Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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by John D. Clark, Sr.
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave unpunished whoever takes His name in vain.”
How does one “take the name of the Lord in vain”? It has been said that to take the name of the Lord in vain means to use the word “God” in a profane expression. Certainly, to use the word “God” in an irreverent manner is not good; however, that is not what is intended by the biblical phrase, “taking the name of the Lord in vain”. The true meaning of that phrase is made clear if we substitute “bear” for the word, “take”:
“You shall not bear the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave unpunished whoever bears His name in vain.”
Jesus told Paul that he was ordained to “bear my name before nations, and kings, and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Bearing the precious name of Jesus faithfully, Paul turned many to righteousness in the ensuing years. He did not bear, or “take”, the name of the Lord in vain. As Paul later testified, “His grace toward me has not been in vain; on the contrary, I labored more abundantly than all of them” (1Cor. 15:10).
After Moses led Israel out of slavery in Egypt, he took her to Mount Sinai, to enter into a covenant with the Lord. First, though, the Lord sent Moses down from the mountain to deliver His proposal to Israel (Ex. 19:4-6):
“You saw what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to me. And now, if you will carefully listen to my voice and keep my covenant, then you will be a treasured possession to me above all people, for all the earth is mine. And you will be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.”
The prospective bride accepted His proposal (v. 11), and the date was set for the ceremony:
“Be ready for the third day, because on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.”
When a man and a woman are united in a covenant of marriage, they become “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). And this “one flesh” bears one name. For example, when Barbara Myers and I were married, she became Barbara Clark. She took my name. She has been a great blessing to my life. She did not take my name in vain. But if she had been unfaithful, or had wasted my substance, the good purposes for our being married would not have been achieved. She would have taken my name in vain, for nothing.
Just so, when we enter into covenant with God, we become one with Him (1Cor. 6:17), and in so doing, we take His name. We can bear His name honorably or dishonorably, faithfully or unfaithfully, but from the time we take His name, everything we do reflects on Him.
God insisted that Israel bear His name honorably. This is why He warned them, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” Unfortunately, Israel did not heed the warning given.
After demonstrating great patience and mercy on His unfaithful spouse, God finally announced that He would end that covenant of marriage with Israel. In other words, He divorced Israel. Jesus told the leaders of Israel, “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you and be given to a nation that will bear its fruit” (Mt. 21:43).
The prophets often likened Israel to a vineyard which produced bitter fruit instead of sweet grapes. Isaiah (5:7) says, “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His pleasant plant. And He looked for [justice], but behold oppression, for righteousness, but behold a cry [from the oppressed poor].” The Lord lamented, “I planted you a noble vine, entirely a right seed. How then are you turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” (Jer. 2:21). Israel became “an empty vine” (Hos. 10:1), as far as God was concerned. She had taken the name of Jehovah upon herself, but then she was unfaithful to His commandments and became unfruitful. She had taken His name for nothing, in vain.
Fruitfulness is required of all who are in covenant with God (Rom. 7:4). Israel was given the law to guide her into the lifestyle that would result in fruitfulness, and Israel’s only hope of being fruitful was to obey it, but she did not. Likewise, New Testament saints have been given the holy Spirit to guide them, and their only hope of bearing fruit acceptable to God is to obey the Spirit. Only those who obey the Spirit they have received from God will be saved in the end because those saints will not have taken God’s name in vain; they will have fulfilled their purpose. Paul said it this way: “For as many as are led by the Spirit, these are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14).
Those who are led by the Spirit do not live in sin (Gal. 5:16) because there is no sin in Him (1Jn. 1:5). Spirit-led believers bear the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. But a believer who does not obey the Spirit is bearing God’s name in vain.
The apostles stressed the need for saints to walk in the Spirit. They knew that sinners in this world are influenced by the conduct of those who are called by the name of the Lord, either to reverence or disdain Him. They were adamant that the saints live so “that the name of God and the doctrine not be blasphemed” (1Tim. 6:1). Jesus demonstrated this same concern when he said, “Let your light shine like that before men, so they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16).
