October 7, 2018
Names are very significant. In Europe and the United States we do not attach the same kind of significance that is found among people who live in other parts of the world. But we do value our names. We might say, “Hey you are dragging my name through the mud.” We try to keep our name good and honorable. This is what is going on right now in the process of naming a new Supreme Court justice. Mr. Kavanaugh is concerned about his name.
Well, God is concerned about his name. This morning we are looking at Ex.20:7, which is the 3rd commandment. It says, “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.” Of course we want to think about what it means to take the name of the Lord in vain, but before we do that, it might be helpful to think about the positive implication of this command. The positive implication is that the name of God is holy.
I. WE HONOR GOD’S NAME.
Sometimes we say that “holy” means to be set apart. God is certainly set apart from all else. But in my study I came to see that the idea of separation does not give the full sense of what the word, “holy” means. Holiness is “the quintessential nature of God.” Wheaton professor of Old Testament, John Walton writes, “Yahweh is holy, not because he conforms to some outside standard defined as holiness, but because he is God. Describing something as holy means that it is situated in the divine realm.” J.E. Hartley, in the Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch writes, “In Scripture, holiness is exclusive to Yahweh; the holiness of anything else is derived, either from God’s presence or from consecration to the sanctuary. Further, because only God is holy, there is nothing either within humans or on earth that is inherently holy, and no Scripture attempts to define ‘holy.” In the Bible we find the holiness of God revealed in his character, actions, and his words. I’m thinking that God’s holiness is the sum total of all that God is. In Lev.19:2 God says, “I the Lord your God am holy.”
Well, if God is holy, then surely his name is holy. Psalm.29:2 says, “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.” In Ps.86:9 we read, “All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.” The name of God represents who God is. And because of this we honor his name.
In the Old Testament God is referred to by a number of different names. The most holy name of God is Yahweh. When you see LORD in capital letters in the Old Testament that is the name Yahweh. This name was regularly spoken by the people of Israel. However at some point, perhaps after the Exile, the practice of speaking the name, Yahweh, ceased because it is holy. So when Jews would come to that name when reading or speaking about Yahweh, they spoke the name Adonai, which means, “Lord,” referring to God’s sovereignty. Hebrew was written using only consonants. In the middle ages little marks were inserted around the letters to show how to pronounce the words. These marks are called vowel points. Whenever the name Yahweh occurred they put the vowel points for the name, Adonai. And that gives us the name, Jehovah. I point this out to say that the name, Jehovah is not a name for God. Today, no one knows how to pronounce Yahweh. But in the Bible God’s name is not Jehovah. What is more, God never said that his name could not be spoken. When Moses asked what God’s name is, God responded with the name, Yahweh. “I am.” It is the name that reveals God in his ongoing loving-kindness and covenant faithfulness. God was revealing himself and inviting Moses and Israel to know him. When Jesus came to this earth God was inviting us to know him. In fact, Jesus called himself, “I AM.”
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray he said, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed, holy be thy name.” Jesus honored the name of God and taught us to honor the name of God. And since Jesus is God in the flesh his name is holy. I am reminded of Phil.2:9-11. Having become obedient to the point of death on the cross, we read, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” We bow in worship at the name of Jesus. We honor his name.
II. WE TRUST IN GOD’S NAME.
The name of God stands for all that God is. His name conveys his love and care. His name conveys his life. His is a name we can trust.
To trust in God’s name is to rest in his loving, faithful and good character. Because of who God is, what he does is always done well and is the right thing to do. So in Is.50:10 we read, “Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.” It is not uncommon for us to feel as if we are walking in darkness. That is because this is a dark world. Not only are people’s hearts blinded by the evil one, but this world is filled with violence, anger, self-centered pride and immorality. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” “For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.”
In Mic.4:5, we read, “For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever.” To walk in the name of the Lord is to live in the way of the Lord. In other words our way of living reflects his loving and faithful character. It’s exactly what Jesus meant when he told us to make disciples, teaching them to do all that Jesus commanded. We are walking in the name of the Lord.
