What’s in a Name?
Posted by Ros Clarke, 8 Mar 2018
In the next of our Lent series: Believing, Living, Praying, Ros Clarke looks at the third commandment. Catch up with all the posts here.
The third commandment
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” Exodus 20:7
Do you ever swear? Maybe there are some words you’d never say, and others you only use in certain situations. But I wonder what you say when you miss the nail with a hammer, or get an unexpected door in your face. We all have a word we shout in anger, frustration or pain, and for many people, the words they turn to in those moments are words which ought to be precious and holy, since they are the name of God himself.
Using God’s name as a curse is an obvious example of misusing it, but it is not the only one. The Heidelberg Catechism explains that the third commandment means that: “We are not to blaspheme or to abuse the name of God by cursing, perjury, or unnecessary oaths, nor to share in such horrible sins by being silent bystanders. Rather, we must use the holy name of God only with fear and reverence, so that we may rightly confess him, call upon him, and praise him in all our words and works.”
We misuse God’s name if we blaspheme, that is if we speak evil of God. If we say that God is a liar, if we say that God is not all-powerful, if we say that God intended harm, if we say that God is no god at all, then we commit blasphemy.
We misuse God’s name if we commit perjury, that is, telling a lie whilst under an oath we have sworn in God’s name.
We misuse God’s name if we make an unnecessary oath, that is a trivial or malicious oath, sworn in God’s name.
We misuse God’s name if we speak of him in any way that is not properly reverent, true, or appropriate.
How is the third commandment a mirror?
The third commandment tells us that God’s name is not to be trifled with, and by implication, that God himself is not to be trifled with. God is not a joking matter and God’s name is not a punchline. The Lord our God is the eternal creator of the universe, the all-powerful saviour of his people. He is not a manmade deity to be invoked by a password or a catchphrase as if he were the genie in Aladdin’s lamp. God alone is worthy of our worship, and his name should, therefore, be treated with due reverence.
This commandment holds up a mirror to us which makes one simple, stark judgment: guilty.
How is the third commandment a deterrent?
The starkness of that judgment ought to make us think twice. Misusing God’s name is a serious sin for which God will not hold us guiltless.
Why is this sin so serious? This sin matters because God’s name represents God himself. When we misuse God’s name, we abuse God himself. To use it as an expression of anger or pain is to call God the source of our anger and pain. To commit perjury in God’s name is to call him a liar. To swear an unnecessary oath in his name is to cast doubt on his trustworthiness. To let others do so without speaking up is to admit that God does not matter to you.
So do not think that God doesn’t care when someone misuses his name. Cursing and blasphemy were sins which carried the penalty of death (Leviticus 24:15-16). Be grateful for God’s mercy shown to us in Christ, that we do not face the death penalty when we misuse God’s name, but do not take that as license to keep sinning.
How does the third commandment set a standard for our behaviour?
One way to understand how we should keep this commandment is to look at how Christ fulfilled it and then follow his example. So, we may call God our Father, but we also call him Lord. We should speak to God as well as about God, but we ought not to do so casually, as if he were someone of no great importance. We should publicly declare our faith in him. We should plead with him in prayer, and bow before him in worship.
The third commandment demands more of us than controlling our tongues. Paul writes to Jews in Romans 2:23-24: “You who boast in the law, do you dishonour God by breaking the law? As it is written: ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” When God’s people behave in ways that dishonour God, it makes other people speak evil of God. Our lives need to be honouring to God, so that we give no one any excuse to break the third commandment.
Questions for reflection:
1. Why does God take this sin so very seriously?
2. Reflect on your own speech. Are there times when you use God’s name irreverently or inappropriately?
3. How and when should you speak up against the misuse of God’s name by other people?
Prayer: Almighty God, thank you for teaching us your name and showing us yourself. May we always hold your name in the highest honour, defending it against all misuse. Please forgive us for the times we have used your name inappropriately, and teach us to speak about you more reverently and to live in a manner that brings honour to your name. Amen.
Ros Clarke is the Associate Director of Church Society
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