Our lives are the only Bible that some will read. Are men reading good things about your heavenly Father in your life? What kind of God would those around you say that God is, based on your lifestyle? Would they think He is slow to anger? Would they believe that He is merciful and kind?
Speaking of the Lord’s people who did evil, Paul wrote, “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rom. 2:24; Isa. 52:5). What a sad commentary on their lives! Yet, even some of those who are well known for their devotion to God stumbled in their walk with God and brought shame upon the holy name they bore.
The prophet Nathan sternly rebuked King David for his sin with Bathsheba with these words: “By this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” (2Sam. 12:14). Nathan was not concerned that the Lord’s enemies would blaspheme David for his sin. What disturbed him was that he knew wicked people would use David’s sin to defame the God whom David served.
How it must have grieved David to think of the disgrace he brought upon the One who had lifted him from the lowly status of shepherd boy to be King of Israel! David’s heartfelt confession of sin included an acknowledgment that his sin had actually been against God Himself (Ps. 51:4), for it was God’s name which was brought into disgrace by David’s sin.
How strongly does love for Christ come through the injunction Paul gave, “Let every one who names the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness” (2Tim. 2:19). For the sake of others, let us “be followers of God, as dear children, and live in love, as Christ also loved us and gave himself up for us as an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a fragrant aroma. But let neither fornication – indeed, any uncleanness – nor covetousness be mentioned among you, as befits saints, nor obscenity, nor foolish talking or jesting, which are not appropriate; but rather, the giving of thanks” (Eph. 5:1–4).
If you are among those who have strayed from the right path, consider again what others are thinking about your dear Lord Jesus because of you. I once wandered away from Jesus, and I remember that when I rejoined sinful company, my unbelieving friends would sometimes make light of faith in God, and in doing so would confidently look at me, as if I should most of all agree with their scornful words. To them, I was living proof that serving God was worthless, for I had “tried it” and then returned to the ways of the world. They didn’t blame me for my unfaithfulness to God. They assumed that God was to blame. That always made me uncomfortable, for nothing could have been farther from the truth, and I knew it.
Thinking now of the harm I did to the name of Jesus, and to my friends, who needed desperately for someone to be a light for their lives, I am filled with all the more gratitude that the Lord called me again. Needless to say, I am resolved that, by the grace of God, my life shall never again be other than a testimony to His mercy, His holiness, His wisdom, and His power. God forbid that I should ever again give cause for another to reproach the name of Jesus. Let us all love both God and sinners that much. It is not surprising that one of Paul’s requirements for one who would occupy the office of a bishop was that he “must have a good testimony from those on the outside” (1Tim. 3:7). Paul knew that living a godly life lends more credence to one’s testimony about God. How can one expect to win someone to Christ if he owes that person a debt and will not pay it? or if that person sees in the believer an ungodly attitude? It is imperative, for the sake of Christ Jesus and for the souls of men, that we “give no occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully” (1Tim. 5:14). If anyone refuses to serve the Lord Jesus, it is important that the reason they refuse him not be that one of Jesus’ followers has done evil! In every circumstance, our highest priority should be to bring glory to God.
Dear friend, our lives will soon come to an end. Soon those who love us will be gathered around our graves. What will your life have told them about Christ Jesus? Let us make the most of these fleeting hours and strive to “always adorn the gospel of God our Savior,” so that we leave no shadow cast upon the name of Jesus. What greater epitaph can we have figuratively engraved upon the hearts of those who knew us than for them to know in their hearts that we lived “soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world”? What greater gift could we leave them?
Nothing declares the goodness of God to men any more forcefully than does an honest, holy life. Let us all determine to live that way and, so, not take the name of our Lord in vain. By the simplicity and sincerity of godliness, my brother, “you should proclaim the virtues of the One who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1Pet. 2:9). It is for that purpose that He sent us His Spirit. And it is only in accomplishing that purpose that we do not bear His holy name in vain.