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I’d like to begin this morning by asking you to take out your bible and open to Exodus 20 (page 61 in your pew bible). It occurred to me this week that by asking you to memorize the 10 Commandments and explanation from Luther’s Small Catechism, it might be a good idea to set the anchor of this ship in the Scriptures where it belongs. Long before the 10 Commandments were recorded in the Luther’s Small Catechism, they were recorded in the bible.
Take a look at Exodus chapter 20. There we read, “And God spoke all these words saying ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” And then what follows is the rest of the ‘Decalogue’ through verse 17. This is where the 10 Commandments come from – not the Small Catechism. Just wanted to be sure we understood that.
The 10 Commandments are anchored in the Scriptures, and the Scriptures are anchored in human history. The Commandments are give to Israel shortly after the Exodus from Egypt. The people of Israel are making their way through the desert to the Promised Land when they come to a mountain called ‘Sinai.’ This is where God gives the 10 Commandments to Moses.
The 10 Commandments are also recorded in one other place in the Scripture. Turn to Deuteronomy 5:6-22 (page 150 in your pew bible). Exodus is Moses’ account of the travels of Israel through the desert as they make their way to the Promised Land. Deuteronomy comes at the end of the 40 year journey. Moses looks back on the experience and preaches a series of sermons to the people to remind them of what they have learned so that they won’t forget it. Skip to verse 22. “These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more. And he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me.”
I think that it’s important to understand that although these may be the two places where the 10 Commandments are recorded in the Scriptures; these are not the first place that they were written. Long, long before they were written on two stone tablets, they were written on the human heart. In His letter to the Romans, Paul says that everyone, believer or unbeliever, shows by their behavior and their conscience that there is a law that is written on our heart. (Romans 2:15). How do you just know that certain things are wrong? Your conscience tells you. That’s law written on the heart. The 10 Commandments simply writes that law down on stone, or paper.
And the only reason that God eventually wrote the law on stone tablets is because sin so corrupted the human heart that the Law became totally distorted. Laws that were written on the heart by the finger of God were covered over by our sin, and others that were not from God were added, and after awhile, no one was able to recite the 10 Commandments from memory any more. Do you?
In the beginning, Adam and Eve didn’t need the law in writing so that they might know how to live as children of God, it just came naturally. But after they sinned, what was natural became unnatural and what was easy became painful and what was understood became misunderstood.
When God put His Law in writing, it became a legal document, not just to tell us what is good and right and salutary, but also becomes the legal document that accuses us when we break the Law. And because none of us keeps the Law of God, because we all break His Law, no one is saved by the 10 Commandments.
The 2nd Commandment
So, now we’re ready to consider the 2nd Commandment. Your assignment this week is to memorize the 2nd Commandment and the explanation from the Small Catechism. Let’s rehearse it once more. Without looking, what is the 2nd Commandment? I am the Lord your God. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” What does this mean? “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks.”
A. “Vain” vs. “Misuse”
Now, right away I see that we have a problem. As much as I want to anchor this in the Scriptures, the wording in the Small Catechism that we are memorizing is different than the wording in the bible. Exodus and Deuteronomy say, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in VAIN.” The Small Catechism says, “You shall not MISUSE the name of the Lord your God.” I wish the Small Catechism stuck with the same word as the Scriptures but the fact is, the word “uselessly” or “misuse” was being used for the word “vain” long before the Small Catechism was ever written. So we can’t even blame this on Concordia Publishing House.
The word “vain” has to do with the weight of an object. Something that is ‘vain’ has very little weight to it, it’s hollow. So, to use the name of the Lord our God in vain, is to not give His name the weight it deserves. It is to use the name of God in a hollow or shallow way. It is to ‘misuse’ His name.
B. Giving Of His Name
Let’s think about what it means that God has given us His name. Think about difference in your relationships we have with people whose name we don’t know and those whose name we do know. If you don’t know someone’s name, how much of a relationship can you really have. But if they give you their name, or you give someone your name, it’s like you’re opening a door to yourself and inviting the other person to enter into your life. Having someone’s name to use makes the difference between a personal and impersonal relationship.
