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Words of Love: Don’t Trivialize My Name (Horizons 2)

Love Carved in Stone: A Fresh Look at the Ten Commandments
Lesson 2:  “Words of Love: Don’t Trivialize My Name
Exodus 20:7; Matthew 7:21-23

As a child, I looked up the meaning of my name, and the name book said: “Like a beautiful rose; an ancient deep-sea monster”! “Rosalind” is Germanic in origin and combines words for horse, “(h)ros,” and “linti,” which means “soft, gentle, tender, weak.” Thus, the original meaning is a docile horse. Hmm, this doesn’t quite fit me.

Knowing the ancient meaning of my name really doesn’t tell you much about me. You would have to get to know me — what I value, my eccentricities, humor, habits and moods. With any person that we know well, we link their name with their character. Some people’s names are associated with integrity and honesty, while other people’s names are associated with gossip and finding fault. To use God’s name correctly, we must know what God stands for and what God values.

“You shall not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance” (Contemporary English Version). Eugenia Anne Gamble tells us the Hebrew word variously translated as “take in vain,” “misuse” or “of no significance” is lassaw. Lassaw means “false, lying, deceptive or deceitful” or “useless, vain, petty, pointless and ineffective.” Thus, to misuse the Lord’s name is to link God with anything that is “deceptive, petty or trivial.” The Westminster Larger Catechism tells us that to misuse God’s name is to link God in any way to that opposes God’s truth, grace and ways for sinister ends, being ashamed of God’s name or a shame to it. Conversely, God’s name is honored in truthfulness, trustworthiness and seeking our neighbor’s good.

To use God’s name properly depends on our knowing God’s character; so, we spend time getting to know God. We take the time to read chapters of Scripture and books of the Bible — not just a few lines here and there. We can read the Scripture out loud so that we pay more attention to God’s word. We may journal about that Scripture, putting down what questions are raised for us and how the Scripture applies to our lives. We spend time in prayer, making sure that we balance our prayer life with confession, thanksgiving, adoration of God as well as praying for others and ourselves. To use God’s name properly means that we reflect honestly on our desires, resentments and pleasures and pray to do God’s will throughout each day.

Growing up, taking the Lord’s name in vain primarily referred to cussing or saying “Oh God!” in anything other than a prayer. But as Gamble points out, the meaning of the commandment has incredible depth. Which of the following actions do you think is misusing the name of God? Which actions depict the character and name of God?

  1. Aligning God with my political party, the actions of my nation or with what I want.
  2. Doing what is just and merciful.
  3. Telling a depressed person that she just needs to take better care of herself.
  4. Learning what it is like to be a working poor person.
  5. Telling an abused woman or child, “Surely, it’s not that bad.”
  6. Initiating forgiveness or reconciliation even when we believe we are not at fault.
  7. Seeking the downfall of a competitor.
  8. Gossiping, maligning the character of a person or a group.
  9. Condoning racism, hate speech, lust or injustice by keeping silent.
  10. Putting worship as one good choice among many, or insincerely telling someone that we will pray for her or him.

After reading Gamble’s thought-provoking writings on the Third Word, I have added a different ending to the prayers that I pray in private and public. Instead of saying, “in Jesus’ name,” I now say, “in the character, purpose and will of Jesus.” It helps me evaluate my words and actions to see if they are true to what God intends for human life and God’s creation.

At the same time as we evaluate our prayers by the standard of God’s will, it is important to remember that we do not suppress our feelings of anger, vengeance and bitterness. We take our cue from the Psalms whose writers complain, ask God to wipe out enemies and express depths of despair as well as lyrically praise the steadfast love of God. Like a child, we come to God giving our whole selves, warts and all. We don’t act on our destructive feelings. Rather we leave those thoughts and feelings with God, trusting that God will do what is best.

rosalind-banburyRosalind Banbury is the interim pastor of Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church in Fishersville, Virginia.

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