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Author:Rev. C. Bouwman
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Congregation:Smithville Canadian Reformed Church
 Smithville, ON
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
Title:The Lord teaches us to use His wonderful name with reverence
Text:LD 36 & 37 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 3rd Commandment (God's name)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Text: Lord's Day 36 & 37

99. Q. What is required in the third commandment?
A. We are not to blaspheme or to abuse the Name of God by cursing,[1] perjury,[2] or unnecessary oaths,[3] nor to share in such horrible sins by being silent bystanders.[4] In short, we must use the holy Name of God only with fear and reverence,[5] so that we may rightly confess Him,[6] call upon Him,[7] and praise Him in all our words and works.[8]
[1] Lev. 24:10-17. [2] Lev. 19:12 [3] Matt. 5:37; James 5:12. [4] Lev. 5:1; Prov. 29:24. [5] Ps. 99:1-5; Is. 45:23; Jer. 4:2. [6] Matt. 10:32, 33; Rom. 10:9, 10. [7] Ps. 50:14, 15; I Tim. 2:8. [8] Rom. 2:24; Col. 3:17; I Tim. 6:1.

100. Q. Is the blaspheming of God's Name by swearing and cursing such a grievous sin that God is angry also with those who do not prevent and forbid it as much as they can?
A. Certainly,[1] for no sin is greater or provokes God's wrath more than the blaspheming of His Name. That is why He commanded it to be punished with death.[2]
[1] Lev. 5:1. [2] Lev. 24:16.

101. Q. But may we swear an oath by the Name of God in a godly manner?
A. Yes, when the government demands it of its subjects, or when necessity requires it, in order to maintain and promote fidelity and truth, to God's glory and for our neighbour's good. Such oath-taking is based on God's Word[1] and was therefore rightly used by saints in the Old and the New Testament.[2]
[1] Deut. 6:13; 10:20; Jer. 4:1, 2; Heb. 6:16. [2] Gen. 21:24; 31:53; Josh. 9:15; I Sam. 24:22; I Kings 1:29, 30; Rom. 1:9; II Cor. 1:23.

102. Q. May we also swear by saints or other creatures?
A. No. A lawful oath is a calling upon God, who alone knows the heart, to bear witness to the truth, and to punish me if I swear falsely.[1] No creature is worthy of such honour.[2]
[1] Rom. 9:1; II Cor. 1:23. [2] Matt. 5:34-37; 23:16-22; James 5:12.

Scripture Reading:
Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 148

Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise" Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 54:1,2
Psalm 86:3
Psalm 34:1
Psalm 74:11,12,13
Psalm 148:1,2,3,4
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!

The name of God in heaven and His Son Jesus Christ is frequently used in our society, so often carelessly and in vain. In this society we live, and here we are told not to use the name of our God in vain. That instruction gives us not only an obligation to use the holy name of God only with fear and reverence, but also to do what we can to prevent that others abuse this wonderful name.

To obey the Lord's third commandment in our ungodly society is not easy. For that reason I open with you the Word of our God, so that we may be encouraged on the point.

I summarize the sermon with this theme:


The Significance of God's Name.
The Protection of God's name.
The Proper Use of God's name.

1. The Significance of God's Name.

"You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain," said God in the third commandment. In the Introduction to the Ten Commandments God had also mentioned what His name was; "I," He'd said to His people at the foot of the mountain, "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.." Lord: that was His name, and the specific point of the third commandment is that Israel may not take this name in vain. To understand the command, we need to appreciate the significance of God's name 'Lord'. Why not take it in vain?

The term 'Lord' is printed in capital letters, and so translates into English God's proper name 'Yahweh'. He first explained that name to Moses at the burning bush, Ex 3. The ground upon which Moses was standing, said God, was holy ground, and so Moses ought to take his sandals off. Then God explained why this was holy ground, that is, explained who the God was that visited Moses in the burning bush. Said God: "I am the God of your father - the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."

Now think it through, brothers and sisters. Why would God's identity as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob demonstrate that the ground was holy, that Moses ought to take off his sandals?