By giving us His name, God is inviting us to enter into His life, to talk to Him, to call upon Him, Him in particular. Not just God in general, but the one, specific God whom you know by name.
In the Old Testament, God gives His name to Moses at that encounter that takes place at the burning bush, Exodus 3:13-14. Before this, God was only known as “the God of your fathers.” That’s as personal as it got for Noah and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
But at the burning bush, God meets Moses and they get into a conversation with each other, and God tells Moses that He’s sending him Egypt to lead them out of Egypt to the Promised Land. And Moses replies, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The GOD OF YOUR FATHERS has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?’” “God said to Moses, I am who I am.”
YHWH, the personal name of the God, given to His people so that they may call upon Him. By giving them His name, He is opening Himself up to them and inviting them into a personal relationship with Him. We get the idea that we have a personal relationship with God because we open ourselves to Him and tell Him our name. No, it’s always God who makes the first move.
In the New Testament, God gives us His name. The angel Gabriel gives God’s name to Mary and then to Joseph. His name is Jesus. Jesus then gives the name of the Triune God to His apostles and tells them to give His name to all nations by baptizing them into the “name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” God wants all nations to call upon Him.
So, can we see what a wonderful act of grace this 2nd Commandment is? Before we ever get to the commandment, God has already given us His name to use. And because this is God’s name we are given, this is an unspeakable gift.
C. The Prayer Commandment
Last week we made the point that the 1st Commandment was all about the heart. The heart of the matter is the heart. Now, we see that the 2nd Commandment is all about the mouth. God gives us His name so that we may call upon Him.
This is really the gift of prayer that we are given here in the 2nd Commandment. The almighty God, who needs nothing from us, gives us His holy name and invites us to call upon Him, knowing that we need a great deal. We need everything. And God is the giver of everything. He invites us to “ask and it shall be given.” In our baptism, we have been given the password if you will. Not a secret password by any means. We have been given the only name given under heaven by which men and women, boys and girls can call upon the only God from “whom all blessing flow.”
D. Misuse Of God’s Name
So, can we begin to see now, why it is really such a sinful thing to “use the name of God in ‘vain’”? The Lord God almighty, in His love for us, gives us His name so that we may call upon Him, and if we never use it, or only rarely, we treat this gift ‘lightly,’ we don’t give the gift the weight it really has. Not only is this ‘foolish,’ it’s also incredibly disrespectful.
Or what if we use His name in a way that He did not give it to us to for? “God damn you.” “God damn it.” He didn’t give us His name to curse other people or things with. That’s not our job at all. God says that we are to ‘love one another.’ He never says that we are to damn one another. To do so is to ‘misuse’ His name.
You should know that this is the only commandment to which there is a specific threat attached. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Ex.20:7).
Luther spells out several ways that we ‘misuse’ this precious gift – “cursing, swearing, using satanic arts, lying, deceiving by His name.” Isn’t it interesting that these same ways that people ‘misuses’ God’s name in Luther’s day are just as applicable in our own day?
E. The “BUT”
But the explanation continues with a “BUT.” One of the Luther’s great contributions to the church’s proper understanding of the meaning and application of the 10 Commandments is this “BUT.” There were lots of Catechisms before Luther’s and they all had their explanations of the Commandments. But they only described the ways that the commandments are broken, and what NOT to do. Luther, for the first time introduces the other side of the coin. How are we to KEEP the commandments? What SHOULD we do?
Every explanation from the 2nd through 10th includes a ‘thou shall not’ as well as a ‘thou shall.’ “We should NOT curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie or deceive by His name. BUT, call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks.”
E. Call Upon Me
God gives us His name to use when we are in trouble, any and every trouble. Paul writes to the Philippians saying, “pray without ceasing.” Prayers are not always formal prayers with hands folded and eyes closed. Sometimes it’s simply calling upon God in our moment or time of trouble asking for God’s help and deliverance – for ourselves and for others, precisely the reason He has given us His name.
It is also good that we should call upon God with our praise and thanks for hearing us when we do use His name and call upon Him. Think about what it means that God has given us His name for us to call upon Him for His help in every trouble, His forgiveness for all of our sins, His guidance in our daily life, His peace that this world cannot give.
This is a marvelous commandment that we should get to know well.