served and gave because they were genuinely good and not because they were fulfilling an annoying duty or because they wanted to be recognized.
Why it’s so important
The importance of this commandment extends beyond how it affects just you. When we’re not fully taking the Lord’s name upon us to the extent that it’s changing us, it can be very damaging to our spiritual health.
But it can also dramatically affect the spiritual health of others.
There is an experience on my mission that I’ve never been able to quite get over. I still cringe when I think about it today. I went on a mission during the mad rush that occurred after the age change. That meant one ward could have up to three sets of missionaries. My companion and I were good friends with the elders that were also serving in our ward, and they were about to have a baptism. They had been working with this investigator for quite some time, and she seemed to be incredibly solid. She was excited about baptism, and she seemed to take the covenant seriously.
When my companion and I met her, we obviously instantly liked her. We started to joke about her ditching the elders and becoming our convert instead. In our minds, it was innocent. We wouldn’t have actually wanted to take her from the elders; we recognize that a special bond occurs between a convert and missionaries. In our minds, it was more about the joy that comes from having a convert. There is happiness and excitement and goodness. There is a strong spirit and a close relationship. Missionaries love baptisms for a million reasons.
Unfortunately, this investigator heard something different in our jokes. She thought we wanted to count her as one of our baptisms. She thought we wanted to boost our numbers. Apparently, in her next meeting with the elders, she emphatically asked if she was just a number to them. Luckily, they were able to reassure her that they cared about her as more than a number.
The point of my story is not to emphasize the importance of our words. I can’t say that I regret the experience. It was innocently said, and I’m so grateful that things worked out just fine. The point of my story is how scary it is when we give a false impression of who we believe the Lord is.
This investigator looked at us as official representatives of the church. She looked to us as an example of who we believed Christ to be. If our church only cared about baptizing more and more people, why would she care to be a part of it? Why would she care to worship a Savior who only saw her as one more person to worship Him?
A common mistake among us
As much as we don’t mean to, I think we do sometimes reduce people to numbers. I read an article this week from a lady who left the church. I don’t usually click on them, but it was shared by a person who I respect and the article was also respectful. The lady spoke about how people came to her, inviting her to church over and over. They would talk to her kids and invite her to church. Please don’t misunderstand me; I am not discouraging the inviting. The main point that she made was how none of the people ever really asked her why she left and actually listened fully. They tried explaining or bearing testimony (all lovely things to do), but in the end, they were just trying to get her back to church. They were trying to increase activity in their wards; they didn’t really know her.
Whenever we reach out to people who have left or to people who aren’t members, one of the most essential things we can do is to look at them as the Savior looks at them. It’s not just about “inviting” and patting ourselves on the back for following General Conference advice. The Savior doesn’t just want everyone back, He wants every single one back. He wants the investigator from my mission back because He misses her bubbly personality. He wants the lady who wrote the article back because she’s thoughtful and inquisitive and trying really hard to follow Him (even though it may not look like it to us). In order to take the Lord’s name upon us fully, we have to see the individuals He sees.
Don’t take the Lord’s name upon you and represent Him falsely (or at least make sure you’re doing your best to be true). Don’t take it lightly.
All of these other Ten Commandments have big consequences. Killing someone robs them of the opportunity to live out their mortal experience. Bearing false witness can ruin a person’s reputation; it can diminish their character in the eyes of others. Taking the Lord’s name in vain quite literally holds the power to diminish another person’s ability to understand the Savior. And when their ability to understand the Savior’s character is diminished, their desire to follow Him can also greatly diminish.
That is the reason this was one of the very first commandments given to the Israelites in order to help them build a strong foundation.
I’m grateful for a Savior who makes up for when I fall short of representing Him fully, and I’m grateful He keeps an eye on those who have experienced my less-than-perfect moments. I’m grateful for a Savior who gave us a blueprint on which to live our lives. I’m grateful that He doesn’t use it as a measuring stick to beat me with when I fall short, but instead uses it as a tool to inspire me and show me how to live a happy life.