THE MISUSE OF GOD’S NAME EXODUS 20:7
On January 8, the year of our Lord 1697, at two o’clock in the afternoon, Thomas Aikenhead was taken to the gallows on the road between Edinburgh and Leith. The hangman pulled away the ladder, the body swung and the theology student, not quite nineteen, was dead. His crime? Blasphemy!
An act of the Scottish parliament in 1695 decreed that a person “not distracted in his wits” who railed or cursed against God or persons of the Trinity was to be punished with death. In prosecuting the case, James Stewart, the Lord Advocate (the Scottish equivalent of Attorney General), addressed the accused: “It is of verity, that you Thomas Aikenhead shaking off all fear of God and regard to his majestic laws, have now for more than a twelvemonth made it as it were your endeavor and work to vent your wicked blasphemies against God and our Savior Jesus Christ.”
Now, I am not here this morning advocating that the blasphemy law of Scotland in the seventeenth century be reenacted. But imagine if that law was still enforced today, we would probably see fewer people taking the name of the Lord in vain. Why? The reason is that blasphemy has become a way of life for many in our culture. There are people all over the world who are misusing the name of the Lord. Yet, I want to remind you that this is nothing new. The Psalmists said this about his generation, “Remember how the enemy has mocked you, O LORD, how foolish people have reviled your name” (Psalm 74:18).
Over the past three weeks, we have been examining the Ten Commandments and how they relate to our lives today. Before we look at the third commandment, I want to recap the first two commandments and give you three quick rules to understanding the Ten Commandments.
The first commandment instructed us on the “WHO” of worship. God demands that we worship Him and Him alone. There are to be no other gods in our lives. The second commandment commanded us “HOW” we are to worship God. We are not to make a false representation of any god or the One True God because He is invisible, immortal, eternal God. Nothing we could create could do Him justice because he is to be worshiped in spirit and in truth.
This morning, we are going to explain the third commandment, which again tells us how we are to worship God because of who He is and what He has done. This commandment is much broader than we think and so I want take our time this morning in explaining it, but before I do that let me give you the principles I promised you in interpreting these commandments.
1) The Ten Commandments are spiritual and therefore obeyed from the heart. Outward conformity must be the result of inward affection. 2) There are positive and negative aspects to each commandment. If there is a sin forbidden, then a duty is commanded; and if there is a duty commanded, then a sin is forbidden. 3) Each commandment forbids not only the act of sin, but the desire and inclination as well.
Now, let us discover some truths from this commandment. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. What does this mean? There are three words found in the verse repeated twice which will help us grasp the meaning of the text.
The first word is take. This word in the Hebrew means “take up, take away, bear, bring, bring forth, stir, lift up, fetch, set up." The word implies the word or thought or action in which we take the name of the Lord. Not only don't speak God's name wrongly, not only don't write God's name wrongly, not only don't use God's name wrongly, but whenever you take up God's name, make sure you take it up aware of His holiness and consistently with His holiness. Don't claim His name unless you treat it with reverence and respect.
The second word is name. Name carries more than simply the idea of the syllabic sounds by which a person is called. In Hebrew thought "a person's name included his whole being" [J. Douma, The Ten Commandments: Manual for the Christian Life, 75]. "The name of the Lord your God" therefore conveys more than the titles of the Lord, though these are certainly important; rather name refers to what the Lord is in His character, honor, worth, dignity, and being as the Sovereign Lord. His name therefore is an extension of His being in all that He has created, commanded, and promised. The name of the Lord touches all of human existence: as Creator our lives are to be lived with reference to Him; as Lawgiver our behavior is to reflect the moral dignity of the Creator; and as the Covenant-keeping God, all that have entered into covenant with Him through the promises in the gospel of Jesus Christ, are to live as God's children.
So God jealously guards His name. In our culture we do not value our name like in some cultures. We might wear a nametag at a conference to distinguish between Bill and Tom or Sarah and Jane, but places like Africa it represents something about their character. Derek Prime was an American living among the Masai in Tanzania. He wrote in public and with strangers they did not use personal names, but only titles or designations. One day a Masai man said to him: “Do not throw my name about. My name is important. My name is me. My name is for my friends.” So we need to be careful how we use the name of the Lord in our talk and walk.
