Q: What is forbidden in the third commandment?
A: The third commandment forbids all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God makes himself known.
James 5:12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your "yes" be yes and your "no" be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
It's interesting to me that the Westminster Divines take the third commandment far beyond just "taking the Lord's name in vain". The Divines, in this question, do not limit this commandment to the verbal abuse of God's holy name. Rather, they apply it to the whole scope of God's revelation to his creatures. Think about this answer a bit. "The third commandment forbids all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God makes himself known". Now certainly, God has made himself known by and through the various titles and names he reveals in the Scripture. But God has also made himself known not simply in those portions of Scripture where he declares, "I am who I am", or "I am the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob", etc., but rather, God has made himself known throughout the whole of the Scripture! Every page of the Bible speaks about and declares the attributes and qualities and nature of the God we serve and worship.
But this catechism demands that we think even beyond the revelation of Scripture, because God has also made himself known in his works of Creation. Here I think specifically of Romans 1:20. "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made."
The Divines' broad understanding of the third commandment have big implications. What, for example, does this understanding of the third commandment say about how we are to treat both the Scriptures and the created order? It should certainly make us pause and consider how we use and abuse God's good creation. Are we being responsible stewards, or are we abusing and profaning God's general revelation? And concerning the Bible, God's special revelation, the third commandment should really give us pause to consider how we use his revealed Word. Do we treat the Bible as God's revelation of himself to us, or are the texts nothing more than bendable, pliable words there for us to twist and manipulate in such a way that appeases our own sense of what is good and right, what is fair, what is tolerant or accepting, whatever the case may be?
I'm not sure if the Divines were right to understand the third commandment this broadly. I'm not sure they were wrong either! It all goes back to the issue of reverence and showing respect to the means by which God makes himself known. Certainly the third commandment addresses that issue as it concerns the name of God. And certainly all of God's chosen means of self-revelation are worthy of being shown reverence. I'm just not sure if the third commandment is really addressing the issue of respect and reverence towards general and special revelation, even if God's revealing of his holy name falls into those broader categories. If anything, though, this week's catechism should be a reminder to us of the all-encompassing nature of God's holiness. We are right to think of God as holy, but we also need to see that his holiness encompasses all that he is and all that he reveals about himself. And while I'm not saying that creation itself should be considered holy, just as I'm not saying that the paper and ink that make up the pages of the Bible are holy, the revelation of God as revealed in the created order, and the revelation of God as revealed in the very words of Scripture, should absolutely be considered holy, and should therefore be shown the same reverence that we would show to God himself.