With a last name like Goettsche, you know that I have heard my name mis-pronounced many different ways. In fact, I am amazed that after 18 years there are many people in our own community who don’t get it right. We even tried putting it on our license plates as it is pronounced in the hope that would help people get it right. As a result of my experiences I want to get the names of others correct. Even though our names are only a label we wear . . . it is a label that represents who we are. I show respect for another person when I handle their name with care.
The third commandment deals with this very same idea of respect. for God’s name. God’s name represents His being. You respect God and the position He holds when you honor His name. If you worked for the President of the United States you would refer to him as “Mr. President” even if you had known him for years. Anything else would be disrespectful to his position and to his person.
If you were in the military you know that respect and honor is demanded. You salute an officer, you speak when spoken to, and you always refer to someone by their rank or office. A breech of this protocol is usually treated swiftly.
It used to be common to call our elders “sir” and “mam” or “Mr.” and “Miss or Mrs.” It used to be that when a flag passed or the National Anthem was played people would put their hand over their heart and men would naturally take off their hats out of respect. But now we have to ask people to do these things. It used to be that you would never dream of talking back to a teacher or someone older than you are. It used to be that when you entered the church men naturally took off their hat out of respect for the Lord. Many of these things are no longer practiced. In our informality we have lost the sense of honor and respect that we used to have.
God wants us to treat Him with respect and the third commandment tells us that one of the way to begin showing God respect is to refer to Him and approach Him in ways that are honoring and appropriate. The commandment is stated simply: You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. (Ex. 20:7)
The Jews took this command very seriously. In fact, they were so careful that they did not say God’s name at all. They would say “Lord” instead of “Yahweh” when reading the Hebrew text. A good Jew would never toss the name of the Almighty around with disregard. This may have been extreme but they understood that God wants us (demands) that we treat Him with respect.
This morning I want to highlight the positive command by showing some of the areas where we are most vulnerable to breaking this commandment. I share with you six areas in which we sometimes dishonor God.
When we think about breaking the third commandment we usually think of profanity first. And when we think of profanity, we think about cussing. We know that God’s name is often used carelessly in the locker room, in the plant, and often is general conversation. We have all known times when we were in a place of business or on a bus, or in a crowd when we were near a person who showed their ignorance by their limited vocabulary. And hopefully we felt a twinge whenever God’s name or our Lord’s name or title was used in their cussing.
It would be a good time here to point out that there is a difference between profanity and vulgarity. Profanity is when we treat God’s name, character or person in a disrespectful way. Profanity then, has to do with God and His honor. Vulgarity is when people talk about inappropriate things. It is when they refer to bodily functions, sexual intimacy and other crude topics. I hope you can make this distinction in your head.
I like to make a point when I am at school. Occasionally I will hear a student use God’s name of our Savior’s name or ask God to damn something. On these occasions I often remark that I did not know the student was so religious. When they wonder what I am talking about, I observe that I noticed that they call on the Lord often. I usually make my point.
At other times I will ask a student or individual if they really meant the prayer they just prayed. Inevitably the person has just asked God to damn their car, or their computer, or their locker, or any number of other things or people. My question is simple, “Do you really think the situation would be better if God answered your prayer?” Do you think the computer would really work better if God did damn it?
But profanity is much broader. Michael Horton speaks very plainly on this issue,
In very few evangelical circles would a dirty joke be considered appropriate, and yet such expresses as “Good Lord!” “Lord have Mercy!” as well as “God!” or “Oh my God!” do occur in our circles with disturbing frequency. This is a form of blasphemy, and it required execution in the Old Testament. So sensitive were the Jews about God’s name that they never even pronounced it or spelled it. And yet, today I see T-shirts being sold at evangelical conventions bearing such slogans as “This blood’s for you!” a take-off on the “This Bud’s for you!” beer commercial. Whenever we cheapen God name by vain repetition, irreverent sloganeering, or by actual cursing, we engage in a violation of the third commandment. [LAW OF PERFECT FREEDOM p. 105]
The rule is fairly simple, if you are talking about God’s character or mentioning Him in a context inconsistent with His character and goodness . . . it is profanity. To attach the name of God or to attach the unique character traits of God such as holiness, mercy, wisdom, grace and more to that which is meaningless or base is an act of disrespect to the Lord. Let me give you an example, when we flippantly use terms like “Holy smoke” or “Holy Moses” or “Holy Cow” or “Holy Mackerel” we diminish what holiness means and since Holiness is a part of God’s character, we diminish Him. I’ve done it . . . maybe you have too.
