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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:How Then Shall We Use God's Name?
Text:LD 36 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 3rd Commandment (God's name)
 
Added:2022-05-12
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Romans 2:12-29

Lesson: Lord’s Day 36

 

HOW THEN SHALL WE USE GOD’S NAME?

  1. Not in Blasphemy

  2. But in Blessing

 

  1. Psalm 105: 1, 2, 15

  2. Psalm 120: 1

  3. Hymn 29:1-3

  4. Hymn 2

  5. Psalm 128: 1, 3

  6. Psalm 103: 1, 2, 9

 

Blessing: Numbers 6:24-26

 

Words to Listen For: TV, witness, safe, suited, pajamas

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. Why do we read the Law each week?

  2. What does God’s name stand for?

  3. How do we make sure that we are praying a prayer that pleases God?

  4. What are the three ways that we can understand the word “bless” ?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved Congregation of Jesus Christ,

Did you know that we don’t actually know God’s name?

It’s true!

If I were to ask the children here what God’s name is...we might get a few different answers.  Some might say “God” and others might say “Jesus.”  Still others might say “The Almighty” or “The Lord.”  A particularly clever child, or, maybe, just one that has been to my catechism classes, would say: Yahweh.  But we’re not sure if that’s actually correct.  

We don’t actually know God’s name with complete 100% certainty, and this is because of a historical and consistent misuse and misunderstanding of the third commandment.

We do know that God does have a personal name.  He has a personal name mentioned 7000 times in Bible.  But when you turn to one of these verses, what do you see?

One such verse is one that we know very well as a congregation.  Psalm 124:8.  We recite this verse twice every Sunday.  You just recited it a few minutes ago.

Psalm 124:8 - Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

This is a verse that contains God’s personal name.  But where?  The letters Y-A-H-W-E-H  - Yahweh - aren’t in this verse.

In all modern translations, except for a few obscure ones, God’s personal name is written as LORD.  In all capital letters.  Capital L - capital O - capital R - capital D.

So how did we get from Yahweh to LORD?

Well this isn’t the fault of the Bible translators, but of the early Israelites.

It’s not clear exactly when this practice started, but at some point, whether it was at the time of the Babylonian exile as some scholars say, or when the temple was destroyed in AD 70 as others claim, the Israelites refused to pronounce God’s name, as a way to keep them from misusing it, and breaking the 3rd commandment.

They refused to pronounce it, and yet, they had to say something for the 7000 times it appears in Scripture.  And so it became the tradition to use the word ADONAI - Hebrew for Lord - in place of YAHWEH.  And to remind the Rabbis and teachers, when they read aloud from Scripture, they inserted the vowels for ADONAI in the place of the vowels for YAHWEH.

The name wasn’t said for thousands of years.  The vowels of the name are lost in history.  We know the consonants, Y-H-W-H, and we can be fairly sure of the vowels due to the rules of grammar, and various Old Testament names that contain within them parts of God’s holy name.

But due to their legalistic hedging of the 3rd commandment, saying JUST TO BE SURE WE DON’T USE THE NAME IN VAIN, WE WON’T USE IT AT ALL, we do not have certainty of the actual letters and pronunciation of God’s personal name.  But was it worth it?  By not knowing God’s personal name, can we never blaspheme it?  BY NO MEANS!

This isn’t what the 3rd commandment is really about!  Using the name properly is not limited to pronunciation and spelling!  This commandment is not about grammar, but about something far deeper and more important.

Some of the religious elite in Israel missed the point, let us not do the same.  God has given us His name so that we can use it properly.  So

HOW THEN SHALL WE USE GOD’S NAME?  We should use it

  1. Not in Blasphemy

  2. But in Blessing

How did you feel this morning when we read the 10 commandments together?  Hopefully you were doing what we are meant to do with the Law...reflecting on your life this week and see how you disobeyed God.  There were some sins that you immediately recognized, and confessed in prayer, right after you committed them, or in the evening, before bed, but maybe there were other sins that you didn’t immediately catch.

That’s one of the reasons we read the Law each week yet again.  We go through the commandments and we give ourselves a little checkmark or a little x.

