The name of the Lord deserves our highest honour

Let’s pray. Lord, we pray that you would speak to us through your living Word today. Help us to believe in who you are and relate to you in the right way. May your name be glorified through our time now, in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Think back with me to the last time you wore a school uniform. That might be a bit further back for some of us. I remember always being told, ‘be on your best behaviour especially when outside’. Because of the uniform you wear, whatever you do speaks something of the school you’re from. So, if you were to cause a lot of trouble on the metro or get into fight at Eldon Square, being in a school uniform would bring a bad name to your school. Maybe that’s not as big a problem if that school is known for that sort of behaviour, but if it’s the top school in the country, the school badge and the school colours are recognised, and all that it stands for; its high reputation are misrepresented and made to seem worthless. Instead of its values of excellence and integrity, everyone outside looks and thinks, ‘is that’s what the school is about? Violence and mischief?’

In a similar way today, if we have accepted Jesus, we belong to him, and how we live speaks something of his name. Each time we speak of God to others in a way that misrepresents him, each time we worship him as if he’s nothing, we take his name in vain and we make all that he is seem worthless. That’s one of the ways the Israelites were reducing God after he had saved them and brought them out of Egypt. Deuteronomy 1.27 shows Moses pointing that out to them:

You murmured in your tents and said, because the LORD hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us.

So, Moses reminds them here before they enter the Promised Land not to treat God as worthless, because the name of the LORD deserves nothing less than our highest honour – and that’s my title today. It would be good now to have your Bibles open to Deuteronomy 5.11, page 150 of the Bibles in the pews. Deuteronomy 5.11 reads:

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.

The first question we need to ask is:

1. What does the name of the Lord mean?

The name of the Lord is different from how we understand and use names today because it speaks of his true character. There have been a few new-borns this past week which we thank God for. A lot of significance is in choosing and giving a name and I can imagine it’s a big task. But whichever name is given, the actual meaning of the name doesn’t define who we are. It may have reflected what our parents went through at the time or what they hoped for in us. However, when God names people there is a true meaning and reason behind it. If you want to know who God is, look at his name. The Lord’s name speaks of his reality. In our passage today, we see that he is the Lord who saved the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Deuteronomy 5.6 reads:

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

A God who said he would save them from the oppression of Pharoah’s rule and achieved it, is faithful to keep his promise and powerful to make it happen. The question for the Israelites was: will they trust and obey? For us, if we have accepted Jesus into our lives as Saviour, then God has saved us from the slavery of sin and brought us back into relationship with him. God is also jealous for his glory. Deuteronomy 5.9:

You shall not bow down to them or serve them (other gods); for I the LORD your God am a jealous God...

Not the way we can be wrongfully jealous for something that doesn’t belong to us, but like a husband who is rightfully jealous for his wife’s love because they have entered a covenantal relationship. God is rightfully jealous for his people’s love because they have entered a covenantal relationship. They belong to him, and his name deserves the highest honour. So that’s what would have come to the minds of the Israelites when they saw the LORD’s name in all caps. The personal name of God, who saved them out of Egypt and is rightfully jealous for his name to be glorified. When we take the Lord’s name, we are taking all of who he is into account. And that brings us to our second question today:

To take the Lord’s name means using his name when we speak about God. Or as professing Christians, we are saying we belong to the Lord as his people and therefore, are bearing or carrying his name. The Old Testament usage of the word in vain gives the idea that something is made meaningless or worthless. The builder that labours in vain – is work made worthless. Medicine taken in vain – is treatment made empty. So, for the Israelites to take the Lord’s name in vain, is to take the true weight of his name as Saviour, powerful, faithful God – and emptying it to nothing. For us, the first thing that often comes to mind is using the Lord’s name carelessly as an expression when we stub our toe. While that is something we will have to beware of, the principle here extends to how we treat God in all our lives. With empty teaching, we empty his name when we make it anything that he has not said in his Word. That starts here on the pulpit. If I or any preacher uses God’s name to say that God isn’t going to judge sin and believing in him means a suffering free life, then we’ve taken his name in vain because he hasn’t promised any of that in his Word. That can happen too in your small groups when hearing something of that nature incorrectly spoken about God. Or when sharing the gospel and choosing to leave out the hard bits of God’s wrath on all who don’t accept him. Afterall it’s always easier to reduce who God is with those around us because it brings less disagreement and conflict. You take his name in vain when you choose not to speak up about who he truly is.