Perjury is when you swear you are telling the truth, but lie. In the Bible taking an oath is considered to be serious business. When you swear an oath before God you are asking God to testify to the truthfulness of what you are saying. If you are not absolutely truthful you are attaching God’s name to a fraudulent promise and you not only harm His reputation . . . you incur His wrath! This is why Jesus advises that we not take any oath at all and instead just “let our yes be yes and our no be no.”
So when you are asked to “tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God”, your truthfulness affects God’s reputation? This is true anytime we make a promise before God. When we,
- when you sign a fraudulent financial disclosure form
- when you sign any legal document and don’t tell the truth
- when we make promises in church (marriage, membership, child dedication) and don’t fulfill them
We take His Name in vain when we do any of these kinds of things. In these cases we make God a party to deception.
Obviously the act of forgery is a crime. It is signing someone else’s name to something. It is to sign a check on someone else’s account, to send a letter in someone else’s name, to sign a contract as someone you are not. These are offenses that our society treats as a crime. It is even more disgraceful when it is God’s name that we are signing.
There are a couple of ways we are guilty of forgery. First, we are guilty of forgery when we attach God’s name to things that are not God’s. For example, In Nazi Germany most of the church “signed on” as supporters of Hitler. The impression that was given was that God supported the work of Hitler. In South Africa apartheid was justified on religious grounds. Horton writes,
In the past twenty years, God has been used to justify American nationalism, militarism, opposition to child care for working mothers, and even such debatable issues as the retention of the Panama Canal. He has been used as a mascot for the conservative, white, middle-class establishment, the guarantor of such evangelical rights and family values as that of owning a submachine gun. This smacks of “using God” and exploiting religion when evangelicals do it every bit as much as it does when mainline liberals paint God red. [Horton p.102]
It is OK to have positions on such things. It is wrong to claim that they are “Christian” positions unless we have Scripture that clearly backs up our position.
There is also a second way we commit forgery. We commit forgery when we say things came from God that really didn’t. Often times Christians talk as if God spoke to us in the same way that God spoke on the mountain.
I made the mistake of saying God “told me” something when I was a young preacher. After the service a young boy came up to me and asked, “what does God sound like?” I admitted that I didn’t know. The boy was surprised and said, “But you said ‘God told you'”. I still slip (because I want to sound spiritual or take some authority from God) but I try to be much more careful than I used to be.
If you don’t believe me, listen to what God said through Ezekiel,
The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying. Say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: ‘Hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! Your prophets, O Israel, are like jackals among ruins. You have not gone up to the breaks in the wall to repair it for the house of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the LORD. Their visions are false and their divinations a lie. They say, “The LORD declares,” when the LORD has not sent them; yet they expect their words to be fulfilled. Have you not seen false visions and uttered lying divinations when you say, “The LORD declares,” though I have not spoken? “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because of your false words and lying visions, I am against you, declares the Sovereign LORD. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations.[Ezekiel 13:1-9]
God does not want us passing things off as coming from Him . . . that didn’t come from Him. Saying that God told us or showed us things that He did not tell us or show us directly is to take the authority of God and apply it to the conclusions of men.
The flip side of forgery is . Plagiarism is when we take something that someone else has done and put our own name to it. I remember one incident very well from grade school years. I had done my multiplication problems and brought them to school to turn in. When it came time to turn in the assignment, I couldn’t find my homework. I looked all around and found it nowhere. That is until I recognized my paper in the hands of one of the people I called my friend. They had erased my name (not very well) and put their name on my work. Even as a child I was hurt and angered.
In preaching class one day one of the students got up to preach a sermon. As he began his message I suddenly realized that I recognized the message. It was stolen from Warren Wiersbe! This man was passing off someone else’s work as his own.
Now, how do you think God feels when we take credit for His work?
- when we attribute a conversion to our methods
- when we claim someone was healed because of our prayer
- when we say a blessing was due to our goodness
This is plagiarism and takes the glory that is due to God for ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I sure struggle with this one!