1st commandment - You shall have no other gods before me

As we heard a few weeks ago, we all break this commandment.  It’s not about Zeus or Baal, it’s about our hearts.

2nd commandment - You shall not make for yourself a carved image

At first, we might be tempted to give ourselves a little checkmark on this one.  We don’t have carved idols in our homes.  As I look for furniture to fill my new house, I’m not looking to buy Asherah poles or silver statues of Artemis of the Ephesians.  We don’t bow down before statues.  But do we properly worship God?  Truly?  Do we perfectly worship God?

And so...we must erase the checkmark, and replace it with an x.

But the 3rd commandment…

    You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain

Well, the third commandment...we got this!  We can confidently put a checkmark on this one.  Looking back over the week...we didn’t blaspheme!  We’re okay!

I didn’t use the phrase Oh My God when I was excited

I didn’t say God to punctuate my frustration with someone else

I didn’t use any other profanity.

These are sins that unbelievers commit, right?  Not us!

That man on TV...well he blasphemed this week, and so I changed the channel.

The cashier at the store, when telling me about how busy it was took the Lord’s name in vain, and so I awkwardly stopped talking, and got out of there as fast as I could.

We should be so thankful to God that we don’t break the third commandment like these unbelievers do.

But wait.

This “prayer of thanksgiving” sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.

It’s nice to hear about the mistakes of others and refuse to acknowledge our own.  It feeds our ego to look at our neighbours, and see that they can’t measure up to our level of holiness.

It’s nice...but it’s evil.

It’s pleasant...but it’s wicked.

Before we examine the splinter in someone else’s eye, we must take care of the log in our own.  And this isn’t to say that there IS no splinter in your neighbour’s eye.  There definitely is, your neighbour is sinful, but make sure that when you’re helping her, you aren’t doing it to feel better about yourself.  That you’re not helping her today, to lord it over her tomorrow.

Back to the 3rd commandment.

So, we don’t blaspheme...do we?

Well, it depends on what you mean by blasphemy.

If we think that all that is commanded here is to avoid a few phrases, then most of us are doing fine.

But this commandment is not that small, because our God is not that small.  We’ve seen this with the first two commandments over the last few weeks, haven’t we?  Each one is bigger and broader than we think at first.

The first commandment isn’t only about serving Baal or Zeus.

The second commandment isn’t only telling us not to build golden calves.

And the third commandment is not simply telling us that we can’t use the phrase “Oh My God.”  

Instead, it goes deeper.  The third commandment goes deeper than our vocal chords, it goes into our heart.  And the third commandment reveals God’s heart as well.

We have to understand what blasphemy is, at its core.  But first, let us properly understand God’s name, what IT is, at its core.

 

In the introduction, we learned a bit about the history of God’s name.  About the name Yahweh.  And though this IS God’s personal name, and it must be treated with honour and with reverence, God’s name, like the third commandment, is broader than simply a noise we make with our mouths.

God’s name isn’t only Yahweh.  Instead, God’s name stands for who God is.  God’s name stands for His glory and reputation.

Think of a young adult, going out into the world to make a name for himself.  This is the meaning here...with one important distinction.  God doesn’t have to MAKE a name for Himself, He doesn’t have to grow in maturity and power...for He is as He always has been and always will be.  Fully perfect, fully just, fully powerful.

When God seeks to magnify His name, it is not to increase any perfection in Himself, but rather to increase our knowledge and understanding of it.

Think of Psalm 23 - He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Or Isaiah 48 -  For my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.

God is not BECOMING a better being by saving David as he walks through the valley of the shadow of death, God is not INCREASING in love for Israel by restoring them...but He is revealing what He always has been.  He is revealing the beauty of His character, and thus magnifying His name.  God’s name stands for His glory.

And shall we blaspheme this?  Shall we blaspheme God’s glory?  Shall we take it in vain, making it nothing, making it light, frivolous, and useless.

This is what we do when we say “Oh my God” in any way that isn’t prayer or praise.  If we use this phrase in regular conversation, this makes God into nothing.

But it isn’t only the sins of our mouths that we must watch out for.  For what did we hear in our reading?

21 - You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal?  You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?  You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.  For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

This is another way that we can make God’s reputation, His name, His power, His love into nothing.

