If you have been here the past few weeks you know that we just began a series of sermons on the Ten Commandments—laws that provide the strong foundation for life that we need as individuals and families. Two weeks ago we BEGAN by learning that God doesn’t want to be the chief thing in our families—He wants to be everything. Who remembers the symbol for this first foundational command? Right! Pointer finger aimed up—to symbolize the fact that there is only ONE true God and life only works when we acknowledge this fact and follow His leading in all aspects of life. Last week we learned that how we worship God as families or individuals is extremely important. There are to be no substitutes for God. We bow down to Him and Him alone. Who remembers the symbol for that one? Right both pointer fingers aimed Heavenward with the left bowing to the right. We worship—we bow down—only to God.
Today we are going to learn about the importance of honoring God’s name. The symbol for this third command is to place three fingers over your mouth to remind you that we are not to take God’s name in vain and that we must teach our children not to misuse God’s name. Let’s try it. GOOD! Now—let’s review all three.
- Law #1 – Keep God First (pointer finger pointed Heavenward)
- Law #2 – Worship Only God (left pointer finger bowing to right)
- Law #3 – Honor God’s Name (three fingers over mouth)
Okay—our text for this morning is just one verse: Exodus 20:7. Look at the screens and let’s read it aloud together.
Exodus 20:7 – You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.”
In October, 2011, the Associated Press ran a deeply moving story about a name-changing ceremony for 285 girls in Mumbai, India. In October, 2011, the Associated Press ran a deeply moving story about a name-changing ceremony for 285 girls in Mumbai, India. At birth these girls had been named “Nakusa” or “Nakushi,” which means “Unwanted” in the primary Indian language of Hindi. That may sound cruel—and it is—but sadly it’s a common practice in India.
The name “Unwanted” is given to girls all across that Asian nation because families tend to value sons much more than daughters. As a result of this sinful mindset, female babies have been aborted or neglected at an alarming rate in India over the years. Well this renaming ceremony was an attempt to correct this and give the girls a new identity. The article reported, “The 285 girls—wearing their best outfits with barrettes, braids and bows in their hair—lined up to receive certificates with their new names along with small flower bouquets.” Some of the girls chose new names that mean “prosperous,” “beautiful,” “good,” or even “very tough.” One girl who had been named “Nakusa” by her grandfather said, “Now in school, my classmates and friends will be calling me by my new name, and that makes me very happy.”
I share this story because it illustrates the truth that names are important. Shakespeare was wrong when he said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” The fact is all names don’t “smell as sweet” and we carry our names with us—sweet or not—all our life. And throughout our lives they can indeed have a great deal of impact when it comes to who we are and what we do. As Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”
This week I read about the results of some research on the impact of our names that was done by an NYU professor named Adam Alter. Alter says his study has shown that names do indeed have the power to shape a person’s destiny. The technical name is “nominative determinism,” which literally means “name-driven outcome.” Alter points to the following examples:
- The name of the current Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales is Justice Igor JUDGE.
- In the realm of athletic pursuits, Anna SMASHnova is a professional tennis player.
- Layne BEACHley is a seven-time world champion surfer.
- Derek KICKett was a famous Australian football player.
- Stephen ROWBOTham was an Olympic rower for Britain.
- Usain BOLT currently reigns as the fastest man in the world over the 100 meter and 200 meter distances.
- Other examples include Daniel SNOWMAN, the author of a book about the Arctic and Antarctica,
- And Christopher COKE, a notorious Jamaican drug dealer;
Are all of these examples just coincidences? For instance, would Usain BOLT run just as fast if his name was Usain PLOD? I wonder. Alter concludes, “Researchers have shown that our names take root deep within our mental worlds, drawing us magnetically towards the concepts they embody.” Now—Alter may be stretching things a bit—but the fact is a name is not just a name. Our names can indeed impact our lives for good or ill. No doubt this is why so many celebrities have been known to change their names. For example: Marian Michael Morrison didn’t think that name would work as an actor in westerns so he changed his name to John Wayne. And I tend to agree. You can’t be cowboy with a name like Marian! Apologies to any men with that name who are present this morning! Another indication of the power of a name is seen in the products we buy. Some of those names are so well-known that they’ve become synonymous with that product.
- For example, most of us don’t look for a tissue when we need to blow our nose. What do we look for? Right! A KLEENEX.
