What’s in a name? What’s in your name? What does your name mean? What does your name conjure up in the mind of your friends, acquaintances, co-workers and family members?
About once a month I get the opportunity to hear my pastor preach both Sunday services. This is because I volunteer to work on the worship arts team and operate the computer that runs the PowerPoint presentation that features the worship songs we’ll sing, the welcome and announcement slides, and notes from pastor’s sermon.
On Sunday I got to hear my pastor preach twice on the Third Commandment. It was a great message to hear twice because it’s arguably the most important commandment (though I’m sure others may argue differently). It reads:
You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.
Did you catch that last part: God Himself will punish those of us who misuse His name.
Hearing this message has caused me to think about what’s in my name. What do people conjure up when they hear my name? When my name is brought up, is it brought up in a positive context or negative context? What about your name? When people mention you, do they do it with positive, affirming words, or do they use other words to describe you?
Think about it. Contained in one’s name is that individual’s character, reputation, and in some cases, his or her authority. Mention “The President” in America and you really don’t have to attach a name to it to conjure up thoughts related to his authority as president, his reputation as president and his character as president and a human being.
In the context of God, what comes to mind when His name is mentioned? Do you think of the One who responded to Moses in an audible voice “I am who I am” when Moses asked Almighty God what name he should cite as the authority behind his call to lead the entire nation of Israel from captivity in Egypt. I’m sure Moses was also thinking that he was likewise going to have to cite this same name to Pharaoh when he reported to him under who’s authority Moses came to demand the release of a million or so people who just happened to be Pharaoh’s slave labor.
Or, is God’s name simply another name to you simply as a means of identification, like the name of your best friend or the name of your spouse?
The Bible is full of names for God that expand on who He is, His character, His reputation and His authority. Think about it: type in “Names of God” in a common Internet search engine and you’ll find links to biblical sources (references from the Bible) that will help you further understand all that’s encompassed in God’s name and why the Third Commandment is so vitally important for all to keep, especially those who claim to call on His Name for their salvation.
It’s not only why we ought not curse or use foul language; it’s much more than that. One of the chief ways in which we misuse God’s name is through insult. We can also misuse God’s name by indulging in it. Leviticus 19:12 (Good News version) reads: “Do not make a promise in my name if you do not intend to keep it. That brings disgrace on my name.” In other words, don’t make a promise you don’t intend to keep, and certainly don’t swear on God’s name a promise you know you won’t keep.
Other ways in which we misuse God’s name is through intimidation, by trying to impress others and using His name impulsively or flippantly. We intimidate others by citing God as the source of a decision we want others to make with us. My pastor called that “spiritual forgery,” citing God as the source of a decision we know was solely ours. We can also misuse God’s name by trying to impress others into thinking we’re better than we really are. We’re flippant with God’s name when we claim to know Him but live as if we don’t care.
Let me fill you in on a little secret: non-Christians can see right through that last one, folks. In fact, the two main reasons non-Christians are non-Christians are because they were either never introduced to Christ by a Christian in the first place, or they’ve already met someone who purports to be a Christian and don’t want anything to do with Christianity because of the hypocrisy they see. Think about it: when was the last time you heard someone say that they want nothing to do with Christianity because of the way Christians behave? Were they talking about you?
If we’re going to take our relationship with God seriously then we’re going to have to take His name seriously. This is a challenge to me as much as it is an encouragement for you to do the same: study the various names of God used in the Bible and let God paint a picture of who He is in my (your) mind. Get to know God by what He reveals through the various names He uses for Himself.
If you want to hear the sermon I’m referring to in its entirety, please visit http://www.tularefbc.org/sermons/default.asp. It’ll be dated Jan. 17th, 2010. Please give it a few days to post.