Thou Shalt Not…
God’s Law in the Life of the Baptized
The Second Commandment
A name is a valuable thing. I remember when I first started teaching at the high school from which I had graduated. Several of my former teachers were now my colleagues, which was an awkward transition for me. I found it difficult to move from addressing these people as Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so to addressing them by their first names. I had spent so many years as their student that it took time before I was comfortable addressing them in any other way. But with the new relationship as colleagues instead of teacher/student came a new form of address. Titles are formal, names are personal. When you give someone your name, you are establishing a more personal relationship with that person than if you ask them to address you by a title.
It is helpful to remember that distinction when considering the place of the Second Commandment in the life of the baptized. The Second Commandment addresses the proper use of God’s name among his people. What a tremendous blessing it is to have this name among us! When Moses asked God what to say when the Israelites asked who sent him into Egypt to deliver them, God’s response was to have Moses tell the Israelites that Yahweh sent them [Exodus 3:13-15]. He did not have Moses tell the Israelites that the Sovereign Lord or the Almighty Creator of the Universe had sent him. Rather, he gave the Israelites his personal name, establishing a personal relationship with them.
He gives us this same relationship when we are baptized into the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is a tremendous blessing to have this name, for with this name comes God himself. If I am in a crowded room and I hear someone call out, “Aaron,” I turn and look. They have gotten my attention. Our Lord has given us his name in order that we can call it out, praying confident that he hears us. We call out his name to get his attention in order that we might pray, praise, and give thanks. That is the godly use of God’s name.
Unfortunately, there was a time where God’s people treated his name as if the only reason God had given it to them was in order that he might punish them for abusing it. In an effort to avoid misusing God’s name, the Israelites of the Old Testament stopped using it entirely. They replaced the personal name of God with titles, referring to him as God or Lord or by some other term of reverence. Modern Judaism has adopted the same practice. These titles are by no means wrong or sinful, and there are times where they are even more appropriate than the personal name of God. Yet we would do well to remember that in baptism our Lord has made us his children and established a personal relationship with each of us. He has given us his name in order that we use it, not live in fear of it. In one popular book/movie series, the main villain creates an aura of fear by casting off his birth name and instead giving himself a more ominous sounding moniker. He then curses this new name so that anyone who uses it will be killed. The result is that people live in fear of his name and begin to speak of him as “You know who” and “He who must not be named.” The terror associated with his name led people to avoid using it altogether.
Our Lord is different. He has given us his name not so that we might fear it, but precisely so that we might use it. He tells us to call upon him in the day of trouble [Psalm 50:15]. He promises that where he has caused his name to be remembered he will bless us [Exodus 20:24]. In the incarnation of Jesus we are given the one name under heaven through which we can have salvation [Acts 4:12]. While it is certainly important for us as the baptized people of God to be careful not to use God’s name carelessly or in anger, such as deceitfully swearing an oath by God’s name when we have no intention of keeping it or by calling down the eternal fires of damnation upon the hammer with which we have just pounded our thumb, it is equally important for us to use his name in a godly manner. That is why he has given it to us.
Thus, the second commandment reminds us of the blessing we have in God’s name. It is indeed a powerful name, one which we should not use lightly, but which we should use nonetheless. As the baptized children of God, the power of his name is ours, so we call upon him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.