Robert Jeffress - Revere God's Name
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". Young, expecting moms and dads will often spend months agonizing over the name of their new baby. A name has meaning, significance, and implications for the future. Well, God also places strong importance on names, and he's instructed us never to take his name in vain. Today, we're going to examine what God meant in the Third Commandment. My message is titled, "Revere God's Name," on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
In 1968, a Maryland man named Irving West got involved in a fist fight at a high school carnival. When he was being arrested for disorderly conduct, he uttered a blasphemous phrase invoking God's condemnation. The next day, he stood before the judge. The judge sentenced him to 30 days in jail and $25 fine for disorderly conduct. Nobody was surprised by that. But then the judge did something very unusual. He sentenced him to an additional 30 days in jail and an additional fine for breaking a 1723 law in Maryland against blasphemy. The 1723 law said, quote, "Anyone who shall write or utter any profane name or words concerning the Trinity, especially our Savior Jesus Christ, shall on conviction be fined not more than $100 or imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both, at the discretion of the court".
Well, the civil libertarians were outraged by that. I mean, why in the world would a judge think he had the right to silence somebody's speech because of some antiquated law from 1723? They thought Irving West was being treated unfairly, but the truth is Irving West got off quite easily. If he had been living in the Old Testament days, the punishment would have been much more severe. In the Old Testament, the principle was not one strike you're out, it's one strike you're dead. There was a zero tolerance level for using God's name in vain.
Today, we're going to look at one of the most basic commands of God. It's the third out of ten basic rules for living God gave. We're in a series on the Ten Commandments called "The 10: How to Live in Love in a World That's Lost Its Way". And our study has brought us to Exodus chapter 20, verse 7. And here's the command, simply. Turn there, if you will. Moses said, God said, "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain". What does it mean to take God's name in vain? Our own member, Dr. Eugene Merrill, in his commentary on the book of Deuteronomy, summarizes or paraphrases the commandment this way: "You shall not lift up the name of Yahweh, your God, without reason". And that's what this command is all about. It's not just about profanity. It is about lifting up, using God's most holy name needlessly.
Today, we're going to look at why God gives such a severe command and how to avoid experiencing the consequences of breaking that command. Whenever we read a character's name in the Bible, there is something about his or her character inherent in that name. And when we read about God, "You shall not take the name of God in vain," what we're saying is you don't take his name in vain because his name is his character. You see a great illustration of how seriously God takes the use of his name in Leviticus chapter 24. Leviticus 24 tells us a story about a man who got in a fist fight, much like Irving West. He blasphemed. Leviticus 24:10 and verse 11 says: "He blasphemed the name". Moses wouldn't even use the name, "Yahweh". He just said this man blasphemed "the name".
And so the people were troubled when they heard it and those who heard this man's blasphemy, they brought him before Moses. Said, "Moses, what should we do about this"? In verse 13 and 14, "The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 'Bring the one who has cursed outside the camp, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head.'" Now, why were they laying their hands on this guilty man's head? They weren't ordaining him, ha, ha. They weren't pronouncing a blessing upon him. They were transferring their secondhand guilt for blasphemy for just hearing the blasphemy. They were transferring any guilt they had to this man who was responsible for the blasphemy. That's what laying on of hands meant in this sense. It was a transference, not of blessing, but of guilt. And then God passed judgment on him.
Leviticus 24:14 and 16: "Let all the congregation stone him. The one who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death". That's how severe an offense it was to blaspheme the name of God. When we use God's name needlessly, we are trivializing and diminishing the glory of God. Let me illustrate that for you again.
Years ago, when I first started writing, I would subscribe to a monthly magazine called "Writers' Digest". And in that publication every month there would be several full-page ads taken out by corporations warning writers to be careful in their writing how they dealt with a trademarked name or brand. For example, the Xerox Corporation would take out an ad and say, "Now, when you use our trademark name, Xerox, be sure you show care to the copyright. Don't ever say, 'He xeroxed a copy,' little 'x.' No, you're to say, 'He used a Xerox,' capital 'X,' copier to make a photocopy". There aren't just many kinds of Xeroxes, there's only one Xerox kind of copier. Or Coca-Cola would take out an ad. They said, "When you're writing to say 'They stopped by to get a Coke,' don't use coke, little 'c,' as if it were any kind of soft drink. Use capital 'C,' Coca-Cola".
Now, that goes against our intuition. We think, "Well, wouldn't these companies be happy that their product's name became part of the popular culture"? No, they want their brand to stand out. They don't want Xerox to be any copier or Coke to be any soft drink. In fact, I wrote down this phrase from one of those companies. They said, "We have spent millions of dollars to develop our name and establish that name with a product. Please don't destroy that work through carelessness or you will face the consequences". Companies spend millions of dollars protecting their brand and going after those who use the brand name in a wrong way. How much more seriously do you think God takes the use of his name and how we employ it in everyday conversation? That's why God says, "Don't use my name needlessly," because when you do, you trivialize it. You diminish it. How do we use the name of God in vain?
Let me mention several ways you may have never thought of. The most common way, of course, is through profanity. We use God's name when we have an accident, when somebody insults us. If we're not careful we profane the name of God. But it's not just limited to outbursts of anger. So are outbursts of shock and outrage that invoke God's name. No Christian ought to use regularly the phrase, "Oh my God," or "My God, my God". That ought to be off limits. That's using God's name in vain. But there are other ways that we take God's name in vain: through falsehoods, that is through lies, half-truths, and outright deceptions. Some people use God's name to manipulate other people. For example, a high school says, "Mom, Dad, God told me that you're to buy me a new car".
Well, unless God really told you that, you'd better not do that. There is a very well-known attorney who has been in the news over the last couple of years. He went to his bank and he wanted to withdraw some of the equity out of his house. And when you do that, you have to fill out a form for the FDIC to say what you're going to use those proceeds for. And he falsified the document. He said he was gonna use it for one cause, when in fact he used it for something else. You know what happened to that attorney? He ended up in prison. He was imprisoned because he made a false statement and he signed that statement with his own name. The only thing worse than doing that is signing God's name to a false statement, saying, "God told me to do this. God did this," and it not be true.
There's a third way we take the name of God in vain and that's through frivolity. Don't invoke God's name in a joke. That is trivializing the name of God. A fourth way we do it is through phoniness, through hypocrisy. Jesus talked about that in Matthew 15:7 when he said: "THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME". Jesus said in Luke 6:46: "Why do you call Me, 'Lord,' yet you do not do what I say"? Why do people take God's name in vain? Why do they use the name of God needlessly, if there's such severe punishment for doing so? Three reasons I've discovered. One reason is a lack of knowledge. A lack of knowledge.
There are some of you listening to this message right now or here in our worship center, you didn't know this, honestly. You thought using God's name was limited to blasphemy, but you realize there are many ways to use his name needlessly. That's understandable, that's honest. You can ask God right now for forgiveness, if he hasn't struck you dead yet. You can ask him for forgiveness for what you've done and really make a commitment to him you're not going to do that again. A lack of knowledge. A second reason people do it is because of a lack of self-control. They have used God's name so carelessly for so long that they find it a hard habit to break. Maybe they grew up in a home where that was done on a regular basis. Again, that's honest, but it's not an excuse.
Let me give you three keys for guarding your speech against any kind of unwholesome speech. First of all, admit to God that you need to control your speech. Admit to God you're having difficulty doing this. You know, in James 3:8, James says, "No one can tame the tongue: it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison". But James didn't say we shouldn't try, because Jesus said in Matthew 12, verses 36 and 37: We will be held accountable for every idle word we speak. We are gonna be judged for this, so go ahead and admit to God your need to control your speech. By the way, self-control, including tongue control, is one of the evidences of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 says: "But the fruit of the Spirit is joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control".