- When we get a cut or scrape we look for a BAND-AID.
- When we want to wrap a present we look for SCOTCH TAPE.
Companies like these know the importance of names—the power of names—so they put trademarks on them so no one can use them wrongly.
This reminds me of something Sue and I saw in Bethlehem last fall. We were walking along the streets of modern Bethlehem, heading toward Nativity Square and I saw what I thought was a Star Bucks across the street. A closer look showed it was a “Stars and Bucks” coffee shop. As you can see in this picture it was the same logo with a similar name. These Palestinian businessmen respect the power of that brand name and are trying to use it to sell their product.
I wonder how many tourists have bought coffee there thinking they were getting the real thing!
The fact is names ARE very important and this is why most parents take naming their children so very seriously. I know Sue and I did. We talked and prayed for months before choosing the names for each of our three children. Of course—sadly, there are times when parents don’t take the responsibility of naming their children seriously enough and give names to their kids that become a real burden for them to bear. I’m thinking of the former Governor of Texas, Jim HOGG, who gave his two daughters the names “IMA” and “URA.” Or my cousin whose last name is “Wood”and saddled his two daughters with the names, “Natalie” and “Holly.” But—fortunately most parents don’t follow the examples of Governor Hogg or my cousin and use the task of naming their children as an opportunity to make a joke. Most parents take the task seriously because they realize that a person’s name has a lot of power for good or ill. You carry it with you all your life and over the years in many ways it becomes a summary of who you are. Think of it. whenever we hear a familiar name like, “Martin Luther King, Jr.” or “Saddam Hussein,” or “Mother Teresa”—our minds are flooded with different thoughts—and even emotions—because names represent something to us about certain individuals: who they are, what they’ve done, how they’ve lived. In our minds these names are a synopsis of these people’s lives and accomplishments. This is why parents don’t name their kids “CAIN” or “JUDAS” or “ADOLPH” because we associate those names with the evil actions of certain individuals.
So, naming a person is something that MOST people do not take lightly in our culture.
Well—in the culture of Moses and the people of Israel names had even greater significance. In those days a name was much more than a way to distinguish one person from another—it was much more than an identifying label. A name reflected the ESSENCE of a person. It was similar to the way WE look at a “nickname” like “shorty” or “red” or “egghead.” To the Hebrew people, names reflected some unique aspect of a person’s nature. For example, “JACOB” means “supplanter.” And that is a perfect description of JACOB. He WAS a supplanter. Do you remember when he stole his older brother Esau’s birthright—and then later tricked his father into giving him Esau’s blessing? You see, in these ancient times a person’s name was special because it reflected something unique about that person. But it was much more than that. In those days, names were also important because a person was felt to actually have been present in the name—in a manner in which he would not have been present apart from the name. The name WAS the person, so to speak. Because of this often there was some hesitation in telling a stranger your name—as if in doing so you were in some way giving that person special control over you. In Judges 13:18, the angel of the Lord hinted at this when he said to Manoah, Samson’s father, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” You see, in those days, to know a person’s name was thought to give you power over that person. It implied authority or control.
Perhaps this is why Adam was given the task of NAMING the animals in the Garden of Eden. Such an action demonstrated his role as sovereign—which he was. Remember? God gave mankind that sovereignty in Genesis 1:26 when He said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them RULE over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So NAMES were very, very special things to the people who first received these ten—tenDER commandments.
And—of all names—the most special—the most revered—was the name of God. You’ll remember that when God called the people of Israel out of Egypt, He revealed His name to Moses.Moses had asked how he should reply when people asked by Who’s authority he came, and in Exodus 3:13-14 God said: “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM’ has sent Me to you.” In revealing His name, God revealed Himself. You see, God’s name had a very special significance. It WAS God in a sense.I mean, God’s NAME was the same as His PRESENCE.At the very heart of Israelite worship was the phrase, “Call on the NAME [or the presence] of the Lord.” Deuteronomy 12:5 says, “You shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God shall choose to establish His NAME there for His dwelling.” And God’s name not only signified His presence. It also represented His ACTION
- Psalm 43:1 says, “The Lord SAVES by His name.”
- Psalm 20:1 says, “Men find PROTECTION in His Name.”
- Proverbs 18:10 says that “His Name is a TOWER OF REFUGE.”
