A few years back my wife and I received a surprise when submitting our taxes. We were notified that our filing would be delayed until we went through a process of proving that I am me. The IRS questioned my identity because someone else had already submitted a return with my name and Social Security Number. We knew that surely wasn’t the case because any tax return submitted before April 15th couldn’t possibly be ours and because I’ve been me ever since I’ve known me so someone else couldn’t be me! We did some research and quickly discovered that people trying to take the identities of others to get refunds or file fraudulent returns (not to mention other nefarious acts) is not all that uncommon. Thankfully, the problem was cleared up and the IRS set up a PIN number system for subsequent years that has protected our name from future attempts at identity thievery.
No one likes to have their identity taken or their “good” name tarnished. Fortunately for us things worked out okay, but we’ve all heard horror stories on the news and perhaps even know of someone (or even are that someone) who hasn’t had near as favorable of an outcome when dealing with the issue of identity theft. Still, as much as we may not like having our “good” name dragged through the mud, on a spiritual level there is really only One who is truly good and only He has a “good” Name (Mark 10:18; Rom. 3:10). It is in that Name and that Name alone that salvation can come to mankind (Acts 4:8-12). It is to that Name and that Name alone to which every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord (Philippians 2:5-11). God has not, does not, and will not take His Name and the honor due to His Name lightly. So serious does the LORD take His Name that the third of the Ten Commandments provides the prohibition against using His Name in vain (Ex. 20:7). We will look at three passages of Scripture that help identify for us ways that God’s Name can be taken in vain and that point to the serious nature and necessity of reverence for the Name of our Lord!
Don’t Say God Said What He Didn’t Say (Zechariah 13:1-3)…I remember being asked to teach a Sunday School Class at the church I was attending while in Seminary. Memory fails as to what the main thrust of my lesson was one week but I clearly remember that somewhere during the course of the teaching I brought out the point that the phrase “thus saith the Lord”, which was emblematic for Old Testament Prophets, was not a common New Testament phrase (the giving of the Spirit to indwell all genuine believers is the reason for this change). I went on to say that I believed the reason so many people in modern day church give a prophecy with the phrase “thus saith the Lord” at the end of their proclamations is because they know no one would believe or take seriously what was just stated if it was simply based on the character of the person saying it themselves. By using the Old Testament phrase they are trying to invoke the authority of God rather than merely their own behind what they just said. Can God use someone in the gift of prophecy in the present day? I believe so (though I do think the word “prophecy” in the New Testament is much more likely to speak of preaching God’s Word accurately), but if the gift of prophecy is genuinely occurring then what is being said must not in any way be contradictory to Scripture (along with some other qualifying characteristics that time doesn’t permit to mention). The pastor of the church, who was attending my class that morning, came up to me afterwards and thanked me for making that point. Unbeknownst to me there was a woman visiting that day who in the past (before I began attending there) had frequently made prophetic declarations invoking the Name of the Lord and her prophecies were often antithetical to God’s Word and the movement of the Spirit during church services.
Zechariah is a book that doesn’t get much air play but, in addition to making many Messianic Prophecies, contains a powerful passage telling of the judgment of false prophets. The opening three verses of chapter 13 declare that there will be a time when those who have prophesied falsely in the Name of the Lord will be so derided that they will be turned in for the death penalty by their own father and mother who gave them birth! God warns us of saying that God said things He didn’t say! He takes His Name seriously and will not allow for it to be dragged through the mud by being used as the basis of authority for lies! Let’s not take the Name of our Lord in vain!
Don’t Offer God Less Than Your Best (Malachi 1:6-14)…I’ve taught Math in some capacity for nearly 20 years. Perhaps one of the hardest things to deal with from an academic perspective is when you have a student that you know is not giving it their best. If their best is a “C” then it’s okay when they get a “C.” However, if you know their best is an “A” but they’re satisfied to just get a “C”, then that’s irritating. It shows that they don’t care enough about their academic success or the subject at hand or, to some degree, even about me as their teacher to give it their best. They’re apathy is irritating in the present moment but will eventually look bad on me at some level when the end of the year test results come back and my grade as an educator is partly dependent upon a student who I know did not give it their best!