MISREPRESENTATION AND HYPOCRISY
Perhaps one of the most convicting ways we misuse the name of God is when we misrepresent God. We claim to be His but we don’t represent Him well. We call ourselves Christian or “Christ-followers” but there is nothing in our living that reflects Him at all. When we call ourselves a Christian we now represent Christ to the world. When we live our lives contrary to what He has clearly taught we sully His reputation.
If someone who worked for you was caught in criminal behavior while wearing a uniform of your company or driving a company vehicle, your reputation would take a hit. If your children get into serious trouble it inevitably reflects back on you. Once you tell people that you are a member of this church, know that your behavior will affect our reputation. How much more is God’s reputation affected when the one called “Holy” is associated with that which is sinful?
In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Our Lord calls for consistency in our living. It is not enough to call His name. We must also reflect His character in our living. Anything less is offensive to His name and reputation. Once your friends know that you are a believer . . . know that they will be watching you and drawing conclusions about God from you.
So, don’t put a Christian bumper sticker on your car if you do not intend to represent Him well when you drive. Don’t wear a Christian t-shirt to school or work if you are not going to live like a child of the King! In fact, don’t tell people you are a Christian if you don’t intend to wear that name responsibly!
There is one final area where we dishonor God’s name; it is in our vain repetitions. In Matthew 6:7-8 Jesus said,
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
This is something I see more and more today. It is especially evident during prayer. We repeat a phrase over and over again. It may be “praise” or “Lord” or “God” or “bless”. But we use the Word so often that it becomes as significant as saying “you know” or “ugh” when we talk. I becomes filler. We say the words without any sense of what the words really mean.
Why do people do this. I can think of three reasons.
to impress others. We are trying sound spiritual.We are talking in “the code”. (Of course, this means we are talking TO others and not to God!)
Chuck Colson wrote,
We forsake our assemblies. Or when we do gather, we offer empty words of devotion. We sing hymns devoid of meaning. Our thoughts wander during corporate prayer. We expend loose God-talk on others: “I’ll pray for you,” we say readily, almost glibly, but do we really pray for that person? Our jargon sounds spiritual but too often hides and empty heart. We treat as some distant, remote abstraction. [The Body p. 382]
to fool others. We are trying to make others think we are spiritual when we are not. (We are play acting and still talking to others.) There are some speakers who know that if they add “Lord” to their talk frequently people will feel it is a spiritual talk. Or if they quote lots of verses it must be a good sermon. We see this in politics. The candidate quotes the Bible to make the Christian think that he shares their values.
because we are lazy. We don’t want to put the effort into really thinking about what we want to say, so it is easier to ask God to “bless” or to fill in with spiritual sounding words. More words is not always better.
I don’t want to make you paranoid or hyper-critical when others are praying. But I do hope that you and I will learn to pay attention when we are praying and talking about the Lord.
The bottom line of this commandment is that God wants us to treat Him with respect. When we use His name and refer to His character we should do so with a sense of reverence and the honor that is rightfully His.
Perhaps it would help if we set out to take these negative warnings and turned them into positive commands:
- Speak God’s Name Reverently
- Keep Your Promises
- Be Honest About Your Experiences and Ideas
- Give God the Credit He Deserves
- Live Consistent Lives Consistent with your Profession
- Use God’s Name Sparingly and Lovingly
I have no doubt that something in today’s message hit very close to home. Maybe you have a problem with profanity. I hope you will start thinking about what you are really saying.Or maybe you use phrases like, “God told me” or “God wants” when you shouldn’t. Maybe you take oaths and sign documents without thinking of the implications of those promises. Maybe you have become aware that you are dragging His name into the mud by the way you are living, or maybe that you are using his name as if it were meaningless or taking credit for His work.
Whatever the place where you have felt the sting of conviction, confess your sin and make the necessary changes. We can’t expect our society to treat God with respect if we don’t. We can’t expect our children to speak in ways that are honoring to God if we don’t give thought to our speech. We can’t really expect that people will come to our great Savior if they do not see Him reflected in the lives of those who wear His name.
If we want our country to be more godly, the place to start is not by putting the ten commandments back in the courthouses and schools, or by returning prayer to school. The way to change America is for God’s people to begin treating God with honor and respect: in their words, their lives, and most of all in their hearts. We must start living the Ten Commandments before we can ever hope that they will mean anything to anyone else. And as we have seen in the first three commandments, the way to begin is to give God the central place of our life, to worship Him appropriately, and to treat Him with the respect He deserves.