THE SANCTITY OF GOD’S NAME
by Bob Wheeler
The Third Commandment (“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. . .” – Ex. 20:7: NKJV) prohibits the use of God’s name for any vain or worthless purpose. This would include, of course, outright perjury, but also much more than that. It would also include the use of God’s name in incantations, sorcery, divination, as well as common everyday oaths and curses.
One might ask, what is so terrible about swearing? Isn’t it only a manner of speaking? To answer that question we must first consider the importance of God’s name and what is involved in using it for any purpose.
In the Bible names have much more significance than they do for us today. Today, when we name a newborn infant, we are likely to pick a name for any one of a reasons – it was grandfather’s name, or the name of a favorite aunt, or it just sounds cute. For us a name is simply an identifier, nothing else. But in the Bible a name was much more than that. It was the representation of the person himself – his honor and reputation, and sometimes even revealed something about himself, something the way a nickname does today. To abuse someone’s name was to insult the person himself.
What all of this means is that the name of God ought always to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect. God is the Supreme Being, the Maker of heaven and earth, the source of all our blessings, yes, even of life itself. He is wise and good and gracious. If anyone is worthy of our honor and respect, it is He. Thus if we use His name for a light, frivolous or trivial purpose, we are showing Him disrespect. And if we use His name for an outright falsehood, as in a case of perjury, we make Him a party to our crime. It is no wonder, then, that He says, “for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (same verse as above).
Our duty toward God, then, involves much more than simply not committing perjury. Rather, we ought to advance His glory through our worshp.
“Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
Give to the Lord glory and strength.
Give to the Lord the glory due His name;
Bring an offering, and come before Him.
Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!”
I Chron. 16:28,29 (cf. Ps. 29:1,2)
When we gather together on a Sunday morning we should have a sense of entering into the very presence of the Almighty Himself, and our conscious aim should be to praise and glorify Him. And whoever is leading the worship has a responsibility to ensure that that is indeed what is happening.
Prayer plays an important role in bringing glory to God’s name. When we invoke His name in prayer we show that we are trusting God to help us with our difficulties. And then when He answers the prayer it becomes evident that the deliverance came from Him.
“Moses and Aaron were among His priests,
And Samuel was among those who called upon His name;
They called upon the Lord, and He answered them.”
When God answers prayer it becomes evident to all that He is the God of mercy, grace and power.
The fact of the matter is that God has a vested interest in the people who are called by His name. Whatever they do, and whatever happens to them, reflects on Him. When they suffer it makes Him look like an apparent failure, and when they prosper it speaks well of His providential care. “He restores my soul; / He leads me in the paths of righteousness / For His name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3). On the other hand when Israel sinned and God had them sent into exile where they were abused by their foreign captors, the pagans naturally assumed that God was unable to save His people. “’Those who rule over them / Make them wail,’ says the Lord, ‘And My name is blasphemed continually every day’” (Isa. 52:5b; cf. Ezek. 36:20; Rom. 2:24).
Likewise our personal behavior reflects on God’s reputation. Servants are urged to obey their masters “so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed” (I Tim. 6:1); and young women are admonished to be good wives and mothers, “that the word of God may not be blasphemed” (Tit. 2:9). When we call ourselves Christians and then fail to act like Christians, we bring reproach on the gospel.
And, of course, honoring God’s name means keeping the vows and promises we make in His name. When we take an oath or make a vow in the name of God, we are asking Him to bear witness to the truth of what we are saying. But if what we are saying is false, or if we fail to keep the promise we made, then we are making Him a party to our lie and inviting His judgment to fall upon us. “when you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you . . .” (Dt. 23:21-23). A righteous man keeps his vows even when it hurts him to do so. He “swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Ps. 15:4b). A Christian, in fact, should have such a reputation for honesty that he should not need to swear at all to confirm his declarations and statements (Matt. 5:33-37; James 5:12).
Too often, in the daily affairs of life, we are apt to forget about God. We figure that He can take care of Himself and we will worry about ourselves. Yet we exist for His glory and what we do in life affects His honor and reputation. How differently would we behave if we thought about Him and our purpose in life here!