The book of Malachi, contrary to popular opinion, deals with more than just money! In fact, a large part of the four chapter unit which completes the Old Testament speaks primarily to the negligence and profaneness of those who were in ministerial positions. In Malachi 1:6-14 the Lord declares in no uncertain terms that He is unhappy with the priests allowing the people to offer sacrifices that were not up to the standards of that which the law demanded. God’s Word clearly instructed that the animals offered had to be without blemish, yet the people brought substandard animals with glaring imperfections…and the ministers not only allowed it but let the people think the Lord was alright with it! Why would the people bring less than what God commanded, less than their best, to the Lord? Obviously, they wanted to keep the best for themselves. They didn’t recognize God’s holiness or His power as the sole source for any and all blessings they were privileged to enjoy. Likely the only reasons they gave anything at all to the Lord was because they wanted to keep up appearances in their community or perhaps because they thought their pittance would at least keep God from bringing judgment against them. Why would the priests accept any offering other than what God prescribed? I think perhaps the biggest reason why the priests let the people give less than their best to the Lord is because the priests themselves weren’t giving their best to the Lord! Also, the ministers might have made the calculation that having a whole lot of less than the best offerings come in was better than having very few come in that were the best. In short, accepting less than the best (which God commanded) worked out better for their own prosperity and popularity than taking a stand for the true Word of the Lord! What was God’s perspective on the whole situation? He told them that He was not going to always put up with the profaning of His Name and His Honor. The Lord even said He would prefer that the whole “church” be shut down rather than for them to continue not following after His Word and His commands and making people think that He was okay with their disobedience. In the New Testament, Jesus commands those who are His children to follow after Him with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matt. 22:37; Luke 9:23-27). Anything less than that is not honoring the Name of the Lord as He is to be honored! Let’s not take the Name of our Lord in vain!
Name Dropping Doesn’t Mean Genuine Relationship (Matthew 7:15-23)…I could tell you that I’ve worked hand in hand with Bill Gaither and that he loves to play with our precious boy. However, that’d be stretching the truth more than a little. I did meet Mr. Gaither once at a product table after a Gaither Vocal Band Concert. Bill was selling the music himself and reached across the table to shake my hand. I took his hand but was so star struck that I couldn’t even answer his simple question of, “how may I help you?” As far as Gaither loving to play with our precious boy, that’s maybe a little stretch as well. One year the Vocal Band came to Barbara B. Mann for a concert. My wife and I splurged to get ourselves front row seats as a mutual anniversary present (have I ever told you what a wonderful wife I have?!). Our sweet boy knew all the music and sang along in such an exuberant manner that it caught Bill’s eye and he gave our son a glance, a wink, and a smile. I could tell you that The Martins and I actually go on road trips together. That’s kind of true because when they came to Ft. Myers for a concert years ago me and a fellow coworker picked them up from their motel to drive them to a preconcert meet and greet at the bookstore. I could tell you that Michael English personally called me to sing a duet with him and that we thrilled audiences with our amazing performance. That’s kind of true because years ago a dear friend arranged for Michael to come for my birthday. He did call me up on stage to sing with him and I’m sure at least some of the audience was thrilled because I had many friends and relatives in attendance. You see, I know who Bill Gaither, The Martins, and Michael English are, but they don’t know who I am. I could drop their names, but that doesn’t mean that I have genuine relationship with them.
Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus delivers powerful teaching that has come to influence every sermon I’ve preached for the last several years. In Matthew 7:15-23 (I encourage you to read those verses) the Lord tells of those who weren’t allowed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. They attempt to make a case for their admittance by saying to Jesus, “did we not prophesy in Your Name, and in Your Name cast out demons, and in Your Name perform many miracles?” The Lord doesn’t say that these false converts never uttered the Name of Jesus, nor does He even debate the power of the prophecies, deliverances, or miracles performed. Christ merely replies to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.” These folks were good at name dropping, or at least tacking the Name of Jesus on the end of their prayers. They may even have been involved in and perhaps even known for performing exhibitions of power. However, the Lord did not know them and they did not genuinely know the Lord. These false converts knew of the Name of Jesus and knew how to speak the Name of Jesus, but they did not know Jesus. They were taking His Name in vain. The passage has such great influence on me because while many think of profaning God’s name as cursing and swearing (and that behavior is certainly sinful and concerning), I am convinced that of far greater concern are folks who claim to know Christ but are actually false converts. 70% of people in America declare that they are Christians. They claim the Name of Jesus. But does anyone think that number is anywhere near accurate? There are many people who pray and then tack the phrase “in Jesus Name” at the end of it. Yet those prayers are often filled with self-centered and self-glorifying phrases primarily concerned with the riches and fame of this world rather than being biblically informed petitions raised in an earnest desire for God to be exalted and the Kingdom of Heaven to be expanded. It is not enough to name drop the Name of Jesus, we must actually know Him and be committed to Him. It is not enough to profess the Name of Jesus and the title of Christian, we must actually possess Christ, be born again through repentance and faith, in order to be genuine believers. Let’s not take the Name of our Lord in vain!