What’s in a Name?
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What’s in a Name?

Exodus 20:7  (ID: 1690)

Names are important. This is true not only of people but also, even especially, of God. In Scripture, God’s name is revealed as something uniquely precious. In expressing His name, Alistair Begg explains, God declares not only its precious nature but also His character—His greatness and all that He is and does. His name’s power is found in the truth it contains about Him. Therefore, we must take care in how we use it, avoiding all blasphemy, perjury, and hypocrisy.

Series Containing This Sermon

Pathway to Freedom

Exodus 20:3–17 Series ID: 20501

Sermon Transcript: Print

May I invite you to take your Bibles? And we’ll turn to the Old Testament, to Exodus chapter 20, where we continue our studies in the Ten Commandments, coming to the third commandment, which is found in verse 7.

Exodus 20:7: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” The King James Version had it, “[You shall] not take the name of the Lord [your] God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless [who] taketh his name in vain.” I think this translation helps to clarify just what’s involved in that: the idea of the misuse of the name of God.

Names are important. They’re important to every mom or dad. If that were not the case, then moms and dads would not spend such an amazing amount of time trying to determine what they were going to call their children. And every parent worth their salt has, at least on the first go around, been made aware of those books—either purchasing them or having them passed on to them—that have these huge lists of names, usually alphabetically listed. And if you can recall those days or you’re in the middle of those days, you go through the lists, and one reads it out, and the other one says, “Nah,” and the other one says, “Well…” And it goes on like that until eventually, you’ve gone through the whole book, and you don’t like any of the names at all. You say, “Oh no, your aunt was called that. I never liked her. She was grumpy. We’re not calling her that.” And “Oh no, that was the guy that lived next door to us in that apartment. Do you remember him? Oh no, we couldn’t call our son that.” And so it goes on, and eventually, you’re in the labor room, and it’s still “Did you bring the book?” “No.” And “Well, what are we going to do?”

Most of… I think two out of three names in my family, I told my wife, I said, “Hey, you know, choose the name. I can’t believe you just did this, so whatever name you want, you can choose it, because this is amazing!” And so we had one child who got the name “crooked nose,” which is what Cameron means, and it goes on from there—although don’t tell him that I told you. Some of you have dated girls called Pamela, which isn’t bad, because the books tell me it means “all honey.” If you’re looking for the strong, rugged type, then choose a George, because a George is a farmer, a tiller of the soil, I’m told. If you’re thinking of waltzing with someone, avoid Matilda. Matilda, I’m told, means “mighty battle maid.” Kinda takes an edge off the song, doesn’t it?

But names are important, especially in the African context, the Asian context, and in earlier days in our own. Within the Scottish context, many names are Gallic in their origin. For example, my own name is Gallic: Alistair is Gallic for Alexander. Begg is an anglicized corruption of a Gallic word which means “small” or “little.” And so, those of you who have been calling me “the little beggar,” it’s not very nice, and it’s not very true.

My favorite story about names I’ve told before, and hopefully you don’t remember it, but it’s the story of the lawyer whose name was Odd, and all through his life people used to phone him up and say, “Hey, is that Odd Ball?” and “Is that you, Odd Guy?” and he was just plagued by the name. Consequently, when he left his last will and testament, he put specific instructions in the will which said that he did not want his name on his tombstone. He’d had enough trouble with it through his life; he didn’t want it to follow him into his death. So instead he had the inscription placed on his tombstone, “Here lies an honest lawyer.” And people used to walk through the graveyard and look at it and say, “That’s odd.”

So we understand that names say something, names mean something, names are significant. Now, if that is true on a horizontal plane, it is definitely true when we move into the transcendent level of the name of God. And what I’d like for you to do this morning is, in a sense, to put on your thinking caps and try and think this through with me. Because I have a sneaking suspicion that if we were to say, “Which is the least significant?”—although we know there is no least significant—but if we were to determine what is the least significant of the Ten Commandments, which is the one that you could kind of slide by on, of all of the ten, I wonder whether we wouldn’t choose three; whether we wouldn’t say, “Well, I don’t think that’s really as important as idolatry or graven images. I just don’t think so.”

Now, if to any degree that is true, it bears testimony to the fact that we do not fully understand what is being said in relationship to this third commandment. If to use the name of God wrongly, if to misuse his name, incurs guilt, as verse 7 tells us, then it clearly must be important, and we need to understand why. So let us take a moment or two to try and understand—not comprehensively, because we don’t have time for that—but to some degree the importance of the name of God.

The name of God in Scripture is given to us as something which is expressly precious. The name of God, the unique name of God, the proper name of God, which we translate “Lord” in our English version of the Bible—and that is “Lord,” four capitals, L-o-r-d, not capital L and then small o-r-d, or lowercase o-r-d; you’ll find both in the Bible. But when it is translated all capitalized, it is expressive of the Hebraistic name which in Hebrew had the letters Y-H-W-H. Now, for those of you who are young, you try for a moment to pronounce Y-H-W-H. How do you do it? With great difficulty, and in some cases not at all. Correct! Because God did not want his name pronounced. It was too precious.

Indeed, when we read the early chapters, when we read in the Pentateuch, in the beginning of the Bible in the Old Testament, we discover that it was only one occasion when one individual used the name of God in the whole year of the Jewish calendar, and that was right around this time of year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. And on that day, the high priest went into the Holy of Holies—you can read about it in the book of Leviticus 23—and there, on that day, he took the name “Yahweh” upon his lips, the two vowels having been provided in order to create pronounceability. But the fact of the matter was and remains that the name of God was supremely precious.

God’s encounters with Moses have as much to teach us about the precious nature of his name as any others do. Let me turn you to two: first of all, in Exodus chapter 33, and then we’ll go back to Exodus chapter 3.

Exodus 33. God meets with Moses. Moses makes this request of God: “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” That’s verse 13. In verse 18, Moses says, “Now show me your glory.” “And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, [Yahweh], in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’” And then we have this interesting little bit where he says, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock,” and Moses is to stand in there so that when the glory passes by, he is not confronted by the glory, because he couldn’t see the glory of God and live. This is a very interesting thing. This ties in with the fact that we are not to make graven images of God. Nobody could see God and live, but, he said, “I will make myself known in my name, and my name will be pronounced before you.”

Chapter 34:5: “Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, [Yahweh]. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘[Yahweh, Yahweh,] the compassionate and gracious God.’” In other words, he says his name twice, and then he explains what he’s saying in saying his name. “The compassionate and gracious God.” What is God like? “Slow to anger.” He’s “abounding in love and faithfulness.” He “maintain[s] love to thousands.” He “forgiv[es] wickedness, rebellion and sin,” yet he is a just God and therefore “does not leave the guilty unpunished.”[1] And the implications of that punishment run through generations, as we saw last week.[2] But in the expressing of his name, he is declaring not only the precious nature of it, but he is revealing his character.

So we need to understand that the name of God is precious and by his name God portrays his greatness. God reveals all that he is and all that he does.

Turn back thirty chapters to Exodus chapter 3. There we have the encounter with God, Moses and the burning bush, the story whereby God reveals himself in the burning bush. Moses finds out that he’s going on a significant mission; he’s going to go to Pharaoh to say, “Let my people go.” And 3:13: “Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” Then what shall I tell them?’”

The God whom we worship, the God of Scripture, is not a God of some cosmic discovery, nor is he a God of our own creation. He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, doesn’t that strike you as a little bit funny? He says, “If I go to them and say, ‘The God—Elohimof your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say, ‘Tell me his name.’” So in other words, there is a dimension to God that is revealed in the name which he is now about to give to Moses that is so immense in its grandeur and in its power that even the name Elohim, with which Genesis 1 begins—“In the beginning [Elohim] created the heavens and the earth”[3]—that that word, nor even all of those words amassed, can begin to express the immensity of who God is.

“Well,” says God, “If they ask you that question, just use the verb to be. Say to them, ‘I Am who I Am.’” That’s what God says to Moses: “And you’re to say to them, ‘I Am has sent me to you.” Now, hands up, all who understand that. Okay, good. Not too many. Because it’s a bewildering sort of statement, isn’t it? What do you mean, “Say, ‘I Am has sent me to you’”?

Well, this is what it means: by using the verb to be—this essential element—by using this, God expresses the essence of his character. By using this as his name, he reveals the fact that he is self-existent, that he is self-sufficient, that he is sovereign, that he depends on no one and he depends on nothing. Now, who else in all of creation can take that as their name? Who else do you know who is self-existent, self-fulfilled, in need of no one, in need of nothing, and altogether sovereign? The answer is you don’t know anyone, and neither do I, for there is no one else. So, “I Am who I Am,” says God. “Tell them, ‘I Am sent you.’”

And that, you see—jumping a couple of light years on, or four thousand years on, two thousand years on, whatever, jumping from the time of Moses to the time of Christ—that’s why Jesus got himself in so much trouble with the Jews: because he kept saying, “Before Abraham was … I am!”[4] And they said, “That’s God’s name!” And he said, “That’s right. I,” he said, “am self-existent. I am self-sufficient. I am sovereign. I need no one, and I need nothing.” And they understood. Which is a reminder to us, in passing, that the God whom we worship, the God of Scripture, is not a God of some cosmic discovery, nor is he a God of our own creation, but he is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is both plural and perfect and powerful and praiseworthy. And all of that is revealed in his name.

When Jeremiah grasped this, he said, “There[’s] none like … thee, O Lord; thou art great, and thy name is great in might.”[5] The psalmist, 20:7, says, “Some trust in chariots, … some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.”[6] What was Jesus’ great triumphant prayer in John 17:6? “I,” he says, “[Father,] have manifested thy name.”[7] “I have made known to them thy name!” Now, clearly, folks, this means something more than simply nomenclature. This means something more than simply saying, “God is God.” I mean, that is tautology. So he’s expressing something of his character, and of his power, and of his control, and of his influence in all of the world.

And, you see, it is until we grasp this that we can’t understand why the third commandment would be so significant. You see, because if God is just down here somewhere, or if God is a cosmic creation, or if God is a figment of my imagination, or if God is whatever I want him to be in twentieth-century parlance, then why in the world shouldn’t I misuse his name? But if God is “I Am,” then I’ve got a problem. And so do you. And our culture—and it was not always like this—our culture violates, thousands and millions of times every day, the name of Almighty God. We would never have found it to be so had we lived a hundred years from now, even fifty years from now. It is indicative of where our culture rests.

Now, let me try and take this on from here for a moment or two. Let me show to you just why it is important that we understand the name of God in this way. Isaiah chapter 43, Isaiah, speaking of the very same thing, in verse 10 says,

“You are my witnesses,” declares [Yahweh],
 “and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
 and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
 nor will there be one after me.
I, even I, am [Yahweh],
 and apart from me there is no savior.”

That’s what I want to say to my Jewish friends. I want to say to them, “Here it is, in your book, in our book, in Isaiah 43. I want to show you the end of the story. I want to show you the final piece of the jigsaw. I want to say to you, ‘Yahweh is Yahweh is Yahweh. There are not two, there is one, and he is the only God, and he is the only Savior.’”

And some of you have come this morning, perhaps, from a Jewish background, and you know what has been proclaimed over these recent days: the fact that there on the Day of Atonement there was forgiveness for sin, and there, as the high priest made that sacrifice, so the people may be cleansed and renewed. And you know that it pointed out and on, but you have not come to discover the one who was the Lamb, slain before the foundation of the world,[8] who is the one who purifies from all sin. And when we meet him, do we discover him to be a different god? No! He is Yahweh. One in three and three in one: immense mystery, profound truth.

The Names of God

Now, let me give you one or two names of God. You may like to write these down. I think you’ll find this helpful. And certainly, if you get ahold of this, you’ll understand why God is so concerned about his name. Let me give them to you. And this is not exhaustive or comprehensive; it is selective. If I had an overhead, I’d write them up for you, but I’m not good with overheads. I get all discombobulated, and it gets everybody upset.

So, here we go: Elohim. Elohim. E-l-o-h-i-m. Simply means “Creator.” I’ve referred to it, Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning [Elohim] created the heavens and the earth.” Can I ask you this morning, do you honor God as your creator? Do you believe that God created ex nihilo, that he took nothing and made something? Do you believe that God is self-existent—he spoke and the world came into being? That he set the stars in space? That he put the planets where he wants them? That he, in Christ, holds everything together? Do you have a core, deep conviction in your heart concerning Elohim? If not, when you take his name upon your lips, you misuse his name, because his name is “Creator.”

El Elyon, two words: E-l, second word, E-l-y-o-n. Simply means “God the Most High.” You find it in Genesis 14 in the priesthood of Melchizedek: He was priest of “[El Elyon] God Most High.”[9] The name emphasizes the sovereignty and the rule and the power of God. Ask yourself, as I must ask myself, “Do I believe in the sovereign powerful rule of God? Do I worship and understand El Elyon? And if I do, then why do I complain so much about my circumstances, and why do I doubt his ability to intervene on my behalf?” It is because I misuse his name.

He is Yahweh-Jireh, two words: Yahweh, dash, and then J-i-r-e-h. It simply means “the God who provides.” Do you know the God who provides? Do you know where this comes? Comes in a wonderful story, again, in the book of Genesis, chapter 22. Abraham has his boy Isaac. He and Sarai have looked forward to this boy’s coming for many a year. Finally he’s given as a gift to them. And the word of God comes to Abraham; he says, “Abraham, take your son, your only son, Isaac, and sacrifice him on the place that I will show you.” And Isaac and his dad and a few helpers begin to make the journey, and eventually the dad says to the helpers, “You stay here. I and the boy will go yonder, and we will return and worship with you.”

Even though God had said, “Take your boy and sacrifice him,” the dad said, “The boy and I will be back.” Why? Because the dad knew what the boy was going to find out. The dad knew that God was Yahweh-Jireh. And when the boy said, “Hey, we’ve got the wood, and we’ve got the fire going, but we ain’t got nothing to put up here,” Abraham says, “Yahweh, he is Yahweh-Jireh.” And turning, they look and see a ram caught in the thicket.[10] And on that day, Isaac discovered that God was Yahweh, the provider God.

And in a very realistic sense, that beast on that altar bore the place of Isaac and figured what was to happen centuries later when on a Roman gibbet outside the walls of Jerusalem there would be yet another who would be bearing the place of another who deserved it. And there,

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned he stood,
[And] sealed my pardon with his blood:

Yahweh-Jireh, the Lord my provider.

Oh, could I take this name upon my lips as a curse, as a joke, as a flippancy? Could I sit in the theater and listen to them abuse the name of my Savior? Can I listen to the nonsense without stopping my ears and running for sanity? The answer is, loved ones, “Yes, yes, yes, we can!” Because we’ve become so inoculated with the godlessness of our culture that we’ve a sneaking suspicion, as I say to you, that this third commandment is an anachronism from somewhere in the past and bears no relevance to us at all.

Children come in my home and curse God. They come in my home and say “Jesus,” and they’re not worshipping him. I pick them up in the car, they jam their finger in the door, they profane the name of Christ. They don’t know any better. They don’t know that he is El Elyon. They don’t know that he’s the Provider. They don’t know that he is Yahweh. And they never will, living next door to the likes of some of us, for they hear the same nonsense from our lips when we jam our golf clubs in the garage door or when things just don’t go according to plan.

The problem is, you see, our God is too small. We have now brought him down to our level. We have made him manageable. We have made him such that we may manipulate him. We do not exist for his glory, but he exists for our provision. We come to worship in order that we might so induce him to do what we want done. We do not come to worship to magnify and praise his name so that we might discover his plan for our lives.

There is no possibility whatsoever of standing before God’s holiness except to face judgment, unless there is one who may take our place.

I can go on. Yahweh Rophe, “the Lord who heals.” Yahweh Nissi, “He is my banner.” What does that mean? It was the banner of the marching armies, the protection of the army around him. And you’re walking into some things tomorrow, and so am I. And we say to ourselves, “I don’t know if I can cope with another day in that office. I don’t know if I can go on that business trip. I’m not sure I can do another load of laundry. I don’t think I can make these breakfasts anymore for these kids or get these lunches and drive like a jolly taxi driver for the rest of my life. I don’t know if I can do it!” Well, let me tell you something: Yahweh Nissi, the Lord is your banner. He’s your protection in the storm. Get underneath the banner and walk forward!

He is Yahweh Mekaddesh; he is the Lord of holiness. He is Yahweh Shalom; he is peace. He is Yahweh Tsidkenu, “the Lord my righteousness.” We sang about it: “Righteous I can stand in Jesus.”[12] What does that mean? Do you understand what you sang? We, who are unrighteous, who are dead in our trespasses and in our sins, who follow the ways of the world and the wickedness of Satan unwittingly without even knowing it, who are underneath the condemnation of God, may now stand complete and unchallenged by God’s holiness. How? By keeping the Ten Commandments? By showing up at church? By helping ladies with their shopping? By taking in ironing for the lady next door? No. By acknowledging that there is no possibility whatsoever of standing before God’s holiness except to face judgment, unless there is one who may take our place—namely, Yahweh Tsidkenu, “the Lord our righteousness.” Though it doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves, it makes us magnify his greatness.

He is El Shaddai. Don’t you love that song? We’ve sung it many times: “El Shaddai, El Shaddai, El-Elyon na Adonai.”[13] You say, “What the world are we singing?” We’re just magnifying the greatness of God. It’s a great song! The wonder of the songs we’ve sung this morning: they’re all magnifying his name! Now, it’s not about the significance of G-o-d. It is about the fact that God, in declaring and disclosing himself, shows the wonder of who he is.

Names Full of Instruction

Now, we could list all these titles, and at the very best, we only have an inkling of the wonder of who God is. We need to realize that the names of God are full of instruction. They are packed not with magical qualities or spiritual power. This is very important. The reason the name of God is so significant is not because his name has a magical quality. I hear people talking like this all the time—it does scare me—as if, somehow or another, the name of God was a talisman: you just said these words, whatever the sentences were, whatever the construction of the consonants and the vowels, if you said this name, it worked! That’s poppycock! That’s silliness! The reason the name is so significant is not because the name possesses magical power, but it is because the name is full of doctrinal content. And it is when we understand what the name signifies that we may then rest in the name.

That’s why Solomon is a wise man. He says in Proverbs 18:10, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run [in]to it and are safe.” What the world does that mean? How can you run into a name? Well, it’s metaphorical language, we understand. But even so, even at that, what do you mean, you run into the name of the Lord? Do you run in a place and go, “The name of the Lord. The name of the Lord. The name of the Lord.” I hear people do this all the time: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…” They’re no better than pagans! It’s not that!

It is when I go in my bedroom, and I face myself, and I say, “I can’t cope.” And then I remember, “The Lord provides.” And I run into that truth, and I hide. When I’m confronted by my sin and I can see no reason why God would welcome me, I run into the fact that God in Christ is that great atoning sacrifice. When my heart is fluttering and my pulse rate is up and there is fearfulness on me, I run into the truth that he is Yahweh Shalom, he is my peace. It’s intensely practical, and it’s very theological.

It is truth which gives substance to our worship, and it is our worship which fuels our hearts and minds for truth.

Now, people say from time to time, “You know, I don’t want to get into all of this theology. I just want to know God. I mean, do we have to have all this stuff just to know God? I mean, give me a soundbite. Give me twenty seconds on it, would you? Don’t give me the New York Times editorial. Give me the USA Today version.” And we are producing soundbite Christians, and that’s one of the reasons we’re in the difficulty we’re in: because Christians are not studying, they’re not thinking, they’re not listening. And so they are sloganeers. They have slogans without understanding. And when the difficult times come, they have nowhere to run and nowhere to turn, because all they have is a framework, but they have no substance.

I want you folks to have substance. I want you to have theology. I want you to have doctrinal content. Because the only way that another generation will rise behind us is not on the basis of the slogans we give them to rattle in their heads but is on the basis of the truth with which we instruct them to undergird their lives so that our children and our teenagers may understand God’s name, may understand the revelation of himself, and on the basis of their minds may have stirred hearts and changed lives!

That’s why people ask every so often, “Can we have a service where we just sing for the whole service?” No! No! Why not? Is it wrong to sing? No, it’s wonderful to sing! We love to sing! But we are not going to divorce the praise and worship from the proclamation of truth. For it is the truth which gives substance to our worship, and it is our worship which fuels our hearts and minds for truth. There is a synergism between them. That’s why I don’t want to just stand up here and talk. We want to see it combined.

Now, you know, this came home to me so very clearly—the practicality of this—in receiving a little card which I actually picked up just between the first and second service. I don’t usually open my mail on Sundays, for those of you who write to me, because I’m never sure what’s in it, and I certainly don’t want a letter bomb halfway through the day; I’d like to complete my obligations. So, I don’t usually open my mail until a Monday. But this one had a postmark from the UK, and I felt it was far enough away not to worry about it in any case. Turned out to be a letter from a young girl whom my wife and I met when I had the privilege of being an assistant minister in Edinburgh back in 1975. To the home of this family we were invited. They took us to tea often. The lady was such a kindly lady, wonderful baker, and we used to have some nice afternoons in their home.

Earlier in the summer we met the daughter, who’s now a grown woman. The daughter said to me that her mom had cancer and was very unwell. This card this morning says, “My mom passed away on September the eleventh.” But the interesting thing to me is this: that she says, “This, both for my mom and for us, is something more to rejoice about than mourn.” An unbeliever can’t say that—only someone who understands that the name of God is eternity. She goes on to say, “Although I would not have chosen this particular road, I would not have missed the opportunity to grow in my faith and get to know my heavenly Father so much better. I just wait to see what he will do with all the lessons he has taught me.” An unbeliever doesn’t say that. The only person who says that is someone who understands that God is the God who provides. She talks about God’s provision, and she says how she has learned to see so much that God has given her as a provision from his hand. And I thought to myself, “She understands why the third commandment is so important.”

Breaking the Third Commandment

Now, I have belabored that. Let me come to the part you’re most expecting: How, then, in the world do we break this third commandment? This is what you thought was important, and it is in measure important. But the fact is, the reason I have emphasized this is because until we understand the importance of God’s name, then the breaking of the commandment has very little apparent significance at all. But once we understand the magnitude of what we’re doing when we abuse and misuse the name of God, then it becomes a telling truth.

Three words summarize it: we break the third commandment by blasphemy, perjury, and hypocrisy. Or, if you want to reduce it a level, we break the third commandment by swearing, lying, and kidding.

Every time that we incorporate the name of God into things that we are saying in order somehow to try and strengthen our words—for example, I hear people say, “And that’s the God-honest truth”—that’s blasphemy. There is only one truth, and that is God’s truth. We don’t need God’s name added to truth. And our words are to be “yes” and “no,”[14] not “yes” and “no” and “maybe.” So we don’t need to bring down, as it were, the name of divinity in order to reinforce what we’re saying, unless, of course, what we’re saying is so shaky because of our character that we feel somehow we need to strengthen it by an abuse of the name of God.

We blaspheme God by treating his name irreverently. We blaspheme God by mentioning his name and in the same time casting doubt on his character. We blaspheme God when we use his name in anger and in arrogance and in defiance of who he is. We misuse the name of God and take it in vain when we’re lying or uttering falsehoods and using God’s name to back it up; when we say we’ll do things, and then, using God’s name, affirm that, and then back off and don’t do it.

You can find illustrations of this all the way through the Bible. In Jeremiah 34, the story of King Zedekiah, who said that they would release and proclaim liberty to the slaves, they invoked the name of God in so doing, and then says God to them, “But then you turned around and profaned my name when each of you took back his slaves.”[15] “You profaned my name by taking back the slaves. You said one thing, then you did another, and you brought disglory to my name.”

Now, think of all the vows you’ve made in your life. Did you stand at the front of a church and answer “I do” to the pastor’s question? Did you stand at the front of the church and say, “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all other, keep myself only unto her,” or “only unto him,” “so long as I both shall live?” Did you? And are you doing it? If you’re playing fast and loose in your marriage, you are abusing and misusing the name of God. Did you vow to God that you would serve him with all of your life, that you were prepared to go anywhere, do anything for him, at any time, and you made that commitment, and you’ve stepped back from it? You misused the name of God when you take it upon your lips. For you have made a vow, you incurred his name, and now you incur his judgment.

And we misuse the name of God when we take it and joke with it or are hypocritical with it in any way. If, you see, reverence is fundamental, then irreverence is dreadfully flawed. In very few of our circles would dirty jokes be tolerated. We know that those sort of stories were part and parcel of our dead life, so we don’t tell them anymore. But you know, there is a strange and progressing and disturbing frequency of expressions amongst evangelical Christians, such as “Good Lord!” “Lord, have mercy,” even “God!”—“Oh my God!”—and then the corruptions of “guy” and “gosh” and “gee” that we have brought in because we are either not brave enough or we still maintain a measure of sensitivity.

Have you seen some of the T-shirts that are going around? Stuff that says, “God is rad. He’s my dad.” Or, in a corruption of the Budweiser commercial, “This Blood’s for You.” That’s blasphemy. I don’t care what Christian publishing house put it out. It’s blasphemous. The blood of Christ that cleanses from all sin, purveyed to a godless community along the lines of a beer? The almighty creator God, who holds my breath in his hands, communicated to in such a superfluous, superficial fashion?

Loved ones, just when you and I are ready to sneak past the third commandment, it jumped up and bit us. Every service that you and I attend where I worship God with my lips and not from my heart, I break the third commandment. Every song that I sing using the name of God, when I sing lies, when I sing superficially, when I do not engage the reality of my being in it, I misuse the name of God.

The fact is that it is only when we take God’s name in praise, and in study, and in love, and in carefulness, and in obedience, and in prayer, and in confidence, and in evangelism, and in thankfulness that we begin to get on the flipside of the commandment, expressed in the opening phrase of the Lord’s Prayer, or the second phrase: “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.”[16]

You want to know how badly we abuse the name of God? How many of us have thought it was really funny to tell the little story of the boy who, in saying the Lord’s Prayer, said, “Our Father who art in heaven, Harold be thy name”? I told that story. The memory of it shames me when I think of the greatness of God.

I spend a lot of my time on a Sunday walking around and saying to people, “I don’t know your name.” And then they tell me. Some of you are sitting out here this morning, and in relation to all of this, your response to God is this: “I don’t know your name. I never met you.”

“And you will call his name Jesus,” said the angel, “for he will save the people from their sins.”[17] It is only when we encounter Christ as Savior that we meet God. It is only, then, in meeting God that we can begin to understand why his name is to be hallowed. And therefore, this morning, that is both our point of conclusion and, for some, needs to be the point of beginning.

Let’s bow in prayer, shall we?

Our God and our Father, you have exalted above all things your name and your Word.[18] Forgive us for our flippancy, for our lies, for our superficiality. And even as we look into this law and see our faces in the mirror, we know we can’t cleanse ourselves by trying to do better. And we thank you that you have provided for us in Christ a Savior. And we want to be able to say,

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear!
Because it soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And dries away each tear.[19]

Grant to us, Lord, grace to hear you, to respond to you, to live out what we learn. For we ask these things, commending one another lovingly to your care, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] Exodus 34:6–7 (NIV 1984).

[2] See Exodus 20:5.

[3] Genesis 1:1 (NIV 1984).

[4] John 8:58 (NIV 1984).

[5] Jeremiah 10:6 (KJV).

[6] Psalm 20:7 (KJV).

[7] John 17:6 (KJV).

[8] See Revelation 13:8.

[9] Genesis 14:18 (NIV 1984).

[10] See Genesis 22:2–13.

[11] Philip P. Bliss, “Hallelujah! What a Savior” (1875).

[12] Lilly Green, “Hallowed Be the Name” (1979).

[13] Michael Card, “El Shaddai” (1981).

[14] See Matthew 5:37.

[15] Jeremiah 34:16 (paraphrased).

[16] Matthew 6:9 (KJV). Emphasis added.

[17] Matthew 1:21 (paraphrased).

[18] See Psalm 138:2.

[19] John Newton, “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds” (1779).Lyrics lightly altered.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.