Of all the things God has revealed about himself, his name is very special. God told his name (YHWH) to Moses, was given a human name (Jesus) at the incarnation, and revealed his triune name (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) through Christ, enabling us to know his personal nature. The fact that God’s name is given to us by him makes it very special, but it is also special because it means we can relate to him personally. Traditionally then this command has been interpreted simply to mean that we shouldn’t use God’s name lightly or deceitfully, and especially not as a swear word, but the fact that we find it among the Ten Commandments means that the purpose of this command is more far reaching. Looking at it through our “four F’s” we can begin to see its wider purpose.
Flourishing: The command upholds the idea that some things are “sacred” or “holy”, because of God’s holiness, authority and judgement. This places an important limit on human freedom, we are not free to say or do whatever we want, but ultimately must given an account to our creator. This limitation on human freedom is more important in today’s society than ever before, partly because of our culture increasing disregard for things that have universally been held as sacred (e.g. sex, marriage, unborn children, the body), and partly because of technological advances that mean we are increasingly able to do things that in the past we were not able to. Where the distinction between holy and profane is upheld, God’s name is hallowed and human society is better and more able to hear his voice. Where the distinction is not upheld, God’s name is blasphemed, society degrades and descends into mockery and slavery to evil appetites. (Ps 14:1, 2 Peter 3:3-4)
Fencing: Christians should treat God’s name with reverence, only using it to praise, bless or glorify him. We should not speak presumptuously, manipulatively or deceitfully in God’s name, especially in prayer or prophecy. We should be aware of the inviolable nature of vows that we make in God’s name; breaking a holy vow is blasphemy and has many unexpected knock-on effects. We should live as people who bear God’s name, aware that everything we do shapes other people’s perceptions of God.
Freeing: The bible tells us clearly that we will give an account for all our words and actions (Matthew 12:36, Hebrews 4:13), that God sees all things and is present everywhere. However, our sinful way of seeing the world makes us think that God doesn’t see or hold us accountable for everything we say and do. We live as if God isn’t watching – which is quite an absurd idea, but enables us to behave in terrible ways. Utterly blind to the nearness, holiness and graciousness of God, we naturally live like over-privileged children vandalising and violating God’s holiness. This is taking God’s name in vain. But the law does not condemn us, it points us to Jesus. Firstly, because of Jesus we are forgiven the terrible presumption of living godless lives. Even more than that, by the gracious and patient work of the Holy Spirit, God gradually leads us into godliness, living every moment of our lives in God’s presence, aware of him and his holiness. God is carefully causing us to grow up, leading us into a fullness of life where every action praises (1 Cor 10:31), where every word is a holy vow (Matt 5:37), and every thought honours him. (2 Cor 10:5). This “godly” life, so opposite to the godlessness that comes naturally to us, should be something we work towards and pray for.
Fulfilment: Job was a man who fulfilled the letter of the law with regard to the third commandment. Terrible things happened to him, but he never cursed God for it. This is good, but the fulfilment of the Spirit of law, revealed in Christ, goes much further. At the cross Jesus reveals to us not only that God is not worthy of blame or accusation amidst evil things, but that he works in all things to glorify his name and reveal his love to us. (Rom 8:31-29). Thus the fulfilment of the third commandment is the hallowing of God’s name. When we pray “hallowed be Thy name” we are asking that all creatures, everywhere, will constantly and fully recognise God’s sovereignty and the perfection of God’s ways in all things and bless him for it. As Christians, in light of the cross and with the help of the Spirit, we can rejoice always, praise God and have peace in every circumstance being confident that nothing will separate us from God’s love. We can always say, “It is well with my soul!” and “You give and take away. Blessed be your name!”