The thing is this: though Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were all dead for hundreds of years, the Lord had given them promises, and God keeps those promises. God had told the fathers that they would have many descendents, and these descendents would serve as slaves for many years in Egypt, and then God would take them out of Egypt and give them the Promised Land of Canaan. God was busy fulfilling those promises; Israel in Egypt had become a numerous nation, and yes, they were slaves in Egypt - as God has promised. But, God adds now, "I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt.. So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land." (vss 7f). That's why Moses the shepherd has to go to Pharaoh, and bring Israel out of Egypt (vs 8).

But Moses had concerns about that mandate. Vs 13: "When I come to the children of Israel and . they say to me, 'What is His name?' what shall I say to them?" His point: the God of the fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob hasn't done a thing for 400 years, so why should Israel listen to Moses now?! So: what's His Name, what's His reputation, what are His credentials that we should get excited, that we should trust that something will happen? Then we get the words of vs 14: "And God said to Moses, I am who I am." That, says God, is My name. And that name I am who I am, we need to know, contracts in Hebrew into the word 'Yahweh', Lord.

We hear that, and we conclude: the Lord doesn't reveal Himself through that name; He rather hides Himself in that name. And there's truth in that. For those who don't know God, this name doesn't mean much at all. But for those who know God and His plans and His promises, and trust in Him, this name reveals so much. A good hearer as Moses understands that with this name the Lord declares that He actually is there, and He demonstrates His presence through doing what He promises to do long ago - including specifically those promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That is God: this almighty Creator is busy in this world carrying out the promises He made. He's not remote, He's not weak, He's not detached; He's rather here, doing specifically what He said He'd do.

So when God a couple of years later collected His people around Mt Sinai, and He addressed them from the top of the mountain with His Ten Words of the Covenant, and reminded them that He was Yahweh, the Lord, the I am who I am of Ex 3, then His people understood: this is the mighty God who acts, the God who reaches into this world and does what He said He'd do; in the last couple of years they'd seen it with their own eyes!

When God then in turn told His people that they were not to take His name in vain, they understood what this 'name' was. Yahweh, the God who acts, the God with the mighty hand and the outstretched arm who could take His enslaved people out of bondage: this name may not be taken in vain.

We, brothers and sisters, are not amongst the people who were encamped around Mt Sinai. We're modern people, and exactly for that reason have we seen more of God's acts, of God's divine working in this world. For the promises God gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob involved more than deliverance from Egypt and the gift of the Promised Land; those promises included the gift of His only Son, Jesus Christ. In faith we have seen God fulfill the promise of His Son. He sent Christ Jesus into this world (Christmas), and this Son has obeyed God's commands, including the third commandment. Christ Jesus went to the cross to pay for our sins and so reconciled us to God. He arose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and today -we believe it- rules over this world. Our Savior is not distant, is not detached from this life, but from heaven on high He acts here. The evidence? He works faith in your heart and mine, gathers, defends, preserves His church. He is busy, and so both reveals and upholds His name in this world. In the 2000 years since His ascension He has governed world history in such a way that His name is today widely known in this world. Certainly in our country there are so very, very few who have never heard of our Lord Jesus Christ; witness how many people abuse His name. That is our God, congregation: His name is glorious, He's the God who acts, who is busy in this world fulfilling His promises. That includes our salvation!

That is why the punch of the third commandment hits us even more than it could hit the people at Mt Sinai. Take God's name in vain? Yahweh is not just the God who delivers from Pharaoh; Yahweh is the God who delivers from sin and Satan. And He's delivered us; shall we then take His name in vain?! God forbid!

I come to our second point:

2. The Protection of God's Name.

"You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain." Just how does one do that? The verb translated for us as 'take' means literally to 'lift up'. We're not to 'lift up' the name of God "in vain". Those last two words, 'in vain', describes the notion of lifting up God's name emptily, carelessly.

Consider a gun. It's common knowledge that one is to handle a gun with a good measure of respect. To pick up a rifle carelessly, playfully, and point it around just any direction is simply not acceptable behavior; that's lifting up a rifle "in vain" - and in today's world the people around you will let you know! So too with God's name. When I lift up that name, when I take it on my lips, I need to be as cautious about how I do it as I am about picking up a 303. As that rifle is to be treated with respect, with reverence, so also the name of God is to be treated with respect, with reverence.