Scripture records that God gave several different names to describe different aspects of His character such as: “ELOHIM” which means “the faithful one” or “Adonai” which means, “The Mighty One.” But the name which best describes God—and the name which the ancient Jews considered as the most Holy name of God—was the name we translate as, “JEHOVAH” or “Yahweh.” It means, “I am Who I Am” and it is used over 6500 times in the Bible.This name characterizes God as THE eternal, all-knowing, self-existing One Who has forever been and Who will forever be.It was a name considered to be so Holy that no Jew was ever permitted to speak it audibly.
In my seminary Hebrew class I learned that originally the Hebrew Scriptures were written with no vowels—only consonants. This kind of Hebrew is called “unpointed Hebrew” Well, after a while the leaders—the educated Hebrews—became afraid that people would forget how to read the Scriptures if the vowels were not present. So they added vowels but they did not move the original consonants. They felt that to do so would be sacrilegious. Instead they used combinations of dots and comma-like markings called “jots and tittles” and inserted them AROUND the original consonants. Hebrew that has these jots and tittles is called “pointed Hebrew.” But when they were inserting these commas and dots around the consonants that made up the Old Testament and came to the four consonants for this, the true name of God, “YHWH”—they felt His name was too holy to disturb in any way. They revered it so highly that they did not insert vowels there. Eventually the Jews did not attempt to even pronounce the name “Yahweh” lest they profane it. When Yahweh appeared in a passage, the reader would instead say, “Lord” This is the reason why “LORD” in all caps appears in some English translations of the Old Testament—like the New American Standard Translation. As a result of all this, today no one knows how this word—this name for God—should be accurately pronounced. It was forgotten long ago. And, since no one knows which vowels were used in YHWH, Jewish scholars use the vowel sounds in the word “ADONA.” When you do this the divine name is written “Yahovah” or “Jehovah.”
Here’s another bit of trivia to help you see how highly God’s name was revered in those days. In ancient Bible times, it was not even permitted to write the name of God in ink unless you were one of the scribes who were constantly re-copying the Scriptures. And when one of those scribes would come to that word—this word for God—he would stop his work and to bathe himself. Then, he would put on clothes that had never been worn. And then he would go and get a quill which had never had a drop of ink on it. Only then would he write God’s name and—after he had finished—he would discard that quill which would never be used again, and he would throw away those clothes which could never be worn again. That is how deeply the name of God was revered in the ancient Hebrew world.
How different it is our culture—our world!!! These days God’s name is constantly used flippantly to express anger or surprise.You can hardly watch a movie, or pick up a novel, or even listen to the radio without hearing God’s name used in a casual, irreverent way.I’ve seen a guaranteed overnight delivery company that has taken GOD’s name as an acronym and plastered it all over their trucks.The sad fact is we no longer revere the Name of God. We constantly break this third command.
In a recent poll 60% of Americans say they have taken the Lord’s name in vain but I think it would be more like 100%. We have all done it. And I say this because even Christians are guilty of breaking this third commandment. You see the word, “VAIN” literally means “empty.” So when we pray meaningless or casual prayers in which we make empty promises or simply repeat prayers by rote memory—when we pray “empty” prayers like this we are taking the Lord’s name in vain. When you and I sing “ALL to Jesus I surrender” but don’t really surrender anything, or “Wherever He Leads I’ll Go” and then ignore the needs of people around us—whenever we worship in this EMPTY way, we are disobeying this law. When we use irreverent titles for God like, “the Big Guy” or “The man upstairs” we are misusing God’s name. When we say “Oh My God!” or text “OMG” we are breaking this command. When we use Christian clichés like “Praise the Lord” but say them with no conviction we are breaking this command. I had a friend in our seminary church who would say these three words at the beginning and end of every sentence. And I know he didn’t mean to praise the Lord really. He was just casually throwing around that popular Christianese phrase—but by doing so he was disobeying this law. Do you remember that prominent evangelist several years ago who publicly stated that God would take his life if a specified amount of donations did not come forth from the audience? Well, it seems to me that using God’s name in that way to swell the coffers of his ministry is breaking this commandment.
