Sermon: Mighty Name

Mighty NameThe Third Commandment: You shall not take the Name of the Lord in Vain

In Lewis Carroll’s book “Alice in Wonderland”, Alice was having a conversation with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare one afternoon. And the March Hare scolded her, saying, “You should say what you mean!”
Alice said, “I do — at least, I mean what I say — that’s the same thing you know.”
The Mad Hatter says, “It’s not the same thing a bit! You might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’!”
The March Hare adds, “You might just as well say “that ‘I like what I get’ is the same thing as ‘I get what I like’!”

We know that it’s not the same thing, and as Christians we need to say what we mean and we mean what we say, especially when it comes to God. Today we are looking at the Third Commandment .

“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.”

The very name of God is sacred. The Jews took this command so strictly that they avoided pronouncing God’s name altogether. They were so afraid of using it in vain that it got to the point where it was pronounced only once a year, that was by the high priest on the Day of Atonement.

A class of students were studying Hebrew under an orthodox Jewish rabbi. One day the students were reading the Hebrew text out loud. One of the rules of the class was that when you came to the name of God you were not to pronounce what was in the text. You were to change the name to “Adonai” which is Hebrew for Lord.
Well, one of the students inadvertently pronounced the name of God and upon hearing it the rabbi put his hands over his ears and ran from the classroom. No one saw him for several days. When he finally surfaced again they found that he considered himself so unworthy of hearing the name of God that he spent days in prayer asking for forgiveness.

Now, that’s probably a little extreme. What’s the big deal? In fact, you might even wonder why the name of God is even mentioned in the third commandment. Why didn’t God just say, “I am the Lord, and you need to take me seriously”?

After all, as Juliet said to Romeo, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”

And there is a degree to which that is true. The four-legged creature we call a “dog” could just as easily have been called a “zuffle” and it really wouldn’t have made much difference.
But, in another sense, Shakespeare was very, very wrong. Names do make a difference.

In the scriptures, the significance of a person’s name defined their life. A name wasn’t just a label. It stood for the person, revealed his character and identified his role. And sometimes they needed a name change.

In Genesis 17, God said, “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.”

When twins were born, they were given names the names Esau which means red or hairy and Jacob which means grabber or deceiver — which is very fitting for his whole life. But, following a wrestling match with God, the Lord gave Jacob a new name: Israel, which means “one who struggles with God.” And that name eventually became the way of identifying the entire Hebrew nation — they were a people that struggled with God.

When Simon came to Jesus, Jesus said, “You are Simon, the son of Jonah. You shall be called Peter (which is translated, a stone).” (John 1:42).
Those passages let us know that their names were significant statements about the purpose of their lives.

Now look at this can of Coke. If you look good enough at this you will see a little TM after the name, which stands for Trademark. Even though we use the word Coke to describe nearly every kind of soft drink, the name Coke is the sole property of the Coca Cola Company.

What do you think would happen if I took a cup of water, added some caramel coloring to it and some sugar and then slapped a Coke label on it and tried to sell it? I would get sued because I had put the same name on my product that was on their product. Well, what’s the problem with that? What’s so important about the Coke name?

The name stands for everything that they are as a company – their entire reputation – is wrapped up in that name. So we can understand why they would get upset when someone uses that name in an inappropriate way.

Now if we can understand that about a can of Coke, how do you think God feels when we use His name in an improper way?

The last part of Exodus 20:7 says that God will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.

So how do we take God’s Name in vain
There are at least two different areas in which the name of God can be used “in vain”.

  1. We misuse God’s Name in our speech
  • One of the things God was concerned about was the use of His name in the taking of vows. In Leviticus 19, God said, “And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.”
    It’s as if God was saying, “Don’t you ever use my name in any oath you don’t plan to keep. Don’t ever claim to tell the truth or make a promise on the basis of my name, and then fail to fulfill that promise! My name is too holy to be attached to anything empty or untruthful.”God’s point is that when a person uses His name to take an oath and then neglects to do what he said he would do, he smears the name and reputation of God. You’ve proven that you don’t take him seriously.Jesus goes a step further. In the 1st century the Jews had established an informal system of oath-taking. If you swore by God, you were bound to it. But if you wanted to get out of your vow you could make it you promise on something or someone else. For example you could say, “I swear on my mother’s grave.” Then when you wanted to get out of it, you could later follow up with, “Ha, ha, she’s still alive!”

    The Pharisees believed that the closer your vow was to God, the more seriously you had to take it. But the further away from God and his name you moved, the more latitude you had with the truth.

    Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:37, “But let your ’Yes’ be ’Yes,’ and your ’No,’ ’No.’

