PULPIT TODAY SERMONS
Robert D. Pace
The chief concern of the third of the Ten Commandments deals with our speech. That is, how we use God’s name. And what we verbalize is important! The Bible says God takes account of every idle word and at Judgment Day He will judge not only our works but every word we have uttered. That means it is especially important how we treat the most Holy name in the universe. One reason I’m preaching this message is because many Christians don’t realize how they’re breaking this commandment and employing the Lord’s sacred name. Let me explain it this way:
(Illustration) I’ve read a little about how our Air Force pilots are trained for their high altitude adventures. One aspect involves learning about hypoxia, or, “oxygen starvation.” The cadets are given masks, placed in an altitude simulation chamber, and taken to a simulated condition of 30,000 feet. One cadet is required to de-mask and answer simple questions on paper. A brief time later, the students asking the questions quickly re-mask their partners that have been writing their answers. After inhaling several breaths of normal air the cadets are astonished at what they’ve written. Their notes are unreadable although they were certain they wrote legibly and intelligently. In reality they were only semi-conscious and about to black out.
I’ve found that Believers also need assistance from fellow Christians or they can experience spiritual hypoxia. Without realizing it, their behavior can become secular and unchristian. This is especially true as it regards how we employ God’s name. Christians assume they’re treating it appropriately but, in truth, they’re abusing it!
It doesn’t matter which version you read this commandment in it comes across loud and clear:
The NIV says: “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.”
The ESV, KJV and NAS are nearly verbatim when they read: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.”
The AV says: “You shall not use or repeat the name of the Lord your God in vain [that is, lightly or frivolously, in false affirmations or profanely].”
The NRSV says: “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.”
The Lord’s holy and unsearchable name isn’t to be used glibly or disrespectfully. We are called to handle it sacredly and never in an empty or meaningless way.
(Illustration) Years ago, when my son was young, I taught him the dangers of swear-words. He said, “Dad would you use God’s name in vain for a million dollars?” I said, “Davi, I wouldn’t use His name in vain for a billion dollars.” And I meant that.
(Transition) Since God does not want us to abuse his glorious name, I want to mention several ways his name is wrongfully employed.
How God’s Name is Misused
A. The most obvious way God’s name is misused is when it’s used as slander or as a curse. When someone says: “G.D. you!” God’s name is shamed and reduced to a swear word.
Do you realize when people say, “G.D. him” they’re asking God to curse someone that Christ came to die for? Words do have meaning. And it’s blasphemous to decree God’s eternal wrath against someone when the Bible says “God is not willing that any should perish.” People that employ this phrase reveal the depravity of their heart.
B. Another way God’s name is taken in vain is when it’s invoked as a mere idiom or glib expression. I believe most here would give a hearty “Amen!” to that, but you might be surprised how even Christians are guilty of this practice. Let me show you what I mean:
(Example) When God’s name is invoked as a grammatical punctuation such as: “Oh God!” or, “My God!” or, “Jesus!” or “Jeez” this is taking God’s name in vain. I don’t think most Christians that speak like this are purposely attempting to corrupt or impugn God’s name by speaking that way; in fact, they may not even be aware of what they are doing. But once God’s commandment to reverence his name becomes evident to a person they must drop all excuses for violating it. And Christians can be experts at excuse-making!
They excuse their verbiage by noting it’s “just an expression” or “figure of speech.”
Maybe they grew up hearing God’s name misused and it’s become a habit.
Perhaps they misuse God’s name because “everyone else does it.”
But the Bible doesn’t make exceptions for expressions, figures of speech, or parochial sayings. To trivialize God’s name regardless of our explanation is wrong! Perhaps someone has talked like this for twenty or thirty years and the habit is hard to break. Just remember, Moses didn’t place the prohibition against treating God’s name with disrespect 30 or 40 years ago; he presented it 3500 years ago!
When we use God’s name in a disrespectful or trite manner it diminishes the stature of our holy, sovereign, Creator. And God doesn’t want us treating His name as something insignificant.
While we’re discussing God’s name being used in casual conversation let me mention another caution here. As harmless as it may appear some people feel that God’s name can be used as a playful salute. For example, how many times have you seen this birthday announcement in the newspaper: “Lordy, lordy look who’s forty”? You say, “But that’s just a lighthearted birthday wish.” Yes, I must agree. But it’s also invoking the most holy, reverent, awesome name in the universe and it shouldn’t be treated as a fanciful byword.
(Transition) I understand this message is creating discomfort for some people. Maybe you’ve never considered how you’ve treated the Lord’s name. My intent is not to condemn or injure anyone’s feelings. Not at all! My intention is to bring Biblical light godly instruction to the third of the Ten Commandments. And I’m certain that the wise, discerning, sensitive hearer will seek to guard their lips and please God regarding the treatment of His name.