With empty worship, we make his name worthless when we don’t mean what we say. In our first passage read today, Jesus teaches us not to
(Matthew 6.7):

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.

In that case, the people were trying to appear religious towards others, but nevertheless their hearts weren’t there. We come together to pray together corporately each Sunday and at other times, later we’ll be saying the confession prayer. We know the words, but sometimes our words are empty because our hearts are far from God. Maybe because we honour something else more highly than God in our hearts. So, we don’t treat him as the Almighty God with the reverence he deserves because we think he’s not at work today. We think he doesn’t bring as much security that comes from our hard work or our relationships. Still, we can be thinking of how we treat God throughout the rest of the week at home. From quiet time in the morning to mealtimes with the family, are you rushing through your prayers with the attitude of, ‘just let me get through this reading so I can continue with the rest of my day with what’s more important than God.’ We’ve emptied his great name into nothing when we come to him with empty hearts.

More generally, with an empty profession to be God’s people, we make him meaningless when we live hypocritically in a way that reflects who he’s not. Through our actions and thoughts, how we treat others, what we spend our time doing, how we handle suffering, what we find joy in – all that reveals if we’re honouring God’s name or not. The times that have been most apparent to me that I’m not bearing the name of the Lord truthfully have been back home when I lived with family and now at times when I relate to my wife Pearl at home. Those moments where I’ve been harsh and unloving with my words which have caused hurt or when I’m slow to forgive. And it makes me think after, ‘how could I have said that or acted in that way? That’s not what a follower of Jesus would say/do’. I’ve carried the name of the Lord as if he hasn’t loved us first and forgiven us unconditionally.

Just like that student in uniform outside of school, we wear the badge of Christ. However, it’s not just in church, but wherever we are each day as we leave those doors. Most people we come in touch with would know we carry his name, and most importantly God himself is jealous for his glory. So, how have you been bearing the name of the Lord this past week? Thinking of colleagues at work condescendingly makes God to be someone who hasn’t humbled himself by dying on the cross for our sins. Speaking to family members out of impatience or anger treats God like he isn’t slow to anger. Or maybe you’re here today and for most of your life would say you follow Jesus but haven’t truly lived like God has saved you from your sin. If that’s you, then please look at the Lord’s name to see who he truly is.

3. How should we be honouring the name of the Lord?

With a lot of these commandments, sometimes it can seem that it’s just about not doing certain things or not breaking certain rules but it’s just as much what we do as well. If taking the Lord’s name in vain is emptying it, then to not taking his name in vain is to treat it with the true weight and seriousness it deserves. That brings us to our last question today: how should we be honouring the name of the Lord?

Well, it starts by looking at the name of the Lord and everything it stands for to glorify him. If we fail to see him for who he truly is, we go back to the problem of the second commandment of imagining who he is. Back to our passage in Matthew 6.8, Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray unlike those with empty hearts:

Hallowed be your name…

May we treat him as holy and revere him as such. May we believe in who he says he is as Saviour who rescues, is powerful to defeat, and faithful to keep promises. Only when we see just how holy he is, will we see how that demands all our lives. Colossians 3.17:

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

In our second reading we see that Jesus is Lord who came to earth in the form of man and has been exalted above every name. Philippians 2.8-11:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The right response for us all is to bow the knee in obedience and accept him as Lord. But it can’t just be about trying harder to obey. When we treat him with the highest honour, we are led to true worship and adoration of his name. We need to ask the Lord to renew our hearts each day that draw close to him in worship each day. Why should we be taking the name of the LORD our God with the highest honour? For some of us, there is a sharp warning here from the Lord who is jealous for his name. The end of Deuteronomy 5.11 says:

…for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Of course, perfection isn’t expected or possible for anyone, but those who continue making the Lord’s name worthless and empty are heading towards a judgement where the Lord will count them as guilty. And as we’ve all seen today, we are all guilty for taking the Lord’s name in vain – just like we fail to live up to the other commandments. But there is comfort if we have been trying to live for him. We know that guilt has been paid for on the cross. The Lord has saved us from (Israelites from Egypt and slavery, us from sin and hell). And that must be our motivation for obeying each of the commandments today. Not to earn our salvation through our works, but because we have been saved first, and want to honour the Lord our God. Let’s pray:

Lord, we thank you that you are Lord of all who has made himself known through your name. We thank you that if we accept you in our lives, you have saved us from our sin. We pray that your Holy Spirit would help us to revere your name more and glorify you in all that we do to give you all praise, glory, and honour you deserve. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.
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