In Jn.20:31 we read, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Later in 1Jn.5:13, John writes, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” The name of Jesus is life giving. To believe on the name of Jesus is to enter into a relationship with God and to receive his new creation life, which is an eternal kind of life. The name of Jesus is a powerful name that we can trust.
III. WE SERVE IN GOD’S NAME.
The Old Testament prophets spoke in the name, the authority of God. Jesus came in the name of the Lord. Followers of Jesus serve God in the name of Jesus.
In Col.3:17, Paul writes, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Whatever we do we are to do in a way that is in keeping with the name of Jesus. His name graces our actions. But let’s be more specific.
In Mk.9:41, Jesus says, “For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink [in my name or] because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.” Even the smallest kind of service done in the name or on behalf of Jesus is blessed. In Acts 9 we read about preaching in the name of Jesus. In Acts 2 we read about being baptized in the name of Jesus. In Mt.18:5, Jesus says, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.” When we serve and care for children we reveal the humility that characterizes those who receive Jesus.
In Jn.14:13-14, Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Jesus encourages us to use his name when we pray. We can pray in his name with confidence that he will do it. Asking in his name surely implies that we are asking for things that are in keeping with his work and character. In the verse before he says that after he ascends to the Father we will be doing the works that he does. It is in this context that we pray in his name.
As followers of Christ, bearing his life in this world, we present a living picture of Christ to the world through our actions and words. We serve in God’s name.
IV. WE REFUSE TO MISUSE GOD’S NAME. Ex.20:7
What does Ex.20:7 mean? “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.” This idea of taking the name of God in vain is not just found in Israel. In Egypt and other Mesopotamian religions one had to be careful about making oaths in the name of a god and then not fulfilling the oath. One had to be careful about swearing to the truthfulness of what they were saying using the name of a god, if in fact they were telling a lie.
In the Bible we see various ways in which God’s name can be taken in vain. In Lev.19:12, God says, “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.” When we make a statement whether in a court of law or just in general conversation and swear by God’s name that we are telling the truth, when in fact we are telling a lie, we are taking God’s name in vain.
Another way we profane the name of God is to make a vow, a promise in God’s name and not fulfill the vow. Eccl.5:4-5 says, “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.”
Another way that God’s name is profaned is when we use his name to manipulate God for our own purposes. I am reminded of Acts 19 in which it says that some itinerant Jewish exorcists in Ephesus noticed how Paul was able to cast out demons in the name of Jesus. A Jewish High Priest named Sceva had seven sons who decided to cast demons out of people invoking the name of Jesus. They would say, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” In Acts 19:15-16, we read, “But the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?" And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.” Any attempt to use God’s name in a manipulative way profanes his name.
But perhaps the most common way in which God’s name is profaned is when we use his name in a casual way. God’s name and the name of Jesus are often used to punctuate our angry outbursts, our crude jokes, our surprise at things, our being caught off guard. We’ve all heard it. “Jeeesus Christ! What are you doing?” “O my God! I can’t believe it.” “Christ! I got a parking ticket.” We even say, “OMG.” Everyone knows what we’re saying. Muslims don’t do this because they hold the name of Allah as being holy.
And I’m not suggesting that every time we say, “O my God,” that we are taking God’s name in vain, but it does strike me that we are far too casual in our use of the name of God. Do we show deep respect and awe for God and his name?
When I was dating Angie and sitting in class at seminary, I sometimes found myself writing her name on my page of notes. I would try to write her name in artistic ways. It would have never occurred to me to write her name sloppily and I certainly would not have wanted to use Angie’s name in a derogatory way. Angie was becoming dear to me and her name represented all that Angie is.
The name of God represents all that God is. His name is holy. His name is dear to us who have come to know him through faith and allegiance to Jesus. How do you use the name of God? Amen