And it is when we act as though God has never been at work in our lives that we blaspheme.  It is when the church looks just as sinful and corrupt as the outside world, that we break the 3rd commandment.

It is when we take on the name CHRISTIAN, but look nothing like Christ.

The Apostle Paul uses the examples of stealing, adultery, and idolatry, but any one of the commandments would fit here.

YOU, as the representatives of God in this world…

YOU, as the bearers of Christ’s name…

What kind of picture are you showing the world?

A few years ago now, I was very focused on this idea, on the picture that I was presenting, and I wanted a way to remind myself that I was meant to be a witness out in the world, not just with my words, but with my example.  And so I began to wear a little cross around my neck wherever I went.  A cross, so that those who saw me would see that I was a Christian. And it was a reminder to myself, that how I acted would reflect on how they viewed Christianity.

If, while wearing a cross, I was kind and polite, that would reflect well.  If, however, while wearing a cross, I cut someone off in traffic, or was rude to a cashier, that would reflect poorly on the cross of Christ, and it would reflect poorly on the man who once was on that cross.

And wearing a cross is, in some small way, a way of walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.  For He was the image of the invisible God!  Every single second He lived on this earth, He was the visual representation of the entire Godhead.  Every frown was the displeasure of God.  Every smile was God’s countenance shining upon His people.  Every touch of healing was divine mercy, every table turned over in the temple was in righteous anger.  Holy wrath.

And, as Christians, this is what we are called to do.  We are called to represent God in all our words and our works.  We have the highest responsibility to not blaspheme the name of God.

But this weighty responsibility is not only NEGATIVE...not only what we SHOULD NOT DO, but we have a positive responsibility too.  We are not to BLASPHEME, but to BLESS.  Our second point.

Let’s examine what the catechism has to say about how we are to positively keep this commandment.  After explaining what we should avoid, the catechism says the following:

Rather, we must use the holy name of God

    only with fear and reverence,

    so that we may rightly confess Him,

    call upon Him,

    and praise Him in all our words and works

We see that there are four aspects to this positive view of the commandment

We are to use God’s name only with fear and reverence.

When we say His name - Yahweh - or any of His glorious titles - God, Lord, Heavenly Father, they should sound different in our mouths.  As though we are keeping them safe.  This doesn’t mean that we think God needs protecting, but it is out of love, like a husband defending the honour of his wife, or a wife defending the honour of her husband.  It’s not that the husband thinks that the wife is incapable of defending herself, but rather, out of love, even without thinking, he jumps in to defend her.  And vice versa.  The wife should jump in to defend her husband.

We must use God’s name properly.  With fear and reverence, knowing who He is.  Knowing how much He loves us.  Knowing what He has done for us.  When we spend our mornings gathering His mercies, like the Israelites gathered manna, His perfections will be running throughout our minds all day, and so defending Him will come so naturally to us.

We treat His name, His person, His reputation with fear and reverence, so that we can, as the catechism continues, rightly confess Him.

We must rightly confess Him, speaking of Him as He has revealed Himself in His Word.  Not as we would rather have Him be, not glossing over the difficult aspects of His character, but presenting Him to the world confidently, without any shame or embarrassment.

Because, honestly, and with all due respect, who are YOU to be embarrassed of HIM?  He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Almighty, the source of wisdom, the overflowing fountain of all good.  We are tiny and insignificant on our own.  Do not place yourself above God, and apologize for who He is.  This is not properly honouring His name.

The catechism goes on to say that we must rightly call upon Him

This is how we pray.  We heard this last time, having a picture in your mind when you pray, or directing your prayers to the corner of your ceiling.  This is sin.  We must pray to God AS HE IS, and not AS WE IMAGINE HIM TO BE.  

This is difficult, so let me help you out here.  We do this, not by trying to forget every children’s Bible you’ve ever seen with pictures of Jesus, or wiping your mind clean of a Roman Catholic crucifix, but rather, by filling your mind with who He really is, and how He has revealed Himself in His Word and His World.  And if this is particularly difficult for you, and you still imagine images, then begin each prayer with the words: Heavenly Father, I pray to You as You are.  Not as I imagine You to be.