  • Another way that we misuse the name of God is in profanity.
    There’s a verse in Isaiah 52:5 where God is mourning the plight of his people. As he lists the evils of that day, he says, “My name is blasphemed continually every day.”

Sound familiar?

We hear it in movies, on television, at work or at school. We’ve all known people who get angry or frustrated and use God’s name to condemn whoever he sees as the source of his problem.

What in the world could be more unholy than condemning someone or something in the name of the God who desires for all men to be saved?
When we take the name of God and misuse it, we reveal something about ourselves — either we misunderstand the nature of God, or we just don’t care about him.

“God” and “Jesus” have become adjectives.

Most people will say, “I didn’t mean anything by it.” But the point God wants to get across is that we shouldn’t utter God’s name unless we do mean something by it, because his name does mean something. And we ought to have respect for that which is holy.

This is the third command that tells us how important God is to our lives. He’s not just “background noise” in our lives. He is the reason for our lives.

Kentucky Fried Chicken Founder Colonel Sanders said, “Becoming a Christian cost me half my vocabulary.”

2. We can misuse God’s name through our lifestyle.
When God gave his covenant to the Jews, the nation of Israel carried around the responsibility of bearing God’s name. The Jews became God’s people. That meant, among other things, that they bore the responsibility for carrying God’s name to the rest of the nations of the world.

When others looked at Israel, they saw God’s people. They got an idea of what God was like. They carried God’s reputation with them just like every can of Coke carries the reputation of its parent company.

When I was at school the headmaster would tell us over and over again that we represented the school. How we acted reflected on the whole school and affected the reputation of the school.
In the same way, the actions of Israel reflected on God and God’s name because they were God’s people. They had a responsibility to live up to their role as the bearers of God’s name.
Listen to what Paul says in Romans 2:21-24: “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.””

God’s name was blasphemed because of the way they were living. They were teaching all the right things, but they weren’t living it. And as a result, God’s name was taken in vain.

In Malachi 1:6, God says, “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence? says the LORD of hosts to you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, ’In what way have we despised Your name?’”

God says, “You’ve despised my name, you’ve taken it in vain.” What was their response, “What are you talking about? How have we done that?” And so God goes on to explain that they despised his name by not living lives of righteousness. These people had shown contempt for God’s name, but it wasn’t through their words; it was through their actions.

The Israelites were supposed to bring their best animal as a sacrifice. Specifically, the sacrifice was to be a one-year old male lamb that had no blemish or spot, no broken legs, and no disease. Instead, they were bringing the leftovers – the ones that they and no one else wanted.

God says in vs. 8, “Try offering them to your governor!” What they were bringing to God supposedly to honor his name was something that their public officials would have laughed at and been offended by.

God’s name was supposed to be lifted up and magnified in Israel so that the rest of the world would see what a great God they had and magnify Him. But instead, Israel through its actions had thrown mud on God’s name so that the rest of the world laughed at their God rather than praising Him.

You see, anyone can talk about God. When someone sneezes, we easily say, “God bless you!”

But faith isn’t just talking about God. Christianity isn’t about words; it’s about a relationship.

That’s why this command talks about our sincerity to God in terms of using his name with reverence. God is holy. He deserves our reverence and our worship — not just our words, but our genuine, sincere faith and worship. When we talk about God, we need to mean what we say.

This commandment is calling us to authentic faith. God doesn’t want you to merely say that he’s number one; he actually wants to be number one. When it comes to God, we need to “practice what we preach.” After all, if you’ve given your life over to Jesus, you bear his name. When you call yourself a “Christian,” you’re saying that you are his representative. Your actions are a reflection on his reputation.

Sometimes God may need to say to us, “Change your life or change your name?” We cannot call ourselves a “Christian” and act like the world.

If we are to bear Christ’s name, then our lives must have a quality about them that reflects the meaning of his name.

As Christians, we carry around the name of Christ wherever we go. We are the people of God. Wherever we go and whatever we do reflects back on God and how the world thinks of Him.

Using God’s name in vain is more than a ban against cursing.

And it shouldn’t cause the kind of extremism experienced by Jews, who are afraid to speak the name of God at all, lest they misuse it in some way.

This third commandment is an instruction to use God’s name with reverence and to mean what we say. It is a call for sincerity in our relationship with the Lord.

Ultimately, the question we need to answer for ourselves is this: “How much respect do I have for God and His name?” Am I using the kind of language that is going to bring honor to the name of God? Even further, am I living my life in such a way as to bring honor to the name of God?

Names are important. Acts 4:12 tells us, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

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