GREAT IS THE NAME OF OUR GOD
Do you always use God’s name with proper reverence and respect? Here are guidelines everyone should know and use.
By Selmer L. Hegvold
Everyone wants life — happy, exciting, challenging life here and now, and the assurance that such abundant life will continue even beyond this physical existence.
How to have this kind of life was on the mind of the man who came and asked Jesus Christ, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16).
Jesus’ stated purpose for being on earth was that mankind “might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). He answered: “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17).
Here Christ revealed the way to the happy, fulfilling life everyone desires, the way that will actually produce every good result man could want: the way of obeying God’s commandments.
Christ made clear in verses 18 and 19 which commandments He was talking about: “Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal … ” Christ was talking about the Ten Commandments.
God’s Ten Commandments are the foundation of the way leading to the full, abundant life we can enjoy now, while qualifying for real, eternal life in God’s Kingdom.
The Third Commandment
Notice the third of God’s Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Ex. 20:7, Deut. 5:11).
The name of God has profound, wonderful significance. How that name is used in prayer, in conversation and in casual daily activities is of great concern to the Being who created and rules this entire universe!
Prayer is a profoundly effective tool with which we can achieve steady, strengthening spiritual growth from God. Casual or vain prayer can be compared to telephone messages spoken or sent over broken wires — they accomplish nothing.
Yet even sincere, heartfelt prayer could be in vain, if we have used God’s holy name irreverently day in and day out.
Have our well-intentioned prayers gone unanswered? Is this a reason for a lack of blessings, prosperity and spiritual growth in our lives? Unless we approach God’s heavenly throne in great awe and humility, we could be praying useless prayers.
And are awe, reverence and humility for God and His name to be reserved just for prayer? What about the rest of the day — the rest of the week — the rest of our lives?
Christ’s own example
Christ was a perfect, living example to His disciples. They watched and listened to Him and must have begun to perceive a great lack in themselves.
The more they considered their Master’s manner of living — His humility among the people He taught and healed, and especially His approach to God in prayer — the more they realized how meaningless were the rote prayers of the influential religious leaders of their day.
As this conviction grew in their minds, they expressed their frustration to Jesus: “One of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). And Jesus began to teach them the fundamentals of prayer that we can now read in the Bible.
But notice the importance Christ placed on God’s name: “And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (verse 2).
The first thing we should do in prayer is to express our awe and respect for the great God to whom we are praying. God’s name is so great that we must hallow it in our minds as we pray.
Can we comprehend God’s transcendent glory, His majesty, His unlimited power? Unless we understand how great our Savior, the Son of God the Father in heaven, is, we stand in jeopardy of the very salvation we seek, and we could be shaming Jesus Christ Himself.
Moses and the burning bush
Even the very ground is sacred when occupied by God’s divine person. God is so holy that no man can look on or at Him and live (Ex. 33:20).
When an astonished Moses saw a bush burning but not being consumed by the fire, he began to approach it, intending to examine it. But a powerful voice spoke out: “Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God” (Ex. 3:4-6).
Everything about God is holy — His person, His Word and each of the various names by which He has chosen to describe Himself. We should, like Moses, stand in awe of God and that which pertains to Him.
King David continually glorified God by extolling God’s commandments (Ps. 119:97), and understood how special was God’s name: “Holy and reverend is his name. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments” (Ps. 111:9-10). David feared to use God’s name in vain.
Notice how Adam Clarke, in his Bible commentary, expresses the importance of the Third Commandment:
“This precept not only forbids all false oaths, but all common swearing where the name of God is used, or where He is appealed to as a witness of the truth.
“It also necessarily forbids all light and irreverent mention of God, or any of His attributes … every prayer, ejaculation, etc., that is not accompanied with deep reverence and the genuine spirit of piety, is here condemned also.
“In how many thousands of instances is this commandment broken in the prayers, whether read or extempore, of inconsiderate, bold and presumptuous worshippers! And how few are there who do not break it, both in their public and private devotions! …
“Whatever the person himself may think or hope, however he may plead in his own behalf, and say he intends no evil, etc., if he in any of the above ways, or in any other way, takes the name of God in vain, God will not hold him guiltless — He will account him guilty and punish him for it” (Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. I, p. 404).