Please let my prayer be faithful.  Please forgive its weaknesses and mistakes.  Sanctify my prayer even as you sanctify my soul.

This is a prayer that pleases God.

And finally, our catechism says that we must use the holy name of God with fear and reverence to praise Him in all our words and works.

And this is where I want to focus with you in these last few minutes.

This is what it means to BLESS.  We are not to BLASPHEME, but to BLESS.  And I chose this, not only for the alliteration, but because the word BLESS has at least three different meanings that I would like to bring out for you.  For they all belong to this commandment.

The first meaning of BLESS is what we normally think of - the blessing.  At the end of the service, when the minister will raise his hands and pronounce God’s blessing on you.

The LORD - Yahweh - BLESS YOU and keep you.

A minister must use God’s name in this way.  He must use God’s name in blessing, not as a seal on his own opinions, not saying “thus say the LORD” when the LORD has said no such thing.

There is a weightiness, there is a seriousness that comes from presenting God’s Word.  A responsibility with preaching.  I explain God’s name - remember, His reputation, and His glory - and I put God’s name upon you, His people, with the blessing.

But this isn’t the only way that the word “bless” is understood.  The third commandment isn’t only for pastors.

The second way that we can understand the word bless, is how the word is used in Psalm 103, which we will be singing later in the service.

Psalm 103 famously begins with these words: Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

When we bless the Lord, we are doing so in a very different way than when He blesses us.  When He blesses us, He is giving us what we need.  He, the superior, blesses us, the inferior, granting us blessing after blessing.

But clearly, we do not bless God in that way.  Instead, blessing also means PRAISE.  When we are preaching to our own soul to bless God, we are calling upon the very thing that has been created for this purpose.

We were created to worship God.  Our minds were created to think of Him, our hands were created to serve Him and our neighbour...but it was our SOUL that was created with only one purpose - PRAISE.  Praise is the work perfectly suited to the soul.  We breathe in God’s blessings, and we breathe out praise.  We receive His blessings, and bless Him in return.

But there is also a third way that we should understand the word blessing.  A way to understand how we can bless others.  Not just the minister declaring a blessing over us, not directly blessing God with our praise, but blessing others.  Blessing our neighbours.

This blessing is the direct opposite of what the Jewish Christians in Rome were doing.  This blessing is the opposite of their blasphemy.  Let’s look at our reading one more time

You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.  For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

If we lead others to blaspheme the name of God by our rebellion, corruption, and hypocrisy, then surely the opposite will lead our unbelieving neighbours to bless God.

This is, in fact, spelled out in Lord’s Day 32 of the catechism.

The third reason that we must do good works is - that by our godly walk of life, we may win our neighbours for Christ.

And this is the blessing that we can give to our neighbours when we properly obey the third commandment.

It is by showing a proper respect for God’s name, refusing to have it blasphemed, that we can show our neighbours just how important God is to us.  Just how valuable Jesus Christ is in our lives.

They will see your love for your God, and hear you give reasons for the hope that you have.  They will see His divine light shining through you and wonder how they can have that too.

  • They will wonder how you can be calm when this world is falling apart, more and more every day.

  • They will wonder how you can be joyful even as you suffer trials.

  • They will wonder why you get dressed up twice on Sundays, instead of sitting at home in your pajamas, watching the livestream.

A minister famously said: You might be the only Bible some unbelievers will ever read.  And this is a good statement.  Be careful then, how you live!  Be careful then, how you speak!

But I would like to make one change to this.  One minor change.  You might be the FIRST Bible some unbelievers will read.

Due to the grace of God, and the powerful work of the Holy Spirit tugging at their heart, these unbelievers will be led by you, into the joy and glory of knowing Jesus Christ as their Saviour.  Your life may be the FIRST Bible they ever read, but, by the grace of God, you won’t be the last.

Beloved, we must be careful in how we use God’s name.

We must not use it as a curse.

We must not use it lightly.

We must not use it falsely.

At the same time, we must not fear to use it.

We must not fear to take His name on our lips in praise.

We must not fear to take it upon our lives as identification.

But rather, we must use the holy name of God only with fear and reverence, so that we may rightly confess Him, call upon Him, and praise Him in all our words and works, encouraging all others to do the same.

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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