TEN WORDS – THE THIRD WORD.
GOD'S NAME IS GIVEN FOR A GOOD PURPOSE.
In the name + of Jesus.
There is a kind of comfort we take in knowing the name of someone. When a mother gives birth and I tell my wife about it, she will likely excuse me if I don't recall the length or weight of the baby. But I know she will be frustrated with me if she asks the child's name and I say, “I forget.” Somehow, knowing someone's name makes us feel like we know them even if we've never seen or met them. There are several places in the Bible where we hear that a man of God came to proclaim the word of the Lord, but we are never told his name. The point is that we are to focus on the message rather than the prophet who delivered it. But we feel like we are missing something when we don't know his name. Samson's parents faced the same issue. When the angel of the Lord told Manoah and his wife that they would have a son, Manoah said to the angel, “What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?” And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” (Judges 13:17-18) Despite receiving a divine word from a divine messenger, Manoah wanted to know his name. Knowing someone's name produces familiarity and binds a relationship more tightly.
We tend to respond the same way regarding God's name. When we hear people say that they believe in “God,” we don't always know what they mean. The Scouts and the Lodges boast that they hold to a belief in God, but they leave it to you to make God whatever you want him to be—whether it is the Triune God, the Muslim god Allah, the Hindu god Vishnu, or some generic, nebulous god in the sky. To them, any and every expression of “god” is valid, and belief in any “god” is praise-worthy. So when you discover that I urge you not to join such organizations, this is why. Who God is matters. How we confess God matters. While the word “god” can be used in a generic sense for any god, the true and only God is not a generic being. He is a specific, unique, real, and personal being who gives us his name so that we can know him.
The Creeds of the Christian Church say more than, “I believe in God.” God defines himself much more clearly than that. He reveals his name to us so that we can have familiarity with him and be bound to him in a saving relationship. The Bible gives us many names for God, and each name is a description of who God is, what he is like, and what he does. The most personal revelation of God is in his Son, Jesus. God the Son was sent by God the Father to make known God's identity, God's desires, and God's deeds—in particular, God's saving love for mankind, not merely be talking about it, but by acting to secure it. Jesus declared, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) All that Jesus has said and done reveals who God is. And Jesus gives us the most definitive name for our God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19) This is the name which we are baptized into so that we might become the saints of God and heirs of his kingdom. This is the name which makes God familiar to us and binds us to him in a loving relationship. God's name is given for a good purpose.
Since God is holy, his name is holy. And he commands us to regard it that way: “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.” (Exodus 20:7) The phrase “in vain” might be better understood if we say that God forbids that his name be used “for no good purpose.” So, when we use the name of God or Jesus as an expression of surprise or outrage, God is not amused. He pins guilt on those who take what is holy and use it profanely. For God's name is given for a good purpose, not for a curse word.
How is God's name used for no good purpose? Luther offers this: “We should fear and love God that we do not use his name to curse, swear, lie or deceive, or use witchcraft.” (Luther's Small Catechism, Explanation of the 2nd Commandment) Cursing uses God's name for evil. Swearing, lying, and deceiving uses God's name to hide evil. Witchcraft and psychic activity has us call on an unholy name for divine guidance. While we all should be on guard against these things, Christians are most likely using God's good name for no good purpose when we fail to honor him in our lives.
If you are a Christian, you bear God's name. You belong to Christ; therefore, you are Christians. St. Paul urges you to consider this: “You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:21-24) When you bear the name of Christ but fail to live according to the very words you confess, you disgrace God's name to the world. And the world is both disgusted and delighted by it. They are delighted because they believe that your sins vindicate their sins. If God's people don't honor his word or his name, why should they? If God's people don't fear him, why should they? But they also express their disgust for you. They feel that you ought to live up to the standard that you say is the truth, and they say that you are guilty of hypocrisy if you don't. In this way, they conclude that the Christian faith is a farce. In this way, God's name is blasphemed because of us.
God's name is given for a good purpose, so it is no small matter to dishonor God's name. In some cultures, one of the greatest sins you can commit is to bring shame to your family. Sometimes, the phrase, “Death before dishonor,” (or perhaps “Death because of dishonor”) is actually carried out. Those who shame the family are killed so that the dishonor dies with the offender. While we would consider such an action extreme, it does demonstrate the high value that is given toward honor of one's family. The Lord has declared, “The LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7) When we dishonor God's name with our sins, we deserve death. That which is holy dare not be desecrated. If we truly think little that God's name would be held in derision because of us, then the world is right and we are hypocrites. Repent.
But God has given us his name for a good purpose. We call upon God's name in every trouble. Our greatest trouble is the sin that names us and claims us and shames us all. For the shame we have brought on ourselves, death is demanded. Therefore, we call on the name of our God because he has revealed this name to us: Jesus, which means, “The Lord who saves.” Jesus took upon himself the sin and the shame of every sinner. He was labeled a liar, a scoundrel, a blasphemer and was accused of much more wickedness; and he did not dispute it. Every charge that has been named against us, Jesus made his own. Bearing our shame and dishonor, Jesus was put to death for it. Death because of our dishonor. But by his innocent death, the Son of God has cleared our names of all charges. Now, he has given us a new name. The Bible says: “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Galatians 3:26)
God has given his name for a good purpose. Jesus shows you that you have a loving Father in heaven. Through Jesus, he calls you all sons of God. In New Testament times, the sons were the heirs of the estate. So, if you are all sons of God, you are all heirs of the heavenly kingdom. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is your dear brother. The Holy Spirit dwells in you. This name—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—was put on you when you were baptized. By your baptism, God named you as his very own. That name is a family name. It binds you to God as his own people. For you do not have a nebulous god. You have a personal God who has given you his name so that you can know him, call upon him, and be saved by him.
God has given his name for a good purpose. He gives you his name so that you are familiar with him and are bound to him in a loving relationship. And God knows your name, too. You are not some faceless, anonymous person—just one of 7 billion. No, you are his. He knows you by name and is intimately interested in you. He knows when you lie down and when you get up. He knows the number of hairs on your head. He delights in your good works. In fact, he has written your name in the Book of Life so that you will be his forever. On the Last Day, Jesus will confess you before his Father and call you by name to receive your place in heavenly glory.
Therefore, we get to use God's name for a very good purpose. We confess his name and tell of his wonderful deeds. We pray, praise, and give thanks. For his name is worthy of praise, and it is the only name given by which we must be saved.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.