“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

I read a story once from a Pastor named Alistair Begg. The story was about a lawyer whose name was Odd. Throughout his life, people would tease this lawyer, saying “you’re really odd,” or calling him “Oddball.” Late in Odd’s life, when he was finishing his will and last testament, he gave specific instructions not to put his name on his tombstone. Rather, Odd wanted the inscription to read, “Here lies an honest lawyer.” Now, when people walk through the cemetery and read the inscription, they say, “An honest lawyer? That’s odd!”

This third commandment is about not misusing God’s name. But why did God leave this commandment for us? Why does He care about His name? Is God being defensive? Does God’s title matter to Him as much as His ultimate position in (or rather over) the cosmos? Is God like those people who say “I’m not Bob to you, I’m Dr. Smith”? If God is as insecure as that, the universe has a massive problem on their hands.

No, God is not pompous, and God is not insecure. In fact, God is more secure than that camping equipment your dad strapped in to the back of the van, or your money-under-the-mattress-retirement fund you’ve stashed away, or any other simile you can think of because, honestly, God knows Himself infinity more than any of us will ever be able to understand.

This is not a command about security. This is a command about authority. The fact is, names matter.

In sales, there is one word that is more important than any other: the client’s name. When you get a telemarketer on the phone, one of the first things they do is try to get on a first name basis with you. “Mr. Lobert, can I call you Kevin? Now Kevin, tell me about your refrigeration needs.” They do this so they can move into a new level of intimacy with you. If a company or business reduces you to a number, it causes you to resist. After all, that’s the mark of a convict! As author J.E. Kalas points out, a name has history, heritage, personality, and therefore a measure of dignity.

It is because God’s name matters that we have this commandment. God’s name carries more dignity, authority and power than any other name. There are many names for our God in the Bible:

    • Elohim: The Strong and Faithful Creator (Gen. 1:1)
    • Cornerstone: The Foundational Piece of Life (Eph. 2:20)
    • Yahweh/Jehovah: The Lord over All Things (Ps. 83:18)
    • Bread of Life: Our Sustenance (John 6:35)
    • Adonai: The Master of All (Deut. 10:17)
    • Everlasting Father: He is Infinite and Caring (Is. 9:6)

I could go on and on! God has so many names because not one of them can totally encapsulate the magnitude and sovereignty of God Himself!

The Bible is also full of moments where we are called to lift God’s name high. We worship in God’s name, like in Psalm 103 where the psalmist declares, “All that is within me, Bless His holy name!” We trust in God’s name, like in Psalm 9 where the psalmist points the reader to God, and says, “Those who know Your name will put their trust in You.” We are to pray in Jesus’ authoritative name, as Christ calls us to do in John 16:23-34. And, after Christ’s resurrection – after Jesus reveals himself to his disciples and puts Thomas’ doubts to rest – in John 20:30-31 we are told that by believing in Jesus, we will have life in His name.

That is why Commandment number three is so important. It is in place because God deserves to receive the honor due His name.

Beyond that, it is not simply using His name that matters, but abusing it that needs to be avoided. That means that in our speech, nothing must be said that lowers the divine dignity of our God’s name. Culturally in the west, it is fairly obvious that this is not happening. Our Lord’s name is taken in vain all the time! In fact, we have probably gotten so desensitized to hearing it, we might not even notice!

The Parents Television Council reported in 2007 – which is 13 years ago, but the most recent year I could find this data – 95.9% of uses of the word ‘God’ on primetime network television were used in vain. I suspect that number has only gone up since then, which is preposterous, really. Even now, in the age of texting, the three letter OMG acronym is used with such regularity that most of us may not even bat an eye anymore.

Now, I dare say for most people reading this, we may not be so guilty of using God’s name in the profane way described above. However, we are much more likely to use God’s name in vain in other ways.

When we declare ourselves a Christian, or a disciple of Christ, our actions reflect God’s name. If people know we follow Christ, God’s name is at stake in the actions we do. Therefore, when we act selfishly with our neighbours, deceive those who work with us, gossip to those with whom we socialize, this reflects Christ’s name to those who do not know Him. It abuses the very name we are called to lift up so highly. Our actions must reflect the same God who gives us this life to begin with!

When I was a young, I had very few qualifications for employment. As a thirteen-year-old, my resume was quite short. When I needed a job, there was little I could do to convince people I would be a good employee. However, the greenhouse down the road knew my parents, and because I was Murray and Helen’s son, they thought ‘he must’ve been alright,’ so they hired me. It wasn’t my skills that got me that job, it was my name. The fact that I was a child of Murray and Helen was the determining factor to my original employment.   

People should know us as Children of God. We are called, in our comings and goings, to make disciples of all nations and teach people about this amazing God that we serve. That is our calling, our mandate. Within that mandate, we are to reflect the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and remember that our actions either honour God’s name, or abuse it. People should see our actions and know that it is because of our relation to our God – because of His Name – that we act in the loving way we do.

That is the heart of this command. We are to go out and recognize that we reflect God’s name in every aspect of our lives. People should look at us and know that what we do is a reflection of Christ in us. Coming out of this Easter season, we should be even more ready to reflect the truth of the all-loving, death-defying, grace-wielding name of Christ Jesus our Lord; the One that saved us all!

Questions to Ponder:

1) How has your name affected the life you’ve lived?

2) In this season of isolation, how can you go about honouring God’s name in your day-to-day?

3) Other than what was listed, what names for God can you come up with, and what do they mean?