What do think are the most common male and female names at our church? I ran a report from our church database this week, which includes adults and children’s names from both morning church and night church as well as our mission partners. Here are the results:Most common male names: 1 Chris (7) 2 Tim / Timothy (6) 3 Andrew (5), James (5), Phil/Philip (5), Steve/Stephen (5) Most common female names: 1. Sarah (4) Elizabeth (4) Sophie/Sophia (4) Jennifer (4) Karen (4)
How do parents choose a name? John Chrysostom an early church leader from the late fourth century said when you name your children, don’t be in a hurry to name them after your parents, name them after an apostle or a martyr as an incentive to them to live a godly life. Some parents might choose a name from the Bible, or it might be based on the meaning of the name, or you might be named after a friend or family member, or the sound of the name.
What about God? Unlike us, he gets to choose his own name, he tells us what to call him. As we look at this third commandment (word of grace) about God’s name, let’s consider 3 questions:1. What’s the significance of God’s name? 2. How might we misuse God’s name? 3. How can we honour God’ name?
1. What’s the significance of God’s name?
a) God is personal The Bible uses many different names for God. Have a look at the two used in this commandment. V11 says: You shall not misuse the name of the LORD (that’s Yahweh, God’s personal covenant name) of your God (that second name is Elohim, a general word for God). When God first appeared to Moses, in Exodus, he revealed to him his covenant name, Yahweh: God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty [El Shaddai], but by my name the LORD I did not make myself fully known to them (Exodus 6:2-3)
God was gradually revealing himself to his people . What he is saying to Moses and Israel is amazing: Don’t just call me ‘God’, call me ‘Yahweh’. It’s a little bit like the Queen saying to you: Don’t just call me’ Your Majesty’, call me ‘Elizabeth’. There’s an amazing intimacy that God is allowing his people to have. This intimacy goes up to a whole new level in the New Testament when Jesus tells his disciples: When you pray, say ‘Our Father’. This is the God of all the universe, showing us he is personal, he can be intimately known by his people.
Many Star Wars fans would say that episodes IV-VI of Star Wars, which were made first, are far better than episodes I-III which were made later. No matter what your opinion on that, across all the episodes the worldview in Star Wars is of an impersonal supernatural power behind the universe, known as the Force. Some people may think of God like, that, but here we see he is so much more than that. He is not an impersonal force, he reveals himself with a name. He is personal, a God who can be known intimately by his people.
b) God’s character or reputation If I say someone’s name to you it immediately brings things to your mind. If I say, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, or David Warner or Steve Doust. Each of those people has some sort of character, some sort of reputation in your mind. The name of the LORD refers to his character, his reputation.
When Rog went away, he kindly lent me his little hatchback, so we could have a second car, it’s been helpful. I jokingly call it the senior pastor’s car. I joke that when Rog said, would you like to be acting senior pastor while I’m away? he offered me this great hatchback, to make up for all the extra work he was leaving me! I don’t know how well that hatchback is known around Maitland, but depending on how I drive it, it could become really well-known by the time Roger gets back. I could have an impact on Roger’s name! It’s the same with God, the way God’s people behave can have an impact on God’s name – his reputation.
When David prays: For the sake of your name, LORD, forgive my iniquity, though it is great. (Psalm 25:11), he is saying God forgive me for the sake of your reputation. Forgive me, so that you will be honoured as the gracious and forgiving God that you are.
Before Jesus was born, an angel told Joseph: you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21). He was given the name Jesus because it meant something, it described something about his character, and his role. Jesus means The LORD saves. Jesus is the Saviour.
