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Reverence & Irreverence


by Ted Schroder
February 5, 2006

"You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name." (Exodus 20:7)

In other versions it is translated: "taking the Lord's name in vain." That means to empty the Lord's name of meaning, to render it futile, to be insincere. It is to trivialize religious language. It is to be glib in our talking and praying about God, and the truth of the Gospel. It is to use clichés to talk about God and our relationship with him. It is to use the promises of God for our own advantage.

Reverence is to be found in the humility which is characteristic of the prayer of Abraham: "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes." (Genesis 18:27) It is the hesitancy, the reticence, the stumbling prayer of the tax-collector, who, in contrast to the Pharisee who prayed about himself in a self-congratulatory way, would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, "God have mercy on me, a sinner." Jesus commended that man as justified before God rather than the other. (Luke 18:9-14) Silence before God is to be preferred to glibness and self-assurance in prayer which betrays an irreverence, a misuse of the name of the Lord. Jesus said that to test your sincerity, pray in secret where no one will see you, rather than in public. When you pray, do not use many words. "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6:8)

The name of God represents his character, his person. It was regarded as so holy in Israel that it was rarely to be directly pronounced for fear of being irreverent. When it was used it was meant to carry with it the power of God. When the LORD gave Moses the blessing Aaron and the priests were to use he said, "Say to them: The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you: the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. So they will put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them." (Numbers 6:22-27)

To put God's name upon people meant, "Put the knowledge of me, put my divine blessing, put the strength of my presence, upon your people." It is a summons of power. That is why misusing the name of the Lord: to usurp the name of God, to play God in the lives of others, to seek to control others in the name of God, to enlist the name of God in your cause, to use God for your own purposes, is such a serious matter.

This is what Jesus said about it: "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles.' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers." (Matthew 7:21-23)

Jesus exposes the terrible danger of misusing the name of the Lord through Christian profession and Christian activity. It is the danger of self-deception and self-delusion. He is saying, first of all, that it is insufficient to rely only upon your intellectual belief to enter the kingdom of heaven. To affirm one's belief in the articles of the creed, for instance (saying "Lord, Lord"), does not mean that it affects your life. St. James tells us that "the devils also believe and tremble." (James 2:19) In Jesus' ministry evil spirits cried out acknowledging Jesus as Lord, but remained opposed to him. It is possible to take a philosophical attitude to Christianity as abstract truth, and to take the name of the Lord in vain. We can empty the truth of Christ of its personal power, and make it futile. A man can accept the evidence of the Bible, and subscribe to the truth of Christianity, and still not be a Christian in this sense. We can trust in our reason and our belief without being transformed by Christ. There are people who have been brought up in a Christian home and atmosphere, who have always heard the Gospel, and in a sense have always accepted it, and have always believed and said the right thing; but they still may not be Christians.

It is possible for a person to approach the Bible in a purely intellectual manner, to take it as a text-book. We can become students of the Bible in a wrong sense. When we approach the Bible as a 'subject' we are in trouble. We can never approach the Bible theoretically. We can empty the name of the Lord, and render it futile, by analyzing the Bible in a purely intellectual manner. We can look down at the Bible and be a critic of its message, and thereby put ourselves in the place of God its author, rather than look up to it as the Word of God. We can become too interested in technical questions about interpretation that we lose the main thrust of message and its application to our lives.

It is possible for people to be enthusiastic about Christian ministries, and zealous about Christianity, and yet misuse the name of the Lord. Their enthusiasm and energy may be their natural temperament. They throw themselves into every endeavor they are associated with, and are considered invaluable in their contribution. They help to make things happen. But that does not guarantee that they are motivated by the Spirit. Their involvement may be for their own honor, to fulfill their own need, to achieve affirmation, and to be valued by the peers whose opinion matter to them. They are doing it for themselves, and not for Christ.

It is possible for a person to prophesy in Christ's name - to proclaim his message - to preach his Word, and yet be misusing the name of the Lord. St. Paul reminds us that "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong and a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:1,2) If I am eloquent, and considered by people to be a great speaker, and I speak about the things of God; and yet I am motivated solely by my own need to be honored, I am misusing the name of God.

We must always examine our motives for what we are doing. We must ask ourselves honestly, 'Why am I doing this, what is the real drive behind it all?' It is possible to do the right things for the wrong motive. It is possible to preach the gospel, and to work for the church, and yet do it for our own self-interest, and our own glory, and self-satisfaction. We have to face ourselves squarely and ask: 'Why am I doing it? What is the thing that, in my heart of hearts, I am really out for?' If we don't do that from time to time, we are exposing ourselves to the terrible danger of self-delusion and self-deception.

It is possible for a person to drive out demons, and to perform miracles in Christ's name, and to be outside the kingdom of heaven. Jesus prophesied that false Christs and false prophets would arise who would do great signs and wonders to deceive the faithful. ((Matthew 24:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:8) The way to test the authenticity of the ministry of a person is to look below the surface. Look to the character of the person. Does he exemplify the spirit of Christ as expressed in the Beatitudes. Is he humble, is he meek, is he loving. We must look not to appearances only, not to what people profess, or what they accomplish, but the reality of their lives.

It is possible for a person to say the right things, to be very busy and active, to achieve apparently wonderful results, and yet not to give himself to the Lord. He may be doing it all for himself, and he may be resisting the Lord in the most vital place of all. What can be a greater insult than to say, 'Lord, Lord,' fervently, to be busy and active, and yet to withhold our heart's allegiance from him, to insist on retaining control of our own lives, and to allow our own opinions and arguments, rather than those of his Word, to control what we do and how we do it?

There is a self-assurance about one's spirituality which is self-deceptive. St. Paul had much to say about those who bragged about their relationship to God. He wrote, "As it is written: 'God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'" (Romans 2:24) How many people have been put off from the joining the church because of the lives of the Christians they have known, and their experience of preachers and priests? They have misused the name of the Lord.

As I have reflected on the implications of the third commandment I am struck by its relevance to the church. It confronts church members with their reasons for belonging to the church, and for calling themselves Christians. Are we using the name of the Lord for our own purposes? Are we assuming the power of God for our activities? Why do we belong to the church? Is it because of the music, or the fellowship, or the people, or the preaching, or the buildings? Or is it because we seek the blessing of God, to have his name put upon us. Whatever it may be, it is a wake up call to be sincere in what we claim to be. It is a call to avoid misuse of the name of God, to be reverent about what we do in his name.

To use the name of God reverently is to call upon him for blessing, to speak his truth with humility, and to seek to be conformed to his character.

(I am indebted to Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, for material used in this presentation.)

An audio version of this presentation is to be found on www.ameliachapel.com.

Amelia Plantation Chapel
Amelia Island Florida

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