September 1, 2019

Exodus 20:7: Honoring God's Name

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Series: The Ten Commandments Scripture: Exodus 20:7

Exodus 20:7: Honoring God’s Name

Please turn with me in your Bible to Exodus 20. If you’re using one of the Bibles we provide, that’s on page 49. We’re in the midst of a series of sermons going through the Ten Commandments, and this week the commandment we have before us is the third commandment. But before we jump into that, let’s pray. [Prayer] 

As many of you know, Becky and I are expecting our fourth child in just a few weeks—October 7 is the due date. And one question people often ask us—after they’ve asked if it’s a boy or a girl—is if we’ve decided on a name yet. That’s a very common and a very good question to ask…because we all recognize that names are important. And giving a name to a child is a very important responsibility. That’s why just about every couple that’s expecting a baby puts a lot of thought into what they’re going to name that baby. We think about what names have been common in our family, we check online to see what names have been popular in the past several years, and many of us look at the Bible to see if there’s a biblical character we’d like to name our child after. Then, of course, we always have to make sure that whatever name we’re thinking about giving our child isn’t a name that’s going to be easily made fun of. And it’s very important to think about that with both the name and the initials. For example, before Becky and I knew that the baby we’re expecting is a boy, we were thinking about girl names and specifically the name Faith Alexandria Tancordo. But then, it occurred to us that Faith Alexandria Tancordo wasn’t really an option at all because the initials, as you may have noticed, would be F. A. T.—or “fat”—not exactly the initials anyone would want their child to have. You’ve gotta think about those things. Names are important. They matter to us. And as it turns out, names also matter to God. 

In Exodus 20:7, in what we call the third commandment, God tells his people Israel, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” So that’s what we’ll be looking at this morning. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” Now when many of you hear that, you probably assume that we’re going to talk about not using God’s name as a swear word—saying “Jesus Christ” to express frustration or saying “Oh my God” to express surprise. And certainly, both of those uses of God’s name are violations of the third commandment. However, we’re going to see this morning that there’s a lot more for us to get from the third commandment than simply a reminder to watch our language. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Before the end of our time together, we’re going to see ways in which just about all of us break the third commandment on a fairly regular basis even if don’t have a swearing problem. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say that there are probably even some here this morning whose entire life is actually a breaking of the third commandment. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let me lay out a map of where we’re going. We’re going to look at the third commandment under three headings. Number one, what it meant. Number two, why it matters. And number three, how it applies to us. What it meant, why it matters, how it applies to us.

What It Meant 

So first, what it meant. What did God mean when he told his people, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”? Well, the word “vain” in its original language conveys the idea of being empty, worthless, or meaningless. So God doesn’t want us to use his name in an empty or worthless or meaningless way. That’s why some translations such as the NIV translate this commandment as “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”

And the Old Testament identifies several ways in which this commandment can be violated. One way is to blaspheme God’s name, which basically means to intentionally insult God in some way or express contempt for God. Leviticus 24:16 states, “Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.” That was the rule for the Israelites. Another way Israel could violate this commandment was to take a false oath. In Leviticus 19:12, God says, “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God.” A third way to take God’s name in vain was to falsely claim to speak on God’s behalf. God says in Jeremiah 23:25, “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’” Then a final way to take God’s name in vain was to unlawfully touch the holy things of the tabernacle or temple. Leviticus 22:2 states, “Speak to Aaron and his sons so that they abstain from the holy things of the people of Israel, which they dedicate to me, so that they do not profane my holy name: I am the Lord.” So these were all ways God warned Israel about violations of the third commandment. That’s what it meant for Israel.

Why It Mattered 

Now let’s look at why it mattered. Perhaps you’re wondering, “How did this command make it into the Ten Commandments?” I mean, God decided to summarize everything he wanted his people to know about how to live in obedience to him by giving them just ten commands—that’s it. So how did this command make the list? If we’re honest, it might seem to many of us at first that this command of not misusing God’s name isn’t quite as important as the other commands. We can see why commands like “you shall have no other gods before me” is one of the Ten Commandments, but why this one? 

Well, if we look forward a few chapters at Exodus 33, I believe we can see why. This passage shows us that God’s name was so closely associated with God himself that it was almost synonymous with God himself. In Exodus 33:18, Moses asks God, “Please show me your glory.” So note carefully the nature of this request. Moses wants to see God’s glory. Then look at how God responds in verse 19: “And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name “The LORD.And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.’” As some of you may know, that phrase “the LORD” in all capital letters in most translations, translates God’s sacred name of Yahweh. That’s the name in the Old Testament that belongs uniquely to God. So notice what just happened in these verses: Moses asked God to show him his glory, and in reply God speaks his name. On the basis of this, Kevin DeYoung writes, “The way to see God’s glory is to hear his name. To know the name YHWH, the merciful and gracious one, is not to merely know something about God; it is to know God himself. God shows himself by speaking his name.” DeYoung then makes an observation about names in general. He says, “Our name is not tangential to our being. It marks us and identifies us. Over time, as people get to know us, our name embodies who we are.”

