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Order Of Worship (Liturgy)
Read: 1 Thessalonians 1
Text: Lord’s Day 36&37 (B.C. art. 29, p. 464 top paragraph only)
Sing: Psalm 47: 2,3
Hymn 7: 1, 2, 4
Psalm 145: 1, 2 and Hymn 39: 2
Hymn 64: 1, 2
Hymn 47: 2, 3, 9, 10
Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters:
When we think about the sin against the third commandment, then we usually think about unbelievers. They especially are the ones who blaspheme God's name. We hear them do it in the workplace, in the media, and in the public places. They use God's name in vain all the time.
And so, we do not see ourselves so much addressed in this commandment. This applies more to outsiders. What, perhaps, does apply to us is the fact that sometimes we are silent bystanders. People will use God's name in vain in our presence, and we don't always say something. We let it go. We feel guilty about that. But for the rest we are somewhat proud of the fact that we are pretty good in keeping this third commandment. We don't use God's name in vain. Our neighbours and our fellow workers sometimes even comment on that. They notice that we are different from them in that regard. And so, at least with this commandment we can have some peace.
However, when we deal with the 10 Commandments, we have to think about the context in which they were given. That's also true of this commandment. This commandment, like the rest of them, was given to God's people. That still applies today. This commandment is first of all for you and for me. The Lord our God gave us a special commandment to deal with the way we use his name. And so, he is greatly concerned about you and about me in that regard. He knows that we take his name in vain in so many ways. We do it all the time.
How do we do that? And why do you think he is so deeply concerned?
Well, when you speak about the name of God, then you speak about his reputation. His name reveals who he is. His name refers to everything that he stands for: his power, his greatness, his majesty, his loving kindness and mercy, his unassailable and liberating justice. And when we blaspheme God's name, then we sully his reputation.
It pleases him to use us to proclaim his name; to use us as his children to magnify his name, to make it great. For we are the crown of his creation. We are his image bearers. He gave us that task so that we can promote God's kingdom. And if we blaspheme God's name by our words and actions, then we stand in the way of such promotion of God's kingdom. And so, it is important for us to ask how we as God's people blaspheme his name. That's what I will preach to you about this morning. The theme is as follows:
WE HAVE TO MAGNIFY GOD'S NAME
1. In our private lives;
2. In our public lives.
Israel blasphemed God's name in numerous ways. She did that from the word go. How? Think about how Israel conducted herself in the desert. First the Lord God rescued them miraculously from the hands of the Egyptians. Nothing like that had ever before happened on the earth. And then, once they were in the desert, he gave all of them enough food for every day. He also gave them water to drink. These things were no small feats. You cannot grow a crop in the desert. There was little water to go around as well. Yet, God made these things available to them in abundance. He sent them manna from heaven every day (except for on Saturdays of course). He miraculously produced water from the rocks. He also made sure that their clothing and that their shoewear would not wear out. To top it all off he also defeated their enemies.
But, nevertheless they treated God as if he had little or no power or influence. They emptied the content of his name by complaining and murmuring. They were afraid that they were going to die there in the desert. In spite of God's miracles they did not trust him. They wanted to take things into their own hands. They were afraid of the future. Everything was too uncertain for them. They wanted to have greater control over their own lives.
And so what did they do? They went to the world to see how the people of the world got along, how they controlled their future. And the Israelites noted that the world got along just fine, thank you. It seemed to them that the people of the world were even doing better. They had plenty of food and drink and clothing. And these heathens also had their own gods who controlled every sphere of activity. They saw that already in Egypt. In Egypt already they had fallen into idolatry. In the desert they again fell into that same sin. Idol worship was attractive to them. Why?
Well, in their way of thinking those foreign gods gave a much greater sense of security. Those gods are more directly involved in your everyday life. You have gods, for example who can regulate the weather, and gods who have control over the sea, or the mountains, or the realm of the dead. Again others look after the growth of the crops and the cattle.
You can also control these gods. For if you knew the secret name of a certain god, then you could receive certain things from him; things that others could not receive. If you knew that secret name, then you had power over that god. To know the name of a certain god and to pay attention to him or her in a flattering way was important. If you knew exactly what pleased your particular God, then you had it made in the shade. And then you could control your own destiny. You could receive from that god what you wanted.
Brothers and sisters, boys and girls, in this day and age we also have our gods, our idols. They come in all shapes and sizes. As we learned from the previous catechism, such a god is anything you put your trust in, aside from the Lord your God who has revealed himself in his word. You can make a god out of another person, for example, out of a fellow human being. Knowing a specific person's name gives you a certain influence with him.
