Tuesday, August 8, 2006
What's in a Name?
“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” (Exo.20:7)
“What’s in a name?” asks Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” This may be true of your name and mine; but the names God has chosen by which to identify Himself to us, are too consequential to take lightly. “THE LORD THY GOD”—is a name to be feared, according to Deuteronomy 28:58. “Hollowed” [holy] is how Jesus told the disciples to regard it (Matt.6:9). God will not leave that man or woman “guiltless” who profanes His name. “Neither shall ye profane my holy name; but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel: I am the Lord which hallow you” (Lev.22:32). Our profanity, says the verse, desecrates and violates the name of the only source man has for personal holiness.
Taking the name of the Lord in vain goes beyond using it in an explosion of hateful speech, however. When we become so “familiar” with spiritual things that God Himself becomes an actor in our jokes and frivolous stories, we prove instead just how unfamiliar we are with a Holy God. Swearing under oath was permitted in the Mosaic Law, as long as you told the truth (Lev.19:12); but Jesus spoke very pointedly in the New Testament against those who feel they must verify what they say with “I swear to God.” If we have a reputation for truthfulness, a simple yes or no will suffice (Matt.5:34-37).
But as long as we are ruffling feathers, we might as well dig a little deeper. The expression “take the name of the Lord” reminds me that when I became a child of God, I took His name. His name is a declaration of His being and His character; and when I speak or act unworthy of that name, I have besmirched it, and as far as this world is concerned, I have taken it “in vain.” Profession without practice is blasphemy. Commenting on this commandment, Alexander Maclaren says:
We take His name ‘in vain’ when we speak of Him unworthily. Many a glib and formal prayer, many a mechanical or self-glorifying sermon, many an erudite [scholarly] controversy, comes under the lash of this prohibition. Professions of devotion far more fervid [passioned] than real, confessions in which the conscience is not stricken, orthodox teachings with no throb of life in them, unconscious hypocrisies of worship, and much besides, are gibbeted [hanged] here. The most vain of all words are those which have become traditional stock in trade for religious people, which once expressed deep convictions, and are now a world too wide for the shrunk faith which wears them.
Whew! For someone like me who considered this commandment to be one of my better attempts at complying with, I find again that it is a good thing Jesus Christ’s record of law-keeping will be credited to me, when I stand before God (Rom.8:4). And speaking of Him, we should not forget that His name—Jesus Christ—falls under this third commandment, as well. It is the only one that gives us access to God (Acts 4:12), and the one to which every knee will one day bow (Philip.2:10). James warns, in no uncertain terms, about the possibility of blaspheming it, as well (2:7).
I am proud of my name—Salle Jo Hopkins Sandlin. My christian name was given to me by my parents who loved me; my family name comes from good English stock, so they tell me; and my married name, God chose and I most willingly took. I am most thankful, however, that God chose to give me His name, the name above all others. It is my desire never to take it in vain with my lips, my life, or my love.