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Series:  The Covenant - Part Three

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
October 10, 2004

Please turn with me to Exodus 20 - verse 7. Today we’ve come to the third commandment which focuses on how we use God’s name. I’d like to have us reach this out loud together - so we can get the command fresh in our minds. Then we’ll come back and make some observations and application.

If you’re there - let’s read verse 7 out loud together: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”

Last week Rodney Dangerfield died. Do you remember his catch phrase? “I don’t get no respect.” If you can picture Rodney Dangerfield as God then you’ve got a handle on this third command.

This command is all about respect - respecting God.

Walk with me through the command.

Names for the Hebrews were a profound thing. Your name was who you were - your reputation - the summary and representation of your character. With a good name you were respected. With a bad name you were dishonored. In Scripture, the “name” of God is the description of who He is - God’s reputation - His character - His nature.

In the Bible there are a number of different names for God that God uses to reveal different aspects of His character or how He deals with humankind. Here - in the third command - the “name” He uses is “Yahweh.”

When God meets Moses at the burning bush, Moses says to God, “You’re sending me back to Egypt to the people of Israel to tell them that the God of your fathers has sent me. They’re going to ask me, ‘What is His name?’ What should I tell them?”

God answers Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” Same name - “I AM” - “Yahweh.”

“Yahweh” describes God as the One who always has been - always is - and always will be. God who is - absolute - unchangeable - holy.

The amazing reality is that this God - Yahweh - enters into a covenant with His people - opens the door to a relationship with them - and us. Here in the third command is teaching us what it means to live in that relationship with God.

The third command says what? “Don’t use God’s name in vain.”

Don’t drag God’s name down into the gutter. Don’t trivialize God’s name. Don’t misuse the name of God. When we trivialize the name of God and we trivialize who He is. When we misuse God’s name we disrespect God.

Then there’s God’s warning. “Misuse My name and there will be punishment.”

Don’t miss who God is speaking to: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” - “your God.” He’s talking to His people.

When a non-believer misuses God’s name it bothers us - and it should. But they don’t know God. They don’t have a relationship with Him. When God’s people misuse God’s name it disrespects God - trashes the name - the character - the reputation of the God who loved us so passionately that He sent only Son to die in our place on the cross to establish our relationship with Him.

God’s people don’t trash His name. We’re called on to respect Him. To honor Him. To give our lives to Him. God hold us accountable to respect Him.

The third command is all about respecting God. To respect God’s name is to respect God. Let’s say that together, “To respect God’s name is to respect God.”

In thinking through how this applies to us today - I’d like to have you turn with me to Matthew 5 - starting at verse 33 - where Jesus takes this whole idea of misusing God’s name and applies it to where we live our lives.

This is a familiar scene. Jesus was at the height of his popularity. Crowds were coming to Him from all over. Crowds of the sick - suffering - demon possessed - diseased. Jesus’ enemies came. They came from every economic level. A large diverse crowd - following Jesus. Wherever Jesus went - the crowd went.

One day - Jesus is up on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee - sees this crowd - goes up on this hill - sits down and begins to teach these thousands of people about what it means to live in a covenant relationship with God. That teaching is what we have here starting in Matthew 5.

Look with me at Matthew 5:33 - Jesus speaking to this crowd: Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.

Years ago - a lot of years ago - when I was as student at Biola - there was a girl I wanted to take out on a date. But the only way she would consent to go out with me was if she could bring her friend. Which meant that I had to find a date for this other girl.

I asked every guy I knew. Everyone had something to do - most of it legitimate. The best I could find was some guys who were available early in the evening and some guys who could come later. Which I figured was good enough because I really wanted to go out with this girl. So I called her up and said, “I got a date for your friend. Let’s go out.”

At the time it seemed like such a little deception with a big payoff - going out with this girl.

So this girl, her friend, and date #1 and I went out to the movies. Part way through the movie - date #1 and I excused ourselves and went to the bathroom where date #2 - who looked like date #1 and was dressed identical to date #1 - was waiting for us.

We made the exchange - slipped back into the movie. Which worked out really good until after the movies - when we got out to the parking lot - and my date’s friend realized that date #2 wasn’t date #1. I did a lot of apologizing for that one.

An vow is a solemn promise. The Greek word for “vow” is related to the word for “fence” - being bound by what we promise. Invoking God’s name added an additional boundary to that promise.

The people Jesus is talking to understood that the name of God represented God. “Yahweh” - the name of God in Exodus 20:7 - was the most frequently used name of God in Scripture. Yet, it was the one name the Hebrews would never write or say. Its just too holy - too sacred to them - to profane it by writing it or speaking it. That’s respect. We don’t mess with God.

People today understand this - in kind of a twisted way - the authority - reputation - of God’s name. At an early age. They learn it from their parents - other kids - relatives. God’s name is powerful. That’s why it gets used in conversation so much. “God this and God that.” “Jesus H. this and Jesus H. that.” Giving emphasis to what were saying, “I swear to God.” Or as an exclamation: “Oh my God.”

Its like identity theft. Those commercials where some senior lady is talking in a deep male voice racking up huge bills on some guy’s credit card. Have you seen those?

Consciously or subconsciously we use God’s name to invoke God’s authority - His reputation and character - to cover our own inadequacies - to make what we’re saying more seem powerful - more deserving of respect.

The people Jesus is talking to understood that the vows which invoked God’s holy name - they were bound by. They had to fulfill - otherwise they were misusing the name of the holy God - breaking the third commandment.