Mr. Karlheinz Schreiber, who has been in the news lately, was well aware of that. He used the former prime minister of Canada, Mr. Brian Mulroney, for his own purposes. Mr. Mulroney knows important people. He calls many of the leaders of the world by their first name. Mr. Schreiber paid Mr. Mulroney large amounts of money to peddle his influence with these men so that he could sell them his wares.
Isn't that what we do too? It is good to know names. It's not always what you know that gets you ahead, but whom you know. We look to those who have influence to help us get ahead. That's how this world operates.
And if you do that in a lawful manner, then that is not necessarily wrong. But if that is the only thing you depend on to get ahead in life, then you are on shaky ground. And then you will also easily compromise your ethics.
We can have idols in every sphere of our life. When it comes to our health, we can make our doctor our idol. When it comes to our emotional well-being, then your wife, or your husband, or your children, or your psychiatrist or counsellor may become your idol. We can have many gods in our lives, regulating every aspect of our life.
In our daily lives we go from crisis to crisis. And time and again we look for solutions. And we want quick fixes. And so we employ quick remedies. And we look to whatever is closest at hand that will help us.
And so we easily put our trust in a god if we think that that god can quickly help us out of our predicament. That's what the heathens did during biblical times. And that's what we do today.
But do you know what those earthly gods cannot do? They cannot give you the renewal of all of life. They only give temporary solutions. They certainly cannot do what the Lord our God can do. For the Lord our God does not just concern himself with our daily lives, but with the totality of our lives. Our God rules over heaven and earth. He rules and does not allow himself to be ruled or manipulated. And he is the Almighty God who is bringing this world to its final destination. He is in the business of saving this world, and to give it freedom from sin and death and Satan. The gods of this world cannot do that. The only give temporary solutions to minor problems.
God's name is often mentioned in the Bible. God reveals himself through the many names given to him. When you think about God's name then you have to think about what he has done. We may know him as the Creator, as the Saviour of Israel from Egypt; as the helper of Israel. We may know him as our Helper. That is why we confess this at the beginning of every worship service. And he has attached his reputation to his name. He is the God who promised that he would give us the Messiah. He promised that he would give us a king from David's House, who would bring eternal peace over the whole world. And he delivered.
When you know him, and his many names, then you have a very powerful God on your side. Then you may take his name upon your lips and call out to him, to the Almighty Creator. For you know him. He has revealed himself to you. He has revealed to you what he has done and what he will do.
But, if you do not act in accordance with your faith, in accordance with the content of his many names, then you blaspheme his name. You sin against the third Commandment when you are full of anxiety about everyday problems, and you put God on the back burner. Then you turn first to your banker, to your friends, to your business associates, to your doctor to help you out of your crisis. And perhaps as an afterthought you call upon the name of God.
Brothers and sisters, boys and girls, you first must trust in God before you trust in anyone or anything else. Your must trust in the Lord your God to send you the help when you need it. And you trust in him that he will do that in his own time and in his own way. You cannot control God. You do not rule him. He rules. If you do not want to sin against the third Commandment, then you put your whole life at his disposal.
If you deny that God is totally in control of your life, then you blaspheme his name. If you deny that he can help you out of your troubles, then you also blaspheme his name. If you deny the promises that he makes to you and to your children, that he will forgive you your sins and give you eternal life, then you blaspheme his name as well. If you deny that our children belong to the covenant, and you do not want them baptized until they make a decision themselves, then you also blaspheme his name. For then you scorn his promises. Then you deny the fact that he is in control of your life from the cradle to the grave.
You have to magnify God's name in your own private life. To magnify something means to make it clearly visible. It means to take it under the microscope so that you can take a look at every aspect of God's name. That's what you have to do every day. You have to start off your day by drawing attention to God's name. You call upon his name in prayer. You call upon him to guide you during the day as you make your many ethical decisions. You think about what his name means for you in your life, and not just in your private life, but also in your public life. We come to the second point.
2. When unbelievers take God's name in vain, they do so out of ignorance. They don't know him. We take offense at their abuse of God's name in the way that they take his name upon their lips. We want them to use more respectable language. Rebuking them, however, about the misuse of God's name, does not really teach them to honour God's name. As believers, as those who know what God's name stands for, we have to make them aware of the greatness of God's name.
How do you do that? Well, brothers and sisters, you do that by praising God's name in all your words and works, as answer 99 of the Heidelberg catechism says.
Are you concerned that we are not doing enough about evangelism? That's a very legitimate concern. For indeed, that is what we should be doing. We should magnify God's name in our public lives. But how do you do that? Have you ever wondered about that? What do you think the evangelism is all about? