St. Paul's Lutheran Church

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The Commandment: "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God."

There are two overarching ways in which this commandment is abused: worldly affairs and spiritual affairs. Remember that when this commandment is broken, it’s not just words in a book that is breached, but the God and Creator of all whose name is abused.

Regarding worldly affairs, this commandment is abused whenever people ascribe God’s name and reputation to corrupt business deals, matters regarding the exchange or acquisition of money, political matters such as elections or politicians abusing God’s name for their own popularity or gain, or when oaths are made in God’s name. Such abuses are absurdly horrible enough, but the worldly abuse of His name isn’t the worst abuse. To see the worst abuse, we must turn to the spiritual abuses.

God’s holy name is abused and scandalized whenever false preachers open their mouths or whenever anyone misquotes the Scripture or uses the Scripture, not in its intended use or with proper interpretation, but misinterprets the Scripture or quotes it out of context, thus applying God’s name to a person’s own understanding rather than a right understanding. Another way this commandment is abused spiritually is when sinners ascribe God’s name and His Word wrongly, giving justification for their sins.

I remember, while living in Nebraska and working at Doane College in Crete, walking around the campus one day. It happened to be “pride day” at the campus and written all over the sidewalks was the phrase “God is love.” This 3-word phrase from 1 John 4 is often abused and misused by people in order to support certain social or political causes. In this case, the idea was that God doesn’t care if people practice homosexuality, because “God is love.” Yet what these ideologues fail to do is look at and quote the rest of the passage surrounding these three words. God IS love, for sure, but God is also not a panderer to human emotion or convictions. Homosexual behavior is a sin, and it doesn’t matter with how many colors of chalk one writes, “God is love,” on the sidewalk. Our convictions do not change God’s mind or His Word, and “God is love” is not a catch-all phrase for believers to use in order to get away with sinning against His name or being tolerant or affirming of sin.

In our modern, pluralistic church where everyone is encouraged to believe as they please about most things of God and His Word, God’s name continues to be abused whenever, from a pure lack of knowledge, a person quotes a passage, out of context, to assert an individual idea or opinion on others. This used to be done in the Presbyterian churches where a passage from the Old Testament was quoted in order to push the lie that black people are hated by God and can be used as slaves. The Mormon religion also taught something similar. But little has changed today. People may not (mis)quote the Scripture to prop up racial division, but they sure do it for other things. Most of the division in the western churches is because people brazenly break this commandment without a second thought. They ascribe God’s name to a doctrine or teaching of their own opinions or convictions and say, “God told me” or, “The Holy Spirit led me to believe,” and they trample upon truth and godliness and wisdom without so much as a flinch. Televangelists and “megachurch” preachers make a game of this, and they know they do it, but they also know it makes them a lot of money to say, “God told me…” followed by some schemish idea to get people to give more money. Creflo Dollar, a televangelist from Georgia, once told his mega-congregation that God wanted him to have a new private jet and that his followers need to give more. And Dollar is still out there abusing God’s name for his own gain. The doctrines that are most often abused are often the clearest doctrines in the Scripture, but the ones most difficult to understand because they don’t seem rational. This includes the Sacraments, Soteriology, Eschatology, and even Ecclesiology. For example, the “worship wars” of the 90’s and first part of the 21st century had a lot to do with this commandment. Ascribing God’s name to a matter, idea, plan, or vision — without knowledge or wisdom, or with ulterior motives — is how we break this commandment.

So, how should we instead use God’s name rightly? Simply put, rather than calling on it or abusing it in false teaching, preaching, or ascribing it to politics or worldly affairs, we should call upon His name in all our troubles, trust in His Word and allow His Word to change our thinking and understanding, pray to Him, worship and praise Him often, and always give thanks to Him for all that He has done and continues to do for us. God’s name is holy, holy, holy, and we should honor His name with the highest honor, reverence, sacredness, fear, and love there is.

Prayer: Holy God, forgive me when I abuse Your name in the world and in Your Church. Teach me to rightly call upon Your name and ascribe it to what is good and right, and to speak Your name to others without fear or compromise. In Jesus’ name, Amen.