The third word is vain. Vain means “evil, iniquity, wickedness, falsehood, emptiness, vanity, nothingness." To "take the name of the Lord your God in vain" implies that one so lives or speaks or acts in such a way that the honor of the Lord is considered nothingness, His being evil, and His glory empty. Rather than declaring with the Psalmist, "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth," the one that takes the Lord's name in vain considers the Lord to be without majesty and transcendence (Psa. 8:1). It is tantamount to declaring, "Your name is worth nothing in my estimation."
So God says do not take my name in vain. Let me illustrate from Scripture how the Lord’s name is taken in vain and then I want to draw some practical conclusions for us today. Jochem Douma identifies three common ways in the Bible that God's name was taken in vain [74-75]. First, "the name is misused in sorcery." Ancient sorcerers and conjurers would seek to use the name of a particular god among a people in order to harness its magical powers. The seven sons of Sceva, a certain Jewish priest identified by Luke concerning an incident in Ephesus, sought to harness the name of Jesus Christ they had heard Paul use in order to exorcise a demon. "I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches," they said over the evil spirits. But it backfired! The demonized man leaped on them, subdued them, and stripped them naked (Acts 19:11-20). Their use of the name of Jesus Christ came out of a belief in superstitions and not out of devotion and honor to Him. The Lord's name taken in vain will not go unpunished! That was proved out vividly in Ephesus so that due to this incident, "fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified," Luke records.
Second, "the name is misused in false prophecy." False prophets never identified themselves as such but rather used the name of the Lord to prop up their false declarations. Jeremiah grew frustrated with the false prophets in 6th century Judah, as they sought to undermine every warning that he uttered in the name of the Lord by issuing their false prophecies in the name of the Lord. The Lord told Jeremiah, "The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name." In other words, they claimed to have received word from God about the particular matter in which they spoke. The Lord assured Jeremiah that the very things the false prophets said would not happen, sword and famine, would be the source of their end (Jer. 14:13-15). That serves as a continual warning to the many modern day false prophets that fill the television screens and often in pulpits, claiming to have a word from the Lord outside of the revelation of Holy Scripture. We dare not give heed to them lest we take the Lord's name in vain by honoring such false utterances.
Third, "the name is misused in the false oath." Later in the Pentateuch, the Lord declared, "You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the Lord" (Lev. 19:12). Here is the use of the Lord's name to give the appearance that what a person is saying is true when actually it is false. In the courtroom it is called perjury, or lying under oath. In this case, the holy and pure name of the Lord is used as an instrument of deceit. Often, the Lord's name is used in casual conversation to make one's assertions believable, when in fact, they are false.
Now that we have seen a few ways in which the Lord’s name was used in vain in Scripture, let us turn our attention to some ways people use the Lord’s name in vain today. Well, the first obvious way in which people profane the name of the Lord is with profanity. This clearly violates this command. Yet, this is done everyday on television shows, movies, sports and talk radio. When you think about it you never hear the devil’s name used with curse words or that of Allah or Buddha or Vishnu. No, it is always God’s name associated with curse words.
Phil Ryken explains that the way our society uses God's name in vain serves to prove the existence of God.