I think when we say God says things in the Bible that the Bible does not say we are taking God’s name in vain. I’m thinking of the wife of another prominent pastor—from Texas—who said recently that God wants us to be rich. She also said God wants us to be happy. But the Bible doesn’t say either. I’ve known lots of faithful, growing Christians who were poor—and who endured very UNHAPPY times. The Bible says that God wants us to be faithful in spite of our cash flow—and that He is more concerned with our holiness than our happiness because that is where true JOY is found. So when you think about it, perhaps the greatest sinning with the name of God is not done in barrooms where His holy name is interspersed with sewer talk—but in churches where the words of songs and prayers are not really meant and where sermons are preached that are not in line with the teachings of God’s Word.
Well since you and I live in this society where profaning God’s name—using it in a vain way—is such a popular practice—and since we as believers even have trouble showing God’s name the proper respect, well it would seem to me to be very important for us to study—to consider—all the aspects of—this particular law. So, this morning let’s ask God to correct our thinking. As Paul puts it, let’s ask God to renew our minds when it comes to the way we use His name, so that we conform not to the world around us but to this teaching in His Word. There are two things we must understand in order to renew our thinking on this subject.
(1) The first we need to understand is that misusing or profaning God’s name is NOT a little DEAL.
Our Heavenly Father cares how we use His name which is why He has given us this law. The word “profane” means: “debasing or defiling that which is holy or worthy of reverence.” So to “profane” something is to take something that is perfect and holy and yank it down in the mud to our level. When I profane something, I try to reduce it to being nothing more than I am. And it seems that many individuals in our culture actually enjoy this practice. Look at the tabloids and gossip magazines and what they try to do to celebrities and you’ll see what I mean. Ron Mehl writes, “The public seems to have an insatiable appetite for anything that would drag famous athletes or performers, presidents, princess, preachers and high officials down to the lowest level.” When we do this we can say, “They are no better than me. I am as good as they are.” And by using God’s name in a profane way—this is what we are doing. We are taking God, who is holy and attempting to reduce Him to someone just like us. We are destroying the concept of a lofty God above us.
You know, if we followed that way of thinking to its logical conclusion there would truly be “nothing sacred” in the universe. Everything—even God—would be as sinful and fallen as we are. For—profaning God’s name with our misuse is nothing less than a denial of His holiness and majesty and power. Whether we realize it or not, it’s an attempt to pull Him down and make Him equal with us—which you may remember, is the same sin that got Satan kicked out of heaven. Referring to Satan, Isaiah 14:12 says, “How you have fallen from Heaven, oh morning star. You have been cast down to the earth for you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to Heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God. I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.” So misusing God’s name—profaning the name of God—taking the name of God in vain—is serious business.I emphasize this because many times we don’t think breaking this particular law is that big of a deal. In many of our minds it is just a word—a name.But you see this isn’t just a word—this isn’t just another name—there IS special POWER in this name!Think of it. The Bible says that demons screamed and writhed and tore themselves from their hosts at the mention of this name.In the authority of this name the eyes of the blind were opened and withered legs were made strong and even the DEAD CAME OUT OF THEIR GRAVES!At the name of Jesus alcoholics have been made sober. Harlots have been made pure. At the name of Jesus atheists have been made believers. Addicts have been set free.Eternal life is found in this NAME. Acts 4:12 says, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other NAME under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” John 20:31 says, “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing you may have life IN HIS NAME.” Remember Philippians 2 says that His is a “name that is above EVERY name!!!” So of course we would never use God’s name in a flippant or casual or irreverent way.
In Matthew 12:36-37 Jesus warned, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. Your words now reflect your fate then: either you will be justified by them or you will be condemned.” So, understand—when we disobey this command there are negative consequences—just as there are when we disobey any of the other nine commands.Remember, the last part of this command states, “the Lord will not leave unpunished who takes His name in vain.”
When I think of someone being punished for taking the Lord’s name in vain I think of the incident in Acts 5:1-10. You may remember that Barnabas and some of the other Christians in the early church were filled with faith and grace and the Spirit of the Lord. And their lives were dedicated to God, so that their possessions meant nothing to them unless they could use them for the glory of God. Barnabas sold some land and gave the money to the church. And Ananias and Sapphira thought they could get the same kind of prestige and assume the same places of leadership in the church if they gave as much money as Barnabas did. So they sold their property and told everyone they were giving all the proceeds to the church but they actually kept back part of the money. And Acts 5 records that they suffered horrible consequences for profaning the name of God in this way. They were both stricken dead on the spot.