Paul tells us something more about Jesus: Therefore God exalted [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11). In home groups this week, you might have asked this question: what is the name above every name that Jesus is given here? The wording in this passage is similar to Isaiah 45: I, the LORD (Yahweh), speak the truth; I declare what is right… Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. (Isaiah 45:19,23). The name above every name is the LORD – Yahweh, God’s personal name. Isaiah 45 says he’s the one before whom every knee will bow. Yet Philippians 2 tells us, that it is Jesus before whom every knee will bow. Jesus is given the name Yahweh. The Greek version of the OT translates Yahweh, as kurios or Lord. That’s the word used here, Every knee will bow, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus is Lord – Jesus is Yahweh. This third commandment, like all the commandments points us forward to Jesus, who is both Saviour, and LORD.
c) God’s Authority When Peter and John healed a lame man in full view of many people in Jerusalem, the leaders asked by what authority they did this, Peter said: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed…Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.(Acts 4:10,12). The authority they are using is the name of Jesus.
Imagine this common household situation. A child has locked themselves in a room, and another child is knocking saying, let me in, the child in the room refuses, until the child on the outside says. I’ve talked to Daddy, and Daddy says you have to open the door, finally the door opens. Why? Because of the authority of the Dad’s name. The name has the power to open the door. Jesus name has the power to open the door to God’s family. It is through Jesus’ name, his person, his character, his death and resurrection, his authority that we can be saved.
d) God’s essential being. How many names would you say are in this verse? Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). At first it looks like three names – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, each are distinct. Yet it doesn’t say ‘in the names of‘ does it? It says, in the name of. Those 3 distinct persons are a unity, one name, one essential being. God’s name means so much more than the combination of letters by which we refer to him. His name shows us he is personal, it refers to his character, his reputation, his authority, his essential being. Understanding that helps us as we consider…
2. How might we misuse God’s name?
The command to not misuse God’s name, literally means do not take up or lift if up Yahweh’s name for worthlessness. How might we do that?
a) Blasphemy or irreverent use
Notice how seriously God takes this command, v11 says the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. One of the clearest examples of how seriously God takes this is in Leviticus 24 when a man gets into a fight, and as he does so, he blasphemes God’s Name. The people ask God what to do, and God says: anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. (Leviticus 24:16).
Of course under the New Covenant, we don’t stone people, yet it’s still worth thinking about how careful we should be about speaking God’s name. When I’m looking up to see whether a movie is suitable for our kids to watch, I often go to one of those websites where they rate movies on various criteria including language.  Some of those websites list how many times expressions like God, or Jesus, or Oh My God are used inappropriately. It’s often quite high, even in kids movies. That’s the sort of world we live in, where God’s name doesn’t mean much to many. For them it’s no big deal to use it to express anger or surprise. We might expect that of people who don’t know Jesus. But if you’re a Christian, if you claim to know God, yet use the name of your God or Saviour carelessly or irreverently, it shows you don’t really know him as well as you claim to. What we say with our tongue, reveals our heart.
b) Manipulating others
“‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:12), It dishonoured God when his name was used in an oath to convince others, but it wasn’t kept. That’s a verbal misuse of God’s name, and it also misrepresents his character, because God always keeps his word, he never breaks his promises. If you use God’s name to try to convince people you are telling the truth, but you don’t keep your word, you are misusing God’s name.
Another example of manipulation is when God says: The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them.(Jeremiah 14:14) . The prophets were using God’s name, to try to give authority to what they said, but they were just saying what they wanted to say. They were misusing God’s name.
We need to be very careful about phrases like, God told me to do this, the Holy Spirit showed this to me, the Lord led me to do that. Of course God does speak and guide and lead, but those sort of phrases are very open to manipulation aren’t they? If someone says to you, God told me, they are saying: if you disagree with me, you’re disagreeing with God, you can’t argue with me.
Tragically, God’s name is often misused by spiritual leaders, who are trying to use God’s authority, God’s reputation, God’s character to give credibility to their own ideas. We want to be careful not to be led astray by others, who use God’s name to claim authority for their ideas, but we also need to ask, whether we ever do it.
It’s not that uncommon to hear people say things like: God told me to leave my spouse. That’s a very obvious attempt at manipulation, because we know what God says: what God has joined together let no one separate. To claim God’s authority when you are disobeying God, is a terrible misuse of God’s name.
We want to be very careful about saying God told me, or God led me, because our hearts are deceitful, we can use God language to try to manipulate a situation or get what we want. Be careful how you use God’s name.
c) Outward words but no inward reality
In your home groups this week, you may have looked at Acts 19 where Paul had been doing some extraordinary miracles in the name of Jesus, and some Jews tried to copy him and invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” ….One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.(Acts 19:13-15)
That’s kind of funny, but also a little terrifying, Acts says as a result of that the people feared the name of Jesus. These men were trying to use Jesus’ name like a magic formula. Using the word, but they didn’t really know Jesus, they weren’t trusting in his death and resurrection, they were just trying to use his name.
Perhaps closer to home is Jesus warning: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is 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 in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23). Here we see people again using Jesus’ name. This time, we see they’ve got good theology, they refer to Jesus as Lord. We’ve seen how that often means Yahweh, they are saying Jesus is God. The fact that they say Lord, Lord indicates an intensity of their emotion about Jesus. They’re also very active, outwardly in doing what look like great things in Jesus’ name, yet Jesus says he will tell them plainly, I never knew you.
This is a very sobering warning. Jesus name may be often on your lips, you may have good theology, you may sing to him passionately, you may be very active in church, you may be doing all sorts of impressive things, even helping others, but if you don’t really know Jesus, if you aren’t really obeying him, you are misusing his name, using his name outwardly, but failing to trust and obey him inwardly. Let’s think a little about what it means to do that…
3. How can we honour God’s name?
a) Ask God to transform your heart.
There’s a great passage in Ezekiel, where we see God’s passion for his name. Here’s part of it: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name… (Ezekiel 36:22-23)
In that chapter God promises to restore his people for the sake of his name. In vv26-27 he promises to give them new hearts, and put his Spirit in them. It’s pointing forward to what he would do through Jesus. It’s through trusting in Jesus that we can receive forgiveness, that our hearts are transformed, and we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
It’s great to have good theology, and sing passionately, and serve God and others actively, but you can do all those things and really be most concerned about your own name. What we most need is for God to change our hearts through Jesus, so we can be concerned for his name.
b) Seek to honour God in your life
The model prayer, that Jesus gave us begins: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name… Jesus wants us to pray, that God’s name be honoured, or hallowed. What does that mean? In part it’s answered in the next section: your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven….(Matthew 6:9-10) God’s name is honoured when we start seeking God’s kingdom, rather than ours, when we seek his will to be done in our lives, rather than ours.
You’ve got good theology – great, you’re passionate about singing to Jesus, great, you’re active in doing things in Jesus’ name – great, but here’s the question: do you really want his will done in your life? Are you willing to submit to his word, even when it’s hard? Are you willing to change your thinking, when what you think is different to what God’s word says? Are you willing for God to use suffering in your life, to bring about spiritual good? Are you willing to sacrifice your own comfort, or material goods for the sake of his kingdom? Can you really pray your kingdom come, your will be done?
It’s possible to preach, and be more concerned about your name than God’s name, it’s possible to do music, or pray or read the Bible, or do morning tea, or be a parent, or go to work, and be more concerned about Chris, or Tim, or Andrew, or Steve, or Sarah, or Karen, or Jennifer or Kevin, than about Jesus.
The only way we can change is for a love to grip us that is greater than love for ourselves. We only change as we realise how much greater God is than us, how majestic, powerful, gracious, forgiving and loving he is. How worthy of our love, because of the love he has shown to us.
All over the world God’s name is being misused, yet God in his grace is acting for the glory of his name. All over the world he is gathering together communities of people who trust in his name, who through his grace are being forgiven and renewed, so that more and more our prayer is not Hallowed by my name, but hallowed be Your name.
(Edited transcript of sermon preached at MEC 26 May 2013. You can listen to or download the sermon here )