Name Above all Names

Original Date: 
Sunday, September 25, 2016

Exodus 20:7 The Ten Commandments: Name Above All Names

I Got it from my Father
When I was a kid, we had a plaque that hung in our front porch. It said something like this:

You got it from your father
It was all he had to give
So it's yours to use and cherish
For as long as you may live

If you lost the watch he gave you
It can always be replaced;
But a black mark on your name
Can never be erased

It was clean the day you took it
And a worthy name to bear
When he got it from his father
There was no dishonor there

So make sure you guard it wisely
After all is said and done
You'll be glad the name is spotless
When you give it to your son. (“Your Family Name, by Nelle A. Williams

And above it, in big letters, was written our family name: “Muilenburg.”

That plaque made an impression on me. My last name is a gift from my father. He got it from his father. I don’t want to do anything that is going to tarnish that name. I don’t want to use the name I’ve been given in a useless way.

Today we are turning to the third commandment, and it is all about the name of God. You can find it in Exodus 20:7:

7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”

The King James Version says: “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.” To use something “in vain” is to use it in a worthless way. To treat it as though it has little or no value. To use God’s name in vain is to speak of Him flippantly, or irreverently, or dismissively. It is to make Him of no account. A more literal translation of this command would be: “You shall not lift up the name of the LORD your God for nothingness.”

A couple of things to note from the way the command is stated. For one thing, God takes this very, very, very seriously. He says, at the end of the verse, “for the LORD will not hold guiltless anyone who misuses his name.” In other words: God is not going to overlook this sin. Society might overlook it. They might do it all the time on TV and in the movies. The police will not arrest you for it. But that doesn’t mean that God is O.K. with it. He takes it very seriously.

And, for another thing, we need to realize that this is talking about more than just a name. The reason God takes this so seriously is that names stand for reputations. That’s why that plaque hung in my parents’ porch. God isn’t worried so much about what we do with His name as He is with what we do with Him. How do we think about Him? How do we think about what that name represents? Do we care about His reputation?

To put this commandment more positively, we could say: God wants us to honor His name. God wants us to speak of Him with reverence, care, and respect.

Misusing God’s name is a direct attack on God’s honor and glory. It is to make Him into nothing. When we use His name in a careless or unthinking way we are saying that we do not think much of Him.

So what, exactly, does this command prohibit? Is it just about not using God’s name as a curse word? It includes that, to be sure. But we’re going to see that it so much more than that. Edmund Clowney says that this is “a general commandment with a broad application.” (How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments, p. 39) I’m going to suggest at least 5 ways that we often misuse the name of God. And then (because focusing on what is prohibited all the time can be depressing) I am also going to suggest 5 ways that we can properly use God’s name. So: 5 things we should not do with God’s name, and 5 things we should do instead.

First, do not use God’s name for profanity. We should not use God’s name as a way of expressing anger or frustration. We should not use God’s name as a way of cursing another person, or calling trouble down upon them.

Last January, we did a series called Taming the Tongue, and I preached a message on Bad Words. My text was Ephesians 4:29-5:5, which talks about “unwholesome words” and “obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking.” That sermon was not really about the third commandment, but I mentioned it. Here’s what I said then:

As Christians, we should be especially careful about using the Lord’s name as a swear word.

Why would we want to take the precious name of our Savior, and turn it into an obscenity? I’m not sure I even get why that happens, but I know it does, and I know I’ve been guilty of it. Taking something utterly holy and turning it into a way to curse someone or something. That’s terrible. That’s serious. And it is something we need to repent of, and guard our lips against.

And, by the way, this includes seemingly simple phrases like “O my Lord!” or sticking OMG into a text. That’s not the way God wants us to use His name. It’s not the kind of talk God wants from us.

Now, I want to talk about that a little further. To profane something means to “treat something sacred with irreverence or disrespect.” Technically, a profanity is different from an obscenity. Obscenities are crude language. Usually sexual terms or bodily functions turned into swear words. But a profanity is taking the sacred, holy name of God and using it as a swear word. Obscenities are bad. But profanity is really bad.

“When you use God’s name in anger or to curse another, not only are you decreasing the value of that precious name, you are actually putting that name into the negative column. Instead of valuing the name of Jesus, it tears it down and drags it through the mud.” (Matt Mitchell, In Vain or Value, unpublished sermon, June 11, 2000)

Using God’s name as profanity is saying: “This name is so worthless that I can use it to mean excrement and make it a filthy thing.”