So there are painful consequences to using God’s name in a profane or flippant way. We will reap what we sow in this area. And God loved us enough to give us this law so as to protect us from this kind of “harvest” in life. We must understand that God is serious about the way we use His name. It is not just another name.
(2) Another thing we need to understand to correct our thinking in this area is that misusing God’s name is not just a MOUTH problem.
It is a HEART problem. Jesus said this frequently. In Matthew 12:34 He exclaims, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good, for out of the overflow of THE HEART the mouth speaks.” In Matthew 15:18 He says, “But the things that come out of the mouth come from THE HEART, and these make man ‘unclean.” Luke 6:45 records Jesus as saying, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up IN HIS HEART, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of HIS HEART his mouth speaks.” This is a law that we must heed because disobeying it indicates that we have a heart problem. Profaning God’s name is as much an issue of the heart as it is the lips. So you can’t really say things like, “Well, she has a vile mouth but a good heart.” or “He’s got a problem with bad language but he really does have a heart of gold.” No—because according to God’s Word the way an individual speaks is a very accurate barometer of his or her heart—his or her inner self. James 3:8-12 says, “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the image of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? My brothers, can a fig tree, bear olives or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”
I’m saying the Bible teaches that when bitter, hurtful, or profane words come out of our mouths it is a sign that something is terribly wrong deep inside! So if words that profane God come out of our mouths, it should be a wake-up call for us! We should see this as an alarm reminding us that we need to get on our knees before our Holy God and ask Him to help us examine our hearts—AND OUR LIVES because the way we LIVE reveals what is in our hearts. As I said earlier, we also misuse God’s name when we live the Christian life in a vain or empty way.
There is an oft-told story of a Greek soldier who had been caught falling asleep on guard duty by Alexander the Great himself. When the general woke up the soldier he asked him, “What is your name, young man?” Meekly, the soldier replied, “Alexander, Sir.” The great king stood to his feet and with an explosion of sound barked, “Soldier, either change your name or change your conduct!”There is a sense in which many of us live our lives “asleep on guard duty.” Our walk with Christ—our service—has no sense of urgency. We have to remember as believers we bear the name of God’s Son. We are CHRISTIANS, which means, “LITTLE CHRIST” so the way we live reflects on Him. Many of us must change our conduct to reflect this name that is above all names. For when we live our lives in an ungodly way or an irreverent lackadaisical way, we profane the name of our Heavenly Father and His Son.
Billy Graham once said, “We take the name of God in vain when we accept it and allow ourselves to be called Christians but do not live godly lives.” The Apostle Paul said, “Everyone who confesses the NAME of the Lord must turn from wickedness.”(2 Tim 2:19) and in 1 Thess. 2:12 he writes that we should, “walk in a manner worthy of the God Who calls us into His own kingdom and glory.” I’m saying it is just as profane to let the name of JESUS CHRIST be placed upon us and live unworthy lives as it is for us to speak it loosely on the street in a profane way.
So—God’s name isn’t just another name and when we abuse or misuse it in the way that we speak or in the way that we live it’s an indication that something is very wrong.
What did you discover this morning as you sought to renew your mind in this area. What did our study reveal? Maybe you feel like the prophet Isaiah who, when he stood before God, suddenly realized that not only did he live among a people of unclean lips but his lips were unclean as well.
Maybe our study has helped open your eyes to see that you have indeed used your mouth or life to misuse God’s name or Jesus’ name. When Isaiah came to this realization an angel flew from God’s throne with a hot coal and with it he touched—cleansed—Isaiah’s lips. Maybe this morning you need to ask God to touch your lips and make them clean. Or maybe you’re here and through this worship service you have come to begin to realize Who God is and how much you need Him in your life. You realize how lost you are in life. Well if this is true then hear these words from Romans 10:13: “Everyone who calls on the NAME of the Lord will be saved.” If you do this, God will become much more than a NAME to you, for through Jesus we come to know God personally. You may be a Christian and enjoy a personal relationship with God and you feel this morning that God is calling you to serve here in this church in His Name. If that is true we invite you to move your letter and join this church. As we sing this final hymn, I invite you to leave your seat and walk forward and share any decision you have with me or Bobby or Kevin.