“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.”
I was talking with a new friend yesterday about names–specifically, about my name. In the course of our discussion, a few ideas were tossed about: whether or not my next wife ought to take my name, why I don’t write out my middle name, the issue of people who follow a particular pastor, and, of course, this passage from the letters of the apostle Paul:
1 Corinthians 1:11-17
11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.
12 Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.”
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,
15 lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name.
16 Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other.
17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.
The conclusion of the discussion with my friend was that I did not think my own name important enough to worry about any of those matters. What matters to me is that whatever I say or do be glorifying to Christ’s name. I am not concerned about my “brand name” as I write every day nor as I preach, but more that the name of Jesus Christ is held high as the name above all names. (Philippians 2:9-11) After all, I am the servant, the one who is meant to be in the background, while Jesus Christ is Lord, the one meant to be seen in all that I do. If I am an ambassador of Jesus, then it is He whom people are supposed to see in my actions and words. If they see me or if I am glorified, then, as Paul wrote, the cross of Christ is made of no effect. As Shakespeare wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” My name doesn’t matter, so long as people smell the sweet aroma of Jesus Christ and glorify His name.
Unfortunately, we Christians often do a lousy job of glorifying the name of Jesus Christ, and a worse job of glorifying God the Father. We act as if we are not saved, not adopted sons and daughters of the Most High God, not called to be holy and set apart for His will. We act just like everyone else. We wear the worldliness of nonbelievers more prominently than we wear the mark of the Holy Spirit–i.e. the fruit of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23) It is no wonder that one writer, back in 1925, recorded someone as saying, “Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians–you are not like him.” We seem not to be like the One from whom we name ourselves “Christians.” And that, my friends, is a real problem–especially in light of today’s verse.
The third commandment carries within it two separate ideas. On the one hand, we see we are not to use the name of the Lord our God lightly. As Jesus said:
33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’
34 “But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne;
35 “nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
36 “Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.
37 “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”
Men are changeable, fickle, sinful creatures, and we break our oaths right and left. If we swear by the name or attributes of God, then we are holding HIM responsible for OUR actions–and, let’s face it, our actions are not always as Godly as they ought to be. So, as Jesus said, let’s not lay responsibility for our actions anywhere near the throne of God, but let our words and our intentions match perfectly, our oaths being born out of our own integrity.
However, when we act in worldly ways, when we ignore our salvation and go about life as if we did not have Jesus Christ, when we so directly oppose the will and Word of God with the way we live, the way we vote, the way we call for reconciliation with God’s clear enemies–then we are defiling the name of Jesus Christ. People seem to think it is okay for them to be Christians in name only, to bear the name of being a “little Christ,” and yet not live up to that name. If even a simple majority of self-identified “Christians” lived more like Christ lived–glorifying the name of God as they sought peace and justice and righteousness–then this country and this world would be a MUCH better place. But we do not, and so we dishonor the name of the Lord our God, we defile the name of Jesus Christ, and we empty the cross of its power to save. The gospel is of no effect if people do not see it at work in the lives of those who claim to know it.
1 Peter 2:11-12
11 Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul,
12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.
How is God to be glorified when we ourselves–we who lay claim to the name of Jesus Christ–do not glorify Him in our own lives?
The other side of this third commandment is the flip side of the same coin: we are to HONOR the name of the Lord our God.
1 A Psalm of David.
Give unto the LORD, O you mighty ones,
Give unto the LORD glory and strength.
2 Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name;
Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.
The third commandment carries with it the seeds of worship! Just as we are not to take the name of the Lord our God lightly, not to misuse His name in our own vain pursuits, so, too, are we meant to exalt that name and keep it holy.
Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us,
But to Your name give glory,
Because of Your mercy,
Because of Your truth.
Just as we are to place the Lord our God first in our hearts and minds, so, too, are we to raise our voices to praise Him. When He is first in our love, then He will be first in our thoughts and words and deeds. Where the first commandment–“You shall have no other gods before Me”–is about who we choose to love in our hearts, and the second commandment–“You shall not make for yourself a carved image”–is about who we worship, this third commandment is about how that love and that worship affects our actions in the world. It is about taking this love we have for God–a love that affects our whole being–and turning that not just into sole worship for Him but also allowing it to change how we think and act in the world itself. Our own vanity is to be laid aside, our own pride kept in check, as we lift up the holy name of the Lord our God. We are not to take the name of the Lord in vain but to take it up with praise, to lift His name above our own, to exalt Him and make His name an object of reverence for all who hear it.
Each day is a new opportunity for us to glorify the name of Jesus Christ, each day a new chance to do the right thing and no longer profane His name but lift it high. Ours is not an easy lot as Christians, and we know–or we ought to know–that we will face persecution for following our Master so closely, because they persecuted Him.
“Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”
Just as Jesus glorified His Father through His actions and words, so should we also glorify God. We, too, should not take the name of the Lord in vain but take His name and make it known. We should be proclaiming the Lord’s gospel, not our own fame and honor. We should repent and believe in Him whose name is above all names. We should, as the Psalmist wrote, glorify His name forevermore. (Psalms 86:12)
The next time we feel tempted to misuse the name of the Lord our God or the name of Jesus Christ or the name of the Holy Spirit, we ought to take a second and think about how we can glorify Him instead. Let us consider how we ought to be using His name for worship and praise rather than our own vain deeds. Let us take up the name of the Lord not as some magic spell that will call favor upon us, but to mention His name with reverence and love, to exalt Him in our actions so that He is glorified and we are diminished. Let us forget our own names and contemplate the one name that truly matters, the name by which we are all saved: Jesus Christ.
Holy Lord Jesus, so often we pray our little prayers and end them with Your name, as if simply mentioning Your name will somehow bend the Father’s will to our own. I ask this day, precious Lord, that my will shall be bent to Yours, that by my actions and my words, I will naturally bring the name of Jesus Christ to the hearts of all who see or hear me. I pray that I may serve you better and not be glorified in my own right but only be glorified in You. I pray, too, that all my vanity and pride be washed away by my love for You and Your holy name. Amen.