And what does the Bible say? “The Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”

In fact, there is a story in the Bible that illustrates just how seriously God takes this. It’s found in Leviticus 24. A dispute broke out between two Israelites, one of whom was half Egyptian. As they fought, the man of mixed descent blurted out a curse against God. The Bible says that he “blasphemed the Name with a curse” (v. 11). The bystanders were so appalled at what the man said they seized him and took him before Moses. Here’s what the LORD told Moses to do:

15 Say to the Israelites: ‘Anyone who curses their God will be held responsible; 16 anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death.” (Lev. 24:15-16)

And that’s what happened. They stoned him. For using God’s name as a profanity.

That’s pretty harsh. I wouldn’t want the death penalty in play for using God’s name as a swear word today. But that is how seriously God takes this. It is not a small thing to turn God’s name into a swear word.

So what should we do instead? We should praise God’s name. The opposite of profane is praise. Instead of tearing God’s name down and dragging it through the mud, we should lift it up to the exalted place it belongs. Psalm 66:2-4 says:

2 Sing the glory of his name;
make his praise glorious.
3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power
that your enemies cringe before you.
4 All the earth bows down to you;
they sing praise to you,
they sing the praises of your name.

When we praise God’s name we show His value. We exalt His reputation. We give Him the glory that He is due.

Second, do not use God’s name for blasphemy. We should not associate God with evil, or accuse Him of wrongdoing.

Blasphemy is actually the crime for which Jesus was killed. Blasphemy is taking the name of God and associating it with evil. Clearly, all humans are sinful, and so it was understood that any human being who claimed to be God was committing blasphemy. When it became clear that Jesus was calling Himself God, the high priests tore their clothes and demanded that He be killed (Matthew 26:64-66).

The problem is, of course, that we believe Jesus was the one human being with the right to call Himself God. He really was. And so when they executed Him for blasphemy it was actually those who crucified Him who were committing the great crime.

I don’t think claiming to be God is a real problem for us. But anytime we accuse God of evil, or blame Him for something that has gone wrong in our lives, we are committing blasphemy. When we say something like: “This is all God’s fault!” we are breaking the third commandment.

In the book of Job, when all sorts of terrible tragedies fell into Job’s life, his wife told him to curse God and die (Job 2:9). But that is something Job refused to do. Job 1:29 says:

22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Job was not going to smear God’s name by blaming Him for evil. He was not going to question the infinitely holy, wise and good God.

So what’s the opposite of blasphemy? We should hallow God’s name. This was the first thing Jesus told us to do in His model prayer. We should say: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

To “hallow” something is to recognize its holiness. It means to praise God for His goodness, His righteousness, His purity. When you hallow something, you set it apart for a sacred purpose. And that’s what God wants us to do with His name: preserve it for the purpose of worship and praise. Whenever we talk about God, we should think about His holiness.

Third, do not use God’s name for hypocrisy. We should not use God’s name as cover for our own wrongdoing.

In Acts 19 there is a strange little story about something that happened while Paul was in the city of Ephesus. His ministry there met great success, and he stayed for two years. The Bible says that God did extraordinary miracles through him, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that he had touched were effective in healing the sick and driving out evil spirits. (Acts 19:11-12)

But there were those who saw the attention Paul was getting, and who realized that he was performing these miracles in Jesus’ name. So they decided that they would also go out and drive out demons and heal illnesses in the name of Jesus. In particular, there were seven sons of a man named Sceva—a Jewish chief priest—who were running their own little exorcism business. They would say: “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” (Acts 19:13)

But then, one day, their little scheme backfired. Acts 19:15 and 16:

15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.

What the sons of Sceva were doing was hypocrisy. They were using the name of Jesus without really believing in Jesus. They were using His name as cover for their own selfish gain.

I don’t know how much of a temptation it is to set up a fake exorcism business, but I can think of lots of ways that we might use Jesus’ name as cover for our wrongdoing:
• The car driver with a fish sticker on the back bumper who is prone to road rage.
• The business owner who puts a cross in his or her yellow page ad but treats customers unfairly and with inferior products.
• The preacher who uses his position to bully and victimize members of his congregation.
And more.

The fact is: those of us who are Christians carry around the name of Jesus all the time. Another legitimate translation of the third commandment would be to say “you shall not carry the name of the LORD your God in vain.” The word translated as “take” in the King James is literally the word for “carry.”

When we were baptized, we were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. So we carry His name everywhere we go. We profess to be His followers. And anytime that we act inconsistently with that profession, then we are carrying His name in vain. Anytime we deal dishonestly with someone, or lose our temper in an ungodly way, or break the law, or treat someone with disrespect, or act inappropriately, we are being hypocrites. We are breaking the third commandment.