C. God’s name can be misused when it’s taken as an oath.
How many times have we heard statements like these: “As God is my witness,” or, “I swear to God,” or, “May God strike me dead!” or, “By God, I’ll finish that by Friday or else”? Do you know what’s happening here? These expressions indicate that God guarantees your pledge. And you’re putting God on the line for something He may not be willing to support. We can’t control circumstances, only the Lord knows what He will and won’t do—we don’t!
That’s why Hebrews 6:13 says, “since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself.” God is the only One authorized to swear by His name. We can’t be certain of anything good occurring when we employ God’s name as an oath.
But the Pharisees of the First Century were clever. They were masters of ‘straining the gnat and swallowing the camel.’ They figured out how to make oaths in God’s name without technically misusing it. They figured out how to swear to tell the truth in God’s name and then deceive without legally lying. Here’s how they did it:
(Example) The Hebrews of the Old and New Testaments considered God’s name to be so holy many of them wouldn’t even speak God’s Name—Yahweh or Elohim. Instead they referred to God as simply, “the name.” When they were asked which God they served they would say, “We serve “the name.”” When they took oaths they took a double-step back and swore by “the name of the name.” They did this because they thought the only irrevocable oaths were those connected directly with God’s name. So when they swore in “the name of the Name” they could weasel out of anything because God wasn’t immediately connected to their pledge.
Is it any wonder that Jesus taught the people of His day: “don’t swear by heaven or earth, just let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no”? (Matt. 5:34—37).
D. God’s name shouldn’t be used as some magical incantation. Let me explain.
(Example) In Eastern cultures people would often pray with an incessant repetition of their God’s name. Remember in Acts 19:34 the Greeks “shouted in unison for about two hours: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.’” This is what the prophets of Baal did when Elijah brought them to a showdown on Mount Carmel. For a half day the false prophets repeated Baal’s name trying to coax him into sending fire. It’s what the worshipers of the demon gods Dagon and Diana did.
There’s a reason people practiced this. By incessantly repeating a God’s name the worshipers thought they could attract power from their god into themselves. We have to understand that God’s name cannot be magically invoked to produce a display of power. He’s name doesn’t work like, “Abracadabra” or “Hocus-pocus domin-ocus.” The practice of Christianity is completely opposite of many of the worldly and Satanic cults. Nowhere in the Bible does it exhort believers to employ Christ’s name in rapid-fire succession to achieve results.
Repeating the name Jesus like a mantra over and over a thousand times won’t save anybody. The Bible says: “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Repeating the name Jesus until you blackout won’t heal anybody. The Bible says: “The prayer of faith heals the sick and raises him up.”
That’s why Jesus said in Matthew 6:7 when you pray don’t “keep on babbling like the pagan, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”
Now don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. I’m not suggesting, whatsoever, that anyone that repeats the Lord’s name more than two or three times successively is guilty of misusing His name. As a little boy I remember walking down the halls of my church hearing one of the dear saints whispering: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. . . .” That’s why I say, “I can’t judge when anybody is guilty of trivializing God’s name here.” But we must learn to invoke Christ’s name with the utmost respect!
(Illustration) Years ago I golfed with perhaps the worst golfer I’ve ever been on the course with. His game would have made a typical duffer look like a PGA expert. He had recently been baptized in the Holy Spirit and he was bonkers for Jesus. Well, part of his golf strategy involved invoking Christ’s blessing into his swing. Listen, if there’s one place the Lord doesn’t show up, it’s at the golf course. You’re on your own there. The Lord will help baseball players hit 500 foot homeruns and He’ll help football players run over 300 pound defensive lineman and score winning touchdowns, but the Lord doesn’t go to the golf course! Well, this guy thought he could coax the Lord into showing up. He would tee-up his ball and before drawing back his club he would repeat about twice: “Alright ball, in the name of Jesus, go straight!” It didn’t work one time all day! He lost more balls than I’ve ever seen.
Was he using God’s name in vain? Not purposely. But had he considered just how holy and awesome that name is I don’t think he would have trivialized it as he did.
(Insight) Something happens when we treat the Lord’s name frivolously or as an incantation or as common or as a swear word. And it’s this: The Lord’s name loses its power for us when we really need it. God’s name can’t be used all day as a byword and then later attached to prayers hoping to bring power and authority.
When God says don’t misuse His name He means don’t use it in a meaningless way; don’t trivialize it; don’t use it as an incantation; don’t swear or curse with it.
(Transition) I want to switch gears here and show you why God doesn’t want us abusing His name.
Why God’s Name Should Not Be Misused
Look at Exodus 20:7 again: “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” In other words, Moses most certainly affirmed that there would be negative consequences to abusing God’s name. Violating this command always invites trouble. How does He reprove us? I can’t determine that. Just know this: Moses said there were consequences! Turn to Deuteronomy 28 and let’s read:
I understand this reading comes from the Old Testament. But Paul said in Acts 13:40 that Christians must “Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you.” We are never held guiltless when we misuse God’s name. Never!