Second key for guarding yourself against blasphemy: disassociate yourself from people who take God's name in vain regularly. Now, in some cases, you may not have a choice, if you work for somebody who does that. But as you're able, remove yourself from close association with people who break this commandment. In Proverbs 22, verses 24 and 25, Solomon said, "Do not associate with a man given to anger, And do not go with a hot-tempered man, Or you will learn his ways And find a snare for yourself".
And then finally, fill your mind with edifying thoughts about God. It's not enough to say, "Don't do this, don't speak God's name in vain," you've gotta replace that habit with a good habit. Start thinking about the holiness, the sacredness, of God's name. In Psalm 111, verse 9, here's a great verse to remember. Psalm 111, verse 9: "Holy and awesome is Your name". Or Ephesians 4:29: "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification," for building up, "that it may give grace to those who hear it".
Why do people break this commandment and use God's name in vain? A lack of knowledge, a lack of self-control. A third reason? A lack of a genuine salvation experience. Now, I'm gonna tread carefully here, but I wanna share a conviction of my heart and what I've seen for more than 40 years of pastoring. I don't think it's possible for somebody who has had a genuine encounter with God, who has come to the point that he realizes his desperate sin and his need for a Savior, I don't think it's possible for that person to regularly, habitually, use God's name in vain, especially the name of Jesus Christ.
Years ago, I was on a program for a Christian organization. The MC for the program was a boisterous man and every other word was "God this," "God that," "Lordy, Lordy, Lordy," and one point, he said, "Now if you're not a part of our organization, you need to pray that Jesus will save you. In fact, let's bow our heads right here and pray that Jesus saves us for not being a part", and on and on and on he went in that vein. Later in the program, they gave an award to a missionary and when this missionary took the stand, she said in a very soft-spoken voice, she said, "Any good thing in my life is because of what my Savior Jesus has done for me. He saved me, he called me to his service, and I dedicate this award to him".
Now, two different people with two different attitudes about the name of Jesus Christ. Again, I don't think it's possible to continually blaspheme the name of Jesus Christ and be a true follower of Jesus Christ. Many of you know the name of Jack Hayford, great pastor who just went home to be with the Lord recently. Jack used to tell this story about being with his family on vacation. They ended up out in the middle of nowhere and needed gasoline. So they pulled in, they found a filling station. And the attendant came out. He looked like he was straight out of a sitcom. He had a greasy hat and a toothpick sticking out of his mouth. And Jack said, "Would you fill my car up with gas"? He said, "Yeah". He was filling the car up with gas and he said to Jack, "Hey, Mister, this God, blank, tire of yours," but he didn't use a blank. He said the G-D thing.
He said, "This G-D tire of yours is about to blow and if it does, it could be a disaster for you. Can I change it"? And Jack thanked him and said, "Well, thank you very much for doing that". And so, for the next 20 minutes, this guy worked on the tire, and every other word was G-D. "This G-D tire, this G-D car, this G-D highway," and "G-D this," and "G-D that". Finally, Jack couldn't take it any longer. He said, "Sir, would you please stop saying that. I don't want God to damn my car. I don't want God to damn my family, and that's what you're asking him to do. Please don't say that any longer". And the attendant was startled. He said, "Whoa, Sir, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to offend you".
And Jack said, "Do you know, you're a mechanic, you work with tires, and because of your observation, you saved me and my family from a potential disaster. And I wanna thank you for that. But I'm a pastor, I work with souls, and as I heard you talking about God in the way you were, I thought, 'You know, this man saved my family from a disaster, I wanna save him from a disaster. So I'm here to tell you, Sir, you can't use God's name that way without paying a heavy, heavy price.'" And I'd say the same thing to you. I don't pretend to be any better or any holier than you are. I'm a fellow Christian with you, but I'm your pastor. I care about what happens to you, and I would say to you this morning: You can't use God's name carelessly without disaster. Don't keep using the name of God needlessly.