Sunday Catechism: What’s in a Name?

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Q: What is the third commandment?

A: The third commandment is: You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.

This commandment takes on particular resonance with Pastor Paul’s recent sermon on what the book of Proverbs has to say about words. Language sets the terms for understanding, not only in the representation of something to others but also to ourselves. It influences our imagination, and it projects our worldview. It can heal or destroy. It is the means of worship, community, and evangelism.

This is a commandment not so much about cursing or censorship, but reputation. What do we project to others and ourselves about who we are and whom we serve?

In an age of global communication and expansive information, reputation has become a preeminent concern. There is, however, a capitalist tinge to reputation these days; everything is seen as a brand to manage, and tips abound to market everything from your business to your assets to yourself to your children. Even the sharing economy is still a marketplace where your name is only important in transactional value.

God is not concerned about his brand, however, and we don’t have to be concerned about selling Him or garnering for him good reviews. We don’t need to meretriciously cheerlead the church or plug away at labored optimism. We don’t need to wave flags or scape goats. Again, God should not, will not, cannot be reduced to an abstraction that can be publicized or a commodity that can be distributed. He is a person. And He has given us His name.

That means He has extended to us an invitation to know Him and address Him. And He has given us the privilege to share His name to others. He chooses to gift his glory through brokenness and trades in attraction for fellowship. And in that merciful union with Him, we take on that name of His, so it is “we” not “us and Him.”

As our pastor has repeated every week about wisdom, it’s not about rhetoric, strategies for self-preservation, or hacks for life — it’s about how we reflect whose side we’re on. You meet someone whose very identity is wrapped up in some association, that they’re a farmer, or a martial artist, or a Marine, or a socialite, and that tag is reflected in their bearing, their dress, their outlook and, yes, their language.

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