For example, think of someone you love deeply—perhaps your child, grandchild, parent, friend, or spouse. When you hear the name of that person, it has some kind of effect on you, doesn’t it? Their name is more than just a random noise to you. It affects you. When I hear the name “Becky,” I immediately experience all kinds of good thoughts and emotions because I can’t separate my wife from her name. And in a similar way, Exodus 33 makes it clear that it’s impossible to separate God from his name. 

Therefore, throughout the Bible, God repeatedly talks about his name being glorified and exalted. He’s very passionate about that—because God’s name being glorified is essentially the same as God himself being glorified. One example is Exodus 9:16, where God tells Pharaoh, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” Also, God says in Isaiah 48:11: “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” Consider also Ezekiel 20:9, where God states, “But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations….” Then lastly, God declares in Isaiah 42:8, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” So God is very passionate about his name being glorified. And as we see back in the third commandment, that includes us upholding the integrity of his name by not taking it in vain. 

How It Applies to Us

So that’s why it mattered for God’s name not to be taken in vain. Then finally, not only is it important for us to understand what this commandment meant and why it mattered but also how it applies to us. How does the third commandment connect with our lives today? I’d like to give you four guidelines for keeping the third commandment. And we’ll go through these relatively briefly. Four guidelines for keeping the third commandment today. 

Number one, watch your language. You knew this one was coming, so I might as well state it first. Don’t use God’s name as a swear word. I’m sorry if Panera ran out of your favorite pastry or if someone cut you off and took your parking spot or if you got a stain on your shirt. None of those things is a good reason to take God’s name in vain. In fact, there is no good reason—so please try to find something else to say. 

Then number two is fairly general but still worth mentioning: cultivate reverence for God. Depending on your disposition, this may or may not be an issue for you. Some people don’t seem to have much trouble at all revering God. In fact, they place a little too much emphasis on what we might call God’s transcendence, viewing him as a distant deity who’s far removed from our problems and struggles. So if that’s you, I’m not really talking to you right now. I have in view those who have the opposite problem and who are tempted to view God essentially as their buddy—a nice guy who they like hanging out with and who they think is a pretty cool dude. And even though I doubt most evangelicals would go so far as to actually describe God that way, I do think perhaps a majority of evangelicals do err in that direction. I believe evangelicals, as a whole, have a reverence problem. We’ve forgotten how to tremble before the Lord. 

Next, a third guideline for keeping the third commandment is this: Don’t use God’s name to ascribe a false sense of authority to your opinions, plans, or ideas. Be very careful about saying, “God told me to do this.” And be even more careful about saying, “God told me to tell you to do this.” I’m really not sure we should ever say that. Unless we specifically read something in the Bible, any kind of communication we think we’ve received from God outside of the Bible is very easy to misunderstand or think that it’s there when it’s really not. I’ve actually heard several stories about guys in different churches approaching women in their church that they barely even knew and telling them, “God told me I’m supposed to marry you.” If you’re a single woman and a guy comes up to you and says that, I would highly recommend moving him to the bottom of your list of potential husbands. I appreciated one woman’s response when a guy said that to her. She said to him, “Well, God hasn’t told me that yet, but if he does I’ll be sure to let you know.” Now, hopefully no guy in our church would ever approach a woman and say that kind of thing, but in case you ever genuinely believe God is telling you something or impressing a certain message on your heart, just keep in mind that the appropriate way to share that with others isn’t to say “God told me this” or “God wants us to do that” but rather “I believe the Lord has laid this on my heart” or “it seems as though God is leading me in this direction.” It’s a small nuance that makes a big difference.  

Also, if you have an opinion about something—like a current event, let’s say—be very careful about claiming God’s authority for your opinion unless the Bible directly addresses the issue. Unless Scripture clearly says something about it, be careful that you don’t imply that to disagree with you is to disagree with God. For example, I’m gonna go out on a small limb here and say that God hasn’t issued a commandment about American immigration policy. Immigration in our country is a very complex issue. There are a lot of factors to consider and a variety of biblical principles that could be brought into the discussion. So it’s okay to have an opinion about immigration policy—just don’t ascribe a false sense of authority to your opinion by bringing God’s name into it or implying that God’s spoken clearly on the issue when in fact he hasn’t. Instead, just say something like this: “Based on what the Bible teaches, here’s how I think we should approach immigration” or “The best I can tell from biblical principles, here’s how I think we should come down.” Be humble enough to admit that there’s a possibility you may not be seeing things clearly. Don’t take God’s name in vain by attaching it to your opinion. 