God’s name is reverend
The earliest biblical record we have of God is not found in Genesis, as most people might assume. It is recorded in the gospel of John.
Notice the names of God that John was inspired to use: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. … And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-4, 14).
The “Word” in the original Greek was Logos, meaning “Spokesman.” The Word, none other than Jesus Christ, was the first begotten, of the “Father” (God).
Nowhere does the Bible mention any other great, ruling personages of equal rank with the Logos and the Father. Only these two. And Christ said these two were one, two in one, forming the God Family into which we may be born (John 17:20-21).
The Father’s name is holy and reverend (Ps. 111:9). For this reason no man should be called “Father” in a religious sense. As Christ commanded, “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven” (Matt. 23:9).
Likewise, neither should any man take to himself the title “Reverend.” Only God is reverend. His name alone is worthy of reverence. Using the title “Reverend” in any other way violates the Third Commandment by taking one of God’s names in vain. God’s true ministers do not do so.
On the other hand, some build entire religions around certain “sacred” names for God. They insist that salvation itself is based on special terms for God or pronunciations of God’s name. This extreme is just as much in error as the common, obvious misuses of God’s names. For more information on the “sacred names” question, write for our free reprint article, “What Is the Savior’s Name?”
Your example to others
God predicts that we will have a real struggle on our hands to overcome ourselves and live His way (Matt. 7:13-14).
Life is much too difficult to cope with when we are apart from God. We discovered early in our Christian lives how much better things go when we turn to God in earnest prayer first.
If we can diligently control the language we use in our conversation and in our prayers to God, and avoid using irreverently any term that refers to God or to anything about Him, how pleasing we will be to God!
If we are truly converted, we are members of God’s Church, called by God’s name. Twelve places in the New Testament identify God’s Church by the name Church of God, and Christ prayed, “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are” (John 17:11).
Our example as servants of God is constantly under observation by those around us. How well do we hold up under that daily scrutiny? Can a Christian defile his godly calling by using crass or coarse expressions, even if such expressions do not directly cast aspersions on God’s name? Bathroom terms, locker-room slang and “gutter language” do not become a servant of God.
Using such language in your vocabulary brings great discredit to the Church. Yet many have allowed such expressions to creep into regular usage. Let’s not kid ourselves — we are not firmly within the Body of Christ if we are not controlling our language.
As Paul wrote, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Eph. 4:29). Any poor example we set lowers the opinion others have of God’s Church and therefore God’s name.
What about swearing?
The common, obvious misuses of God’s names are evident to, and zealously avoided by, true Christians. We should be just as diligent to erase from our conversations and thoughts wrong words and phrases substituted for God’s names, though these terms may be harder to recognize.
Perhaps some feel that certain spontaneous expressions of emotion or the use of colorful language is harmless. But God is not deceived by camouflaged wording. Such expressions simply take God’s names carelessly — “in vain,” uselessly.
Notice Christ’s living advice to His followers about swearing: “But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (Matt. 5:34-37).
A simple yes or no should suffice to affirm or deny. Many people, unfortunately, have limited vocabularies and are prone to use various conversation fillers — meaningless words or phrases, slang or profanity — to make their statements sound complete. We simply lack adequate word power that would enable us to use proper, meaningful, effective expressions, so we fall back on weak terms that in many cases put us at odds with our God.
Our desire to please God should be strong incentive to develop our vocabularies and increase our personal word power. This doesn’t mean we should try to use big, complicated words or sound like we are smarter than everyone else, but that we should learn to express ourselves clearly and effectively without using terms that are offensive to God.
Use God’s name properly
When we realize how great God is, magnificent beyond anything we have understood before, and how broadly God’s law covers every aspect of successful living today, we can see the tremendous impact of the Third Commandment. That third point of God’s wonderful Ten Commandments clearly indicates an urgent need for us to revere and honor God, and especially His name, in everything we say, do and think.
When we do — when we come to God in complete agreement with the third of God’s great commandments — we will experience tremendous results. When we wholeheartedly obey this and God’s other laws, we will have discovered the powerful, fundamental keys to happy, abundant living, now and in the future.
Let’s strive to put a watch on our tongues in the future and remember Christ’s words of encouragement: “And I know that his commandment is life everlasting” (John 12:50)!