So what do we do instead? We should act with integrity. We should remember that everything we do is a reflection on our Lord and Savior. We should always act as though God is watching (He is!) and with the understanding that what we do reflects on Him (it does!) Remember what Paul says in Colossians 3:17, a verse we studied this summer:

17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The third commandment is about much more than whether you use the name of Jesus when you hit your thumb with a hammer or miss a shot on the golf course. It has to do with how we carry the name of Jesus with us wherever we go and whatever we do.

Fourth, do not use God’s name for magic. We should not use God’s name as though it were a lucky charm or a magic word.

In the Ancient Middle East, there was a way of thinking that said if you knew a god’s name then you had some control over Him. Like a genie in a bottle, the thinking went that he had to do as you bid him. That’s why the sons of Sceva thought they could use Jesus’ name to kick out demons.

And the nations around the Israelites used the names of their gods in pagan rituals—magic, spells, witchcraft, divination and sorcery. But God would have none of that. Deuteronomy 18:10-12 warns:

10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you.

My friend Matt writes: “God’s name is not discovered, it is revealed. And the LORD is not controlled. He is sovereign. We do not name the LORD—He names us.” (Ibid)

I don’t know how much of a temptation it is for us to try to perform spells in Jesus’ name; but I thought this was a good warning to include because of its opposite. God doesn’t want us to do magic in His name, but He does want us to pray in His name. Consider what Jesus said in John 16:24:

24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

Do you see the difference between prayer and magic? Magic is demanding. It is the belief that we can exercise some control over God and make Him do what we want. Prayer is asking. It is recognizing that God is sovereign and that we come before Him only by His grace. In prayer we do not force God to do our bidding, but we make our requests in the name of the LORD knowing that He will choose how to answer.

Fifth, do not use God’s name for promise-breaking. Or, to put it another way, anytime we break a promise we are, in effect, taking God’s name in vain.

There is a reason that we ask witnesses to put their hands on Bibles when they swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. There is a reason we say “so help me God” when we want to convince someone we are being serious. The reason is that we are inviting God to judge us if we fail to keep our vow. We recognize that we are speaking in His presence. That’s all about the third commandment. Leviticus 19:12 puts it like this:

12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.”

If you are going to break your promise, don’t drag God into it. He doesn’t want to be party to your deception. He doesn’t need you calling on Him to be your witness if you’re going to lie and cheat.

But J.I. Packer points out that “all promises are made in his presence and involve him, whether his name is mentioned or not.” (Keeping the 10 Commandments, p. 62) God is everywhere. He is a part of every transaction. And so every time we break a promise, we are taking God’s name in vain.

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says this. Matthew 5:33-37:

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Apparently, there were some Pharisees and teachers of the law who were making vows and swearing by heaven or by Jerusalem or by their own head. They believed that these oaths gave them an extra seriousness, and gave people reason to trust them. But then, later, if they happened to break their promise, they would say: “Yes, but I didn’t swear by God’s name. So you should not have believed me.” It was the ancient equivalent of the playground trick of crossing your fingers.

But Jesus isn’t buying it. He says you can look for all the loopholes you want, but if you are a promise breaker you are a promise breaker. Whether you have invoked God’s name or not, you are still breaking the third commandment. So much better to forget about oaths altogether and simply do what you say you are going to do.

So, that’s the “instead of” here. Instead of a promise breaker, be a promise keeper. Remember that God is a part of every promise you make, and we should honor every promise as though it were made to Him. James 5:12 puts it like this, echoing the language of Jesus:

12 Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.

If you want to be a godly person, then make your promises cautiously and keep them conscientiously (Packer, 62). Remember that every vow you make is a vow to God—who will not hold guiltless those who misuse His name.

The Great Name
The third commandment is a general commandment with a broad application. “Do not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.” Don’t use God’s name as profanity. But there is more to it than that. Do not blaspheme the name of the LORD. Do not use God’s name as cover for hypocrisy. Do not use God’s name to try to magically control Him. Don’t break your promises.

We need to be careful with how we use God’s name. In fact, Old Testament Jews were so concerned about breaking this commandment that they refused to ever say God’s name out loud. Everything I’ve told you about how LORD is substituted in for YHWH is directly related to concerns about the third commandment.

But I think that is an overreaction. Because as concerned as God is about us misusing His name, there is actually a lot that He wants us to do with His name. This is the greatest name in the universe. The name above all other names. And we should honor this name with the glory it deserves.

In fact, in addition to things like praising the name and hallowing the name and carrying the name with integrity and praying in the name and keeping promises in His name, there are something like 100 instructions in scripture about what we should do with the name of the LORD.

I made a partial list. And I had Lori print up some bookmarks, that are available at the information table. On it are 14 things that we can and should do with God’s name. We should proclaim His name, and bless others in His name, and trust in His name, and fear His name, and more.

Rather than avoid the name, His name should ever be on our lips, as we give Him the honor He is due.