by Mike McHugh
It was the year 1776, and the American colonies were just beginning their epic struggle for liberty in order that they might be free from the control of Great Britain. Among the many challenges facing the leader of the Colonial forces, George Washington, at this early stage was the problem of profanity and blasphemy within the ranks of his soldiers. This problem so distressed General Washington that he issued the following order to all of his troops in July of 1776 from his headquarters in New York:
“The General is sorry to be informed that the foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing, a vice heretofore little known in an American Army, is growing into fashion. He hopes the officers will, by example as well as influence, endeavor to check it, and that both they and the men will reflect, that we can have little hope of the blessing of Heaven on our arms, if we insult it by our impiety and folly. Added to this, it is a vice so mean and low, without any temptation, that every man of sense and character detests and despises it. (signed) G. Washington”
Amazing as it may seem, there was a time in the Western world when most people actually took seriously their duty to honor God’s name. As recently as the early twentieth century, most of the countries in Europe and North America had laws that provided criminal penalties for public blasphemy or profanity. The influence of Christianity upon these cultures was such that even common men understood the connection between respecting God and national prosperity. Not surprisingly, however, as Christianity ceased to be the primary culture carrier in the West nearly a century ago, people have gradually become more and more careless and irreverent in regard to God’s name and reputation.
No family or nation can expect to prosper if they take the name of Almighty God in vain. More than ever, Christian home school parents living in the twenty-first century must take steps to ensure that their children are not following the lawless and irreverent example of so many within modern society. Parents must teach their children the full meaning of the third commandment which states: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.”
Teaching children to walk in the fear of the Lord may not always be popular, but it remains one of the primary duties of those who operate Christian households. In regard to the third commandment, parents should emphasize:
Children of all ages need to know that because God is holy and majestic, as well as kind and benevolent toward the least of men, His name is only to be spoken for the purpose of worship, praise, or intercession. Leviticus 24 records how God Himself prescribed the death penalty for those who openly blasphemed, thereby revealing to mankind the extent to which He hates such a sin.
The Holy Scriptures consistently teach that names are important to the people of God, as well as to God Himself. It was the Lord who determined that it was important to change Abrams name (Exalted Father) to Abraham (Father of a Multitude). He also changed the name of Jacob (Supplanter) to Israel (Prince of God). In the pages of the Old Testament we learn that Joseph knew the importance of names as he carefully selected names for his sons, Genesis 41:51,52. Moses did this as well, Exodus 2:22.
In light of the importance of names to God and to honorable men, we should hold in respect and honor the name(s) of the Lord as we seek to “give honor to whom honor is due.” The following Scripture passages support this principle: 1 Chronicles 16:25-29, Psalm 29:2,96:8, James 3:1-10, Revelation 4:11.
Violating the third commandment by failing to honor and revere God’s name of necessity involves a sin against the first commandment as well, even as it makes the keeping of the second commandment impossible. Sinning against the holy name of God is, in fact, a sin against the entire first table of the Law. It should also be added that cowardly silence in the presence of those who profane God’s name, places one in the position of being an accessory to a crime and in danger of heavenly judgement. As Matthew 10:33 clearly teaches, if we fail to testify to God’s honor before men, and consequently deny Him, Christ will deny that He knew us before the face of His Father.
One of the most common violations of the third commandment often goes undetected, even by those who would regard themselves as Christians. The reason why many violate the third commandment is that they assume that it is permissible for them to use God’s name as long as they do not utter overtly disrespectful/dishonoring oaths or foul remarks in reference to Almighty God. The truth, however, is that this commandment directs men to not take or use the name of God in a vain i.e. empty/careless manner.
How often do we find young people, even those raised in Christian home schools, casually uttering God’s name without any intention of giving Him praise or honor? Perhaps more common yet, is the habit that many believers have of using God’s name as they rush through a brief period of prayer with little or no thought about what they are saying. In either case, the name of God is being used in vain, due to the carelessness or thoughtlessness of the speaker. So-called innocent oaths are another way that people use the name of God when they have no proper grounds for doing so. Statements such as “My Lord”, or “O Jeez”, are but two examples of the type of vain speech that violates the third commandment. Home educators must train their children to fully comprehend the meaning of God’s commands, so that they may avoid these foolish speech patterns!
Young people must be taught that the ability to honor God’s name ultimately comes from a heart that is in a right spiritual relationship with its Maker. When the Apostle Peter admonished, “Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord”, 1 Peter 3:15, he meant; Set your mind upon things above in order that you might be able to give Christ a distinct place of honor as both your King and Master. The people of God need to comprehend that “Hallowed be Thy Name” is more than a mere declaration in the Lord’s Prayer, it is also a petition. Those who invoke this sacred petition before the face of God are requesting that the Lord would arise and enable them to set apart the name of Almighty God for only those uses that truly exalt His majestic honor.
To hallow God’s name also implies the glorification of it. To glorify His name does not mean, of course, that we make it glorious; for it was full of divine glory before the world was made, and men can not add to that glory (John 17:5). It means that we are to treat it in accordance with its inherent glory, and to cause the world to see and acknowledge its supreme sacredness. This was the concern of the saints in both the Old and New Testament era. Thus the psalmist prayed, “Not unto us, O Jehovah, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory,” Psalm 115:1. So Solomon dedicated the temple with the prayer, “… that all the peoples of the earth may know thy name, to fear thee, as doth thy people Israel” (1 Kings 8:43b). Paul the Apostle spoke to believers and told them, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). And the greatest example is that of Christ Himself, who prayed, “Father, glorify thy name” (John 12:28). And as this prayer was at once answered in the affirmative, verse 28b, we know that nothing is more pleasing to God than that His children should follow their Lord’s example.
By any reasonable or objective standard, it needs to be acknowledged by leaders within the Church of Jesus Christ that they have done a very poor job of exhorting their members to uphold the third commandment. This confession is no less needful from the current generation of Christian parents who have often failed to adequately train their children to hallow the name of the Lord. The good news for church leaders and parents in the twenty-first century, however, is that God is merciful and slow to anger. He is giving His people the opportunity to mend their ways, in order that they may begin to direct their churches and households into a proper honoring of His name. In the case of parents who are involved in home education, it is my prayer that such adults will capture a vision for the blessing that awaits those families that honor God’s name in a comprehensive manner, and determine to train their children, both by precept and example, to glorify God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and lips.
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter, by opening our hearts to listen to the One who declared, “… for them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.” (1 Samuel 2:30b)
Copyright 2008 Michael J. McHugh
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