Lord's Day 36 mentions three examples of abuse of God's name, three examples of using that name carelessly. The first example is cursing. It's what happens so frequently in our ungodly society. In anger or in pain or maybe for no reason at all, someone mentions God by name. It fills in a space, or serves as an explicative. More often than not, those who curse are scarcely aware that they are using God's name, but that takes nothing away from the seriousness of it. This God who acts to save, this God who is here, this God who keeps His promises, is treated as if He is a nothing - as light-heartedly as careless use of a gun. And that hurts God, offends Him, and He will act to defend His honor. It's the promise of the third commandment: "the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain."

The second example mentioned in the Catechism is perjury. The term presumes that (as Lord's Day 37 puts it) we may swear an oath by the Name of God in a godly manner. That happens, for example, in court or in a royal commission. With calling upon God you promise to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. But if then you deliberately speak falsehood, you are guilty of perjury, guilty of breaking your oath. This calling upon God to bear witness that you speak the truth, when in fact you intend to lie, is making light of God, is calling upon Him as carelessly as picking up a rifle and pointing it around the circle. So again God is treated as a plastic gun, as a nothing. That hurts God, offends Him, and He will act to defend His honor. It's the promise of the third commandment: "the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain."

The third example mentioned in our Lord's Day is unnecessary oaths. Again, the concept presumes (as Lord's Day 37 says) that we may swear oaths. But to bring God's name into the picture willy-nilly in order to persuade the other that you're speaking the truth amounts to a vain use of God's name. Such an unnecessary oath may not be false, but it's not necessary and therefore vain. Instead we need to cultivate personal reputations whereby we're known to be true to our word, that our Yes is Yes and our No is No. Here too we need to take God's promise in the third commandment seriously: "the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain."

Though it's not in our Lord's Day, I want to mention a fourth example of abusing God's name. It's this: one can call upon God to maintain ungodly practices. One can think of the false prophets of the Bible. To speak up and say, "Thus says the Lord," when in fact God did not command that utterance, is an abuse of the name of the Lord on the part of that false prophet. The apostle Paul rounded up Christians in the name of the Lord and put them in prison, but after his repentance he acknowledged that this behavior was in fact blasphemy (1 Tim 1:13); in the name of the Lord he did what was sin.

It's this point that is so vitally important today. The recent discussions surrounding Dr Hollingworth have driven home the point that churches and their officials need to act in a manner agreeing with the Word of God. Society understands that there is a connection between the church and God. If church leaders, then, abuse children and the church in turn covers up these evils, it's understood to be done in the name of God. And thereby God's name is brought into disrepute. It is imperative that the church act according to God's Word and be publicly seen to do so - for the sake of God's name!

The same point applies to church members. You and I are known in our community as churchgoers, and so we are seen as image of God. To the degree that we in any area of life maintain ungodly practices, we take God's name in vain. And "the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain."

What God does to protect His name? Q & A 100 picks up the topic. "No sin is greater or provokes God's wrath more than the blaspheming of His Name. That is why He commanded it to be punished with death." The proof text refers to Lev 24, a passage of Scripture that speaks of an Israelite cursing in a fight. God's penalty on the man was the death sentence.. Said God: "Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death" (vs 16).

Then it's true: not every Israelite of the Old Testament who abused the name of God through cursing or perjury or unnecessary oaths or maintaining ungodly practices in the name of God was personally put to death. But death was nevertheless the penalty he deserved. And that is why the Lord Jesus Christ was put to death! Though He personally never abused the holy name of God in any way -neither by cursing nor by perjury nor by unnecessary oaths nor even by maintaining an ungodly practice while the public knew Him as a child of God- Jesus nevertheless received the penalty of Lev 24, the death penalty mentioned in our Lord's Day. He received that penalty because He died in place of His people - of both the Old Testament and the New Testament dispensation. The saints of old and the saints of today transgress that third commandment and so earn the death penalty (for God does not hold guiltless those who take His name in vain), but Jesus by God's mercy died in our place! The blessed result is this: God does not hold against His people their sins against the third commandment! How rich, how infinitely rich is His mercy! To protect His name God almighty acted in this world, displayed His justice - that we might receive mercy!