All of the bad language on television and at the movies reveals how godless our culture has become. But it also shows that we can never get away from God. People can't seem to swear without using God's name. Why is that? What does it tell us about the human condition? I think it proves the existence of God. Like everything else people say, cursing comes from the heart. When non-Christians use God's name-even in vain-it shows that deep down they know there really is a God. Their rage is direct rebellion against his honor [Written in Stone, 94]. Another way in which the Lord’s name is used in vain is treated it frivolous or trite or demeaning. For example, people refer to God as “the man upstairs” or the “big guy in the sky.” When we use "my God" or "my Lord" or "Jesus Christ" as a way to express our shock, dismay, surprise, elation, or just casual interjection in conversation, then we've taken His name in vain. If we indeed believe that the name of the Lord is majestic and glorious, and then to inject such a holy name into our conversation as an exclamation without reference to His honor is comparable to adding His name to a profanity. In both cases, God's name is treated without respect and dignity. When we use "my God" or "my Lord" or "Jesus Christ" as a way to express our shock, dismay, surprise, elation, or just casual interjection in conversation, then we've taken His name in vain. If we indeed believe that the name of the Lord is majestic and glorious, and then to inject such a holy name into our conversation as an exclamation without reference to His honor is comparable to adding His name to a profanity. In both cases, God's name is treated without respect and dignity. Another way that we might use the Lord’s name in vain is to use it flippantly. Proverbs reminds us that when words are many, sin is not absent. Someone once remarked: “An unbridled tongue is a chariot for the devil.” We are guilty when we use God’s name in a superficial or insincere way. It is possible to say the right things but in the wrong way. For example, we could say the Lord told me to tell you this, but we really never did hear from the Lord. We only said what we said because it was going to help us get our own agenda passed. So Christians bear the name of the Lord as His people. We are called by His name. It is through faith in that name of Christ that we are saved (Acts 4:12). We call upon the name of the Lord and are saved (Rom. 10:13). To those who overcome by faith, Jesus declares that He will "write on him the name of My God" (Rev. 3:12). The triumphant scene in Revelation 14:1 describes believers with Christ as "having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads." Revelation 22:4 pictures believers in heaven: "they will see His face and His name will be on their foreheads." Everything about our relationship to God through Christ and His sacrificial death relates to the name of the Lord. When we who bear the name of the Lord as His redeemed, live like the world or neglect our spiritual walks, then we take the name of the Lord in vain. We treat the name by which we are called as Christians with disrespect. We give the world occasion to blaspheme the good name of the Lord even as David did by his careless sin (2 Sam. 12:14). "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain." The Bible is clear that if we take the Lord’s name in vain, you will not go unpunished. You may think you have gotten away with it, but God knows the intention of our words or thoughts or actions. We may not be found out in the church, but we must remember that nothing slips the notice of an Almighty God. So as Christians let us be careful in what we say or think or do. Now that we know what it means to take the name of the Lord in vain; I want us to focus on the positive aspect of this command. I want us to consider what is required in this commandment. Alistair Begg in his book on the Ten Commandments gives us some helpful insights. First, let us consider our thinking. Becoming a Christian is a mind-altering experience. Before you became a Christian there is a certain way that you viewed the things of God, but now that you are a Christian hopefully your mindset has changed. Peter reminds us that he wrote his two letters to his readers “as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking” (2 Peter 3:1). The way we think about God demonstrates our commitment to this commandment. God is not interested in our ability to maintain an external, legal observance of His Law by means of self-effort. He perceives our thoughts from afar and His word judges the thoughts and attitudes of our heart. The Psalmist wrote, “even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it all” (Psalm 139:4). So we need to carefully consider our thoughts before the Lord. A second way is through our praying. Just like a lot can be discerned by observing how a child relates to their father or mother says a good deal about their attitude in their heart. So it is true in a relationship with the Lord. The way we approach Him says a lot about how we revere His name. There is a huge difference between the interest of a religious man in learning the appropriate terminology to be able to say prayers and the earnest heartfelt cry of the child, “Daddy, Daddy help me” (Rom. 8:15). It honors God when we call for helped based on what His name means. Let me illustrate with a few examples. He is the Lord who provides, He is my peace, He is my shepherd, He is our righteousness. Paul urged Timothy to pursue righteous living in the company of those who “call on the name of the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). A third way we honor the name of God is in our speech. We keep this command by the way we speak to God and the way we speak about Him. Puritan Philip Brooks said, “We know metals by their tinkling and men by their talking.” We must speak of Him in a way that is honest and careful and in the way that he has made Himself know in the Scriptures. We must give credit where credit is due. For example, we must not credit Mother Nature for the weather, but God who created the day and its weather. Jacob deceived his father Isaac in his speech when he came to get the blessing that belonged to his brother Esau. Remember Esau went out for a hunt to bring back to his father and Jacob disguised himself as Esau. He tricked his father and lied in his speech by stating, “The LORD your God gave me success” (Genesis 27:20). A fourth way to honor God’s name is through our living. The prophet Micah distinguishes between the surrounding nations and the people of God when he declares, “All the nations may walk in the name of their gods; we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever” (Micah 4:5). In the first Psalm we see that the Lord’s servant does not walk in the counsel of the wicked but instead delights in the law of the Lord. Micah in chapter 6 verse 8 wrote, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” How do you treat the name of the Lord in the way that you talk, the way that you live as a Christian, and in the way you respond to His name being dishonored by the world? Even in worship, do you casually take His name upon your lips without giving thought to His majesty or His holiness or the grace He has shown in giving His Son on our behalf?