So what the people did to get around this - deception - what Jesus is talking about here in verses 34 and 35 - was that they would swear by everything else - heaven - earth - Jerusalem. “By heaven if you give me your three chickens today next week I give you my goat.” “As sure as Jerusalem is there I promise to come and fix your ox cart.”

All of which was non-binding - deception - lies - because of course they hadn’t used God’s name. So they were off the hook.

That may seem a little silly. But think about that for today.

The endless fine print in contracts today is a sad reminder that people do not trust each other. That one’s oath - one’s promise - is non-binding unless bound by reams of iron clad fine print legalese - which any lawyer - paid enough - can shred.

Most politicians - not all - but it seems like most politicians will make all kinds of promises to get elected - even invoke God’s name. Do people really believe them anyway? Aren’t we all just a tad cynical about what most politicians say? All the rhetoric? Today, someone keeping their word is only as important as the benefit to them personally.

When we loose genuine respect for God anything deception is possible.

Jesus reminds us in verses 34 and 35 that all this stuff people are vowing by is really God’s stuff. Heaven is the throne of God. The earth is His footstool. Jerusalem is His city. Vowing by God’s stuff is still vowing by God - misusing His name - disrespecting God and what it means to live in a covenant relationship with Him.

Matthew 5:36 is even more personal: “Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.”

How many of you dye your hair? You don’t have to raise your hand. Underneath all that dye the hair is still grey. Right? We can try to deceive ourselves - or others - but ultimately if its grey. Its grey.

We can vow something. “I promise to pay you back. I promise to change. I promise never to do that again.” From the depth of who we are we may honestly desire to fulfill that vow. But, ultimately it’s only the sovereign God who can change the core of who we are and what we’re able to do.

God knows what limits us. Knows what we struggle with. Knows what will happen to us tomorrow. God is the one who controls tomorrow and has orchestrated future history to fulfill His promises.

Jesus’ point? Say what we want. But ultimately we must recognize that we’re accountable to God for what we say. All of this oathing and vowing and swearing has to do with our covenant relationship - our understanding who we are before the holy sovereign God - our respect of God.

Verse 37: But - instead of misusing God’s name - let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil. - it leads us into misusing God’s name.

Have you heard this, “Say what you mean. Mean what you say”?

Just tell it like it is. Be honest about who we are and who God is by speaking in ways that respect Him - honor Him.

Let’s take this one step deeper. Think about how the third command would sound if it were positive. Something like: “Thou shalt use the name of the Lord thy God with respect.”

There are ways to swear using God’s name. Ways that don’t bring down judgment and wrath and hell fire and brimstone. Ways that respect God. Three examples.

Deuteronomy 6:13 - “You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.” Moses - giving instructions to God’s people on how to swear. Imagine coming to church to learn how to swear. Swearing by God’s name - tied to our fear of God - our respect of God - our worship of God. If we’re going to use God’s name, do it in a way that shows that we respect Him - honor Him - value Him above all others.

Romans 1:9 - Paul, writing to the church in Rome: “For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you…” Do you hear the oath? “God is my witness” “I swear to God.” - is an understanding that our God is integrally concerned with - orchestrates - passes judgment on how we live our lives.

“I’m striving to live in obedience to the one God who is worthy of serving. Who’s given purpose and value to my life. He knows what I’m doing for you.” There’s respect there.

Third example - Revelation 10:5,6: “Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land lifted up his right hand to heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it, that there will be delay no longer.”

Invoking God’s name - with respect for Him - giving Him His rightful place - as creator - ruler - possessor and sovereign over all that was - is - and will be. That’s respect.

This is a challenge for us. Elbow the person next to you and tell them that, “This is a challenge for us.”

We all struggle with this. Church - hear this. If we say we respect God on Sunday and then disrespect Him on Monday - by what’s coming out of our mouth - then we’re taking His name in vain.

If we sing words of worship on Sunday - “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” - and on Monday we’re saying, “Me, me, me, me, me.” Doing what works best for us - even lying and deceiving others to get our own way. That disrespects God.

If we talk righteousness on Sunday - clean up our speech and talk Church talk - with our Christian siblings - and Monday we’re telling filthy jokes at the office - or talking using four letter words - “God this and God that” - that’s disrespecting God.

If we’re pleading with God in prayer on Sunday - but Monday what’s coming out of our mouth shows that our hearts are not sold out to God - that’s disrespecting God.

But, imagine if we went through our week with our “Yes” meaning “Yes” and our “No” meaning “No” - just telling it like it is. Who God is - respecting Him - honoring Him for who He is - testifying of His grace and mercy and all He’s done for us. Using His name to speak words of blessing and righteousness and encouragement - words offered in prayer for other. Honoring Him - lifting up His name.

Would that make a difference in our families and schools and the people we work with? Would people see something different in us?

We’ve been seeing - looking at the Ten Commandments - that God the God of the Bible is a covenant God not a contract God. God loves us. That’s what these commandments are about.

Not about rules and regulations so that somehow we earn God’s favor or avoid His wrath. But about the God who wants to pour out His love on us - to take the burdens off our shoulders - to bring peace to our hearts - to establish us and bless us and watch out for us and heal us and care for us and guide and lead us through life into eternity with Him.

What God is saying here is, “Respect Me.” That’s what people do in a covenant relationship. Its not just the words we say. Its the characteristic of how we live our lives with God. The people around us are desperate to see that kind of relationship lived out - spoken about - demonstrated in words which honor God and bring His Gospel and healing into their lives.

That’s a challenge for us. Don’t misuse God’s name. Respect God.


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright© 1960,1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.