I come to our last point:

3. The Proper Use of God's Name

How, now, are we to use God's name? For use it we must! God from heaven on high has revealed His name, told people on earth Who He is. When God forbids the wrong use of His name, the alternative is not silence but the correct use of His name.

A 99 summarizes the instruction of Scripture on the point like this: "we must use the holy Name of God only with fear and reverence." It's like that gun. A soldier must use it, but the important thing is how: with respect. God's name must be used, but with respect. The Catechism draws out this proper use in a 99 with three examples.

The first is this: "that we may rightly confess Him." Those words come from Jesus' instruction in Mt 10. Said Jesus:

"Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven" (Mt 10:32f).

God is busy in this world, is not detached from this world in any way. Here He continues to work in your life and mine, and in the lives of so many others also, in the little bits and pieces of daily life. In this world He is busy gathering His church, making His kingdom come also through the big things of the newspaper. It is not enough that we believe these things; we also need to speak about these things in our society, with our contacts, at work. To act as if God is not involved in daily life, as if somehow He doesn't care about the nuts and bolts of normal life, is to fall into the heresy of the Anabaptists. They said God was too holy to bother with this sinful, broken life - and therefore they refused to swear oaths, to call upon God to witness earthly conversations (and that's what sparked the first question of Lord's Day 37 about whether we may swear an oath in a godly manner). That's why these Anabaptists also separated themselves from real life, lived separately, refused to join in the army or take up a public office in the community. We make the same mistake when we decline to bring up God in daily conversation. Then we divide life into two parts, and speak of God at home and in church (as if that's His realm), and not in daily life. Yet it's precisely in daily life that God is acting, it's real people with real problems that He saves in Jesus Christ. So it's on the street and in the office, there where real people struggle with real problems, that the work of our Lord God needs to be mentioned. Ps 148: every person, every creature is to extol the Lord. That begins with us, with you and me "rightly confessing Him."

The Catechism mentions a second way to use God's name "with fear and reverence." Lord's Day 36 mentions also that we are to "call upon Him." The reference is to prayer. In private life and public it is for God's people to "call upon Him." By doing so we show that we take seriously the fact that God is busy in all of life. Prayer in public is a statement, is an action that communicates to others that God is real, God is there, God is busy. That is also why we should not be afraid to pray for our meals at work or at a conference. It's a testimony to the public: we take God seriously. Doing so also makes it easier to speak up when we hear blasphemy. We all know how difficult that is, but we also know that it's easier to do if we've first earned the right to speak about God. And you earn the right by publicly doing things that demonstrate that you take God for real.

To "call upon Him" is not only a reference to prayer as such. Also with an oath we call upon God to bear witness that I speak the truth (A 102). If necessity or law requires us to take an oath, we should not at all hesitate to do so; it gives us opportunity again publicly to express that we take God seriously, that we recognize that God is involved in every aspect of life - including our choice of words.

The Catechism mentions a third way to use God's name only with fear and reverence, and that's that we "praise Him in all our words and works." We do that in part when we confess Him and when we call upon Him. We do it too when we sing words of praise (as Ps 148 has it). But there's more to it. God is busy in this world, and part of His work is the change the Holy Spirit works in sinners. By God's grace He through His Spirit has made His home in our hearts, has changed us so that we image to those around us what God is like. So all our activity, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, needs to reflect what God is like. We are a picture to society, and people will always see us and interpret what they see us do. It is our responsibility to see to it that our actions and words give others occasion not to think little of God but to think much of God. We are Christians and known to be such in our community; so our actions and words need to demonstrate to those around us that we take God seriously, that His Name means much to us.

Are we able to take up God's name with fear and reverence, even defend that wonderful name in our godless community? Most certainly, beloved, yes. For the God who is busy on earth has poured out His Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts. In the power and wisdom of this Holy Spirit we can speak of our God in a way that gives Him glory, and we can live as children of God that also gives Him glory. Yes, our efforts will remain so broken; we can only be thankful that our Savior died in our place so that we need not perish on account of our transgressions against the third commandment. But exactly because we are righteous before God for Jesus' sake, let us with courage take up the Name of our God with reverence and awe - to His greater glory. Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2003, Rev. C. Bouwman

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