In Exodus 34 God called Moses to Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. When the Lord appeared to Moses He descended in a thick cloud and the Bible specifically says He “proclaimed his name, the LORD” to Moses. That’s interesting. God could have revealed to Moses the secrets of the universe. But when Moses was face-to-face with God the Bible says “God proclaimed His name to Moses”! God was saying: ‘Moses, My name is represented in every word of these Ten Commandments. And that means, in a very technical sense, that God’s name is as holy and awesome as His Word! Psalm 138:2 says, “you have exalted above all things your name and your word.”
Let’s take a moment to consider the wonders of his name:
The Bible says the power of His name saves us from the wrath of hell.
His name keeps us from the world’s evil and from falling into the hands of Satan.
His name supplies our needs and answers our prayers.
The shepherding power of His name leads us into paths of righteousness.
And His name brings comfort and peace.
Everything we need is found in Him. Why would we want to misuse His name? Why would anyone want to abuse the name of the sovereign Lord of the universe? God’s character can’t be diminished though it’s dragged through the mud or beaten like an anvil. Ultimately, the damage isn’t to God; it’s to us! We forfeit His grace.
(Transition) Moses wasn’t the only prophet to teach us how to treat God’s name. Jesus taught is how to invoke that name. He taught us to invoke it with hallowed reverence.
God’s Name Should Be Hallowed
When Jesus taught His disciples to pray he taught them to say, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (MAT 6:9). That word hallowed means ‘to honor and treat as holy.’ It means that we should “recognize God’s name is sanctified, set apart, and marked as unordinary.” It’s transcendent—completely separate and “wholly other” from creation.
God’s name is so different from anything of this world that it can’t even be compared to the most glorious magnificent part of creation. It’s infinitely above anything we could imagine!
We need to see him like Isaiah saw Him—“high and lifted up.”
We need to see him like Moses witnessed him—as a “consuming fire.”
The more we make of God the more he will make of our lives! The less we make of God the less happy and fulfilled we will be. This is why there are so many unhappy people in the world, and especially in America.
The reason our American culture, prosperous as it is, is so unhappy and spending billions of dollars to find happiness, is because people have lost a sense of the sacred. People are trying to find happiness by filling their lives with polluted, un-sanctified things. That’s why we need to reclaim an understanding of which parts of life are sacred and which parts are profane. Without this realization, people will lose the true meaning to life. Life doesn’t make sense when we can’t identify the sacred.
(Illustration) Ravi Zacharias noted America’s moral decay in his book, Can Man Live Without God? He illustrated it by noting a “personal ad” from a newspaper. It read, “I am a 58 year-old woman looking for something meaningful, interesting, and fun. I like C-span, Bill Moyers, Times crosswords, Mario Cuomo, [and] Nevada. I don’t like George Will, R.J. Reynolds, computer talk, fundamentalists, [and] California. I have limited stamina and resources, and looking for ideas for my life.”
Did you notice what was absent from her list? A desire for anything sacred and sanctified. Guess what? Johnny Bravo could knock on her front door embodying all her wishes, but she would not find true happiness. A life filled with Christ is the only means of contenting the soul.
(Illustration) Years ago, when paper news was delivered to your doorstep I would occasionally read the “Want Ads.” Let me read my favorite “personal ads” that I found years ago in the Atlanta Constitution: “Christian female seeks Holy Ghost-filled male.” I love that! What a theologically robust statement! She understood that marital bliss depended on her partner being totally absorbed with and overflowing with God. She didn’t want to merely comply with God’s command “not to be unequally yoked,” she wanted to be “Holy Ghost yoked” too!
The most important relationship of your life involves fellowshipping with the holy and sacred God of the Bible. Moreover, your added blessings and happiness will emerge as you ask God to sanctify your relationships, ambitions, purpose, and material objects.
Now for a final word about today’s message: Treat God’s name as it is—holy! Don’t use it as a glib byword or figure of speech or punctuation. Take it upon your lips with hallowed respect.
(Illustration) I recently read the story of a boy that was the first in his family to attend college. After arriving someone offered him drugs . . . but he wouldn’t accept them. The dealer said, “Come on, nobody will know.” The boy said, “That’s not the point. The point is that my mother cleaned houses and washed floors to send me to this college. I am here because of her. I am here for her. I wouldn’t do anything to demean her sacrifice for me.” Do you see his point? The young man was hallowing his mother’s name by refusing the drugs.
What about you? Do your words and actions bless the Lord in every way? He made the ultimate sacrifice for you!
Dennis E. Hensley, May–June, 1994, The Christian Reader, submitted by Jay Martin of Manistique, MI.
William H. Willimon & Stanley Hauerwas with Scott C. Saye, Lord Teach Us To Pray (Abingdon Press, 1996), pages 48-49.