Then finally, number four, avoid religious hypocrisy. Avoid taking God’s name in vain by avoiding religious hypocrisy. If you’ve been baptized as a Christian, you bear God’s name. We baptize people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So baptism is kind of like a divine renaming ceremony where the person being baptized is, in a sense, taking on and being identified with God’s name. And from that point on, their conduct in the world either honors or dishonors the name of God that they bear. So it’s possible for someone who’s been baptized to take God’s name in vain by living in a way that doesn’t reflect his character. When we identify ourselves as Christians but then live in an un-Christian way, that’s taking God’s name in vain. And that dishonors God in the eyes of the watching world. In Romans 2:21-24, Paul writes, 21 You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” So when we preach God’s commands to others but break them ourselves, we often cause God’s name to be blasphemed among “the Gentiles”—or non-Christians. And if we’re honest this morning, I think we’d all have to admit that we’re guilty of that from time to time. And hopefully we repent of that hypocrisy whenever an instance of it comes to our attention. 

However, there are some who identify themselves as Christians who have no interest in repenting of the sin in their lives. It seems as though they don’t even care. They want to do what they want to do, and they really aren’t concerned about how it brings dishonor to God’s name. So if that’s you this morning, let me just ask you for a favor. If you’re not actively striving to follow Jesus’ teachings in your day to day life and have no interest in being persuaded to do so, then please stop calling yourself a Christian. If you’re openly living in a state of sexual immorality or openly embracing any ungodly behavior or openly denying something the Bible clearly teaches just because it’s not popular in society today, please don’t claim God’s name for yourself by identifying yourself as a Christian. That’s taking God’s name in vain. 

Many of you may have heard that a very well-known pastor named Joshua Harris left his church a couple of years ago and has now just recently left his wife and embraced a very secular lifestyle. And truly, that is a tragedy that’s really been weighing on my heart, to be honest—because Joshua Harris led a church that’s very like-minded to our church. So his departure has really hit close to home. But I did appreciate an Instagram post that Harris put out a few weeks ago. He states, “I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus….By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.” The reason I appreciate this post is because of the honesty Joshua Harris demonstrates. I grieve over his departure, but I’m glad that at least he’s not claiming the name of Jesus as he leaves his wife and marches in gay pride parades and does all of the things he’s currently doing. If you’re not ready to embrace the teachings of Christ and follow the ways of Christ, then don’t claim the name of Christ by calling yourself a Christian. If you do that, you’re, number one, living a lie and, number two, compounding your sin by breaking the third commandment as a pattern of your life. Your entire life is taking God’s name in vain. And one reason why I believe Christians have lost so much credibility in the public square is because so many people take God’s name in vain in that way. 


But here’s the beautiful thing. Regardless of how extensively you’ve broken the third commandment, God’s grace is available for you. He offers you mercy and forgiveness. You know, earlier in the sermon, I emphasized how God is zealous for his name. He wants his name to be honored and not made into something vain. And yet, listen to what the Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 2:5-8: 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. So do you see the significance of that passage? This God who is zealous for the glory of his name “emptied himself,” verse 7 states, in order to become a human being and die on a cross and thereby rescue us from our sins. God loved us so much that he, in a sense, made himself vain in order to rescue people like us who had taken his name in vain. One commentator named Ephraim Radner says it like this: “Indeed, from beyond blasphemy the blasphemed God is sanctified by choosing to become the form of blasphemy itself: he becomes a ‘curse’ for us (Galatians 3:13), he becomes ‘sin’ for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), he becomes ‘vain’ for the ‘vainsayers.’” The gospel is a message of God becoming vain for the vainsayers. Jesus took our sin on the cross and, as Radner pointed out, became sin and became a curse so that we could be saved. He substituted himself for us. Then, he resurrected from the dead in order to complete his saving work. 

And here’s what that means for you today. Jesus invites you to put your trust in him and thereby receive all the benefits of what he accomplished on the cross. We might say that he invites you to repent of all the ways you’ve emptied out his name and then come to him and receive his name. Kind of like in marriage. When a woman marries a man, she typically gives up her maiden name and takes on her husband’s name. That’s what Jesus invites us to do. And to extend the illustration a bit, the nice thing about taking on the name of Jesus is that he pays off all of our debts. I know a man who married a woman and then proceeded to instantly pay off all of her student loan debts, totaling $50,000, with some inheritance money he had received. The woman took his name, and he instantly paid off all her debts. And that’s what happens when we come to Jesus. When we’re united to Christ through faith, we receive his name as well as all of the other benefits of being united to him. 

And when that happens, it makes us so grateful and so joyful that we want to spend the rest of our lives glorifying the name of God. When we really grasp how Jesus was made vain for us, the vainsayers, it changes us and enables us and makes us want to live lives of obedience to the third commandment as we honor the name of God. 

other sermons in this series

Nov 24


Exodus 20:17: You Shall Not Covet

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Scripture: Exodus 20:17 Series: The Ten Commandments

Nov 3


Oct 20


Exodus 20:15: You Shall Not Steal

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Scripture: Exodus 20:15 Series: The Ten Commandments