Pastor Cosand: June 2017
The Glory of the Name of God
mediation on the third commandment
The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1648) abides as a helpful guide in understanding the great doctrines of the Christian faith. There is a section in the Catechism regarding the Ten Commandments. The third command is "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain" (Exod 20:7; Deut 5:11). Questions 54 and 55 in the Shorter Catechism summarize this third commandment.
Q. 54. What is required in the third commandment?
A. The third commandment requires the holy and reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, Word, and works.
Q. 55. What is forbidden in the third commandment?
A. The third commandment forbids all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God makes himself known.
The names and titles for God are not simply words. They express His character, His nature. It is important to study the meaning of the names and titles of God because in them we understand what kind of God we serve. God's names refer to His office, His position, His nature. God names Himself what He is. YHWH (translated 'LORD') refers to God's eternal existence …"I AM who I AM" (Exod 3:14). YHWH Sabaoth (translated 'LORD of hosts') refers to the God who is always victorious in battle (1 Sam 17:45). Martin Luther included this name in "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" …"LORD Sabaoth His name, from age to age the same; and He must win the battle." Elohim (translated 'God') refers to God being a strong and exalted one (Gen 1:1). El Shaddai (translated 'God Almighty') refers to God being omnipotent (Gen 17:1). Adonai (translated 'Lord') refers to God's being a ruler or judge (Psa 90:1).
The names and titles of God echo the character of God. Therefore to misuse the name of God is to degrade the character of God. His name represents His person, who He is. To misuse His name in any way makes a mockery of who He is. To use God's name in vain is to use it in such a way so as to strip it of its meaning and to turn it into a worthless and empty word. Because God is who He is, it is only proper to use His name in the context of honor and praise and worship. Any other use is to degrade His name and to corrupt His honor.
The applications of the third commandment are many. First, the name of God is often used as an exclamation of surprise or anger or joy. Listen to the mindless sitcoms on television and see how many times "O my God" is used to get a laugh. It is an affront to the majesty of God. His name is who He is. It is not an exclamation point or a punch line. To say "O God" or "O my Lord", if we are not worshipping, is to empty God's name of its meaning and to strip it of its majesty. To use His glorious name, which stands for His matchless splendor, as an exclamation, is to degrade Him with foolish arrogance. To use God's name in a frivolous manner, in jest, or without serious thought is to violate the third commandment.
It is not only the direct use of the name of God that is the focus of this command, but the indirect use of His name which should be our concern. We must be careful never to speak about God or His great mysteries without doing so reverently and soberly. There is a trend toward silliness and levity in our culture that is unhealthy. There is a great difference between shallow levity and joy. Christians ought to be joyful and to laugh freely, but they ought not to be frivolous and trite. Life is a wondrous gift with great pleasures to be fully enjoyed, but it is a serious gift for which we will give an account to the Creator. Therefore we must be sober in our speech, especially when it involves the person of God. Our speech should reflect the greatness of God and be fitting with respect to His glory.
Let us remember the names of God that our souls may be refreshed. These names remind us of who our God is. To call Him 'YHWH' (I AM) is to rest in the presence of the God who is always there. To call Him 'Adonai' (Lord) is to obey the God who, alone, rules the universe. To call Him 'YHWH Sabaoth' (LORD of hosts) is to walk in confidence with the God who always wins His battles. To call Him 'El Shaddai' (God Almighty) is to be strengthened that the God we serve, who is also our Father, is Almighty and nothing which He purposes to do can be thwarted.
The best way to honor the name of God is to exult in His name, to rejoice in Him, to prize Him above everything in our lives. To honor Him with my life and to revel in all that He is, is to glorify the name of the living God.
O LORD, our LORD,
how excellent is your name
in all the earth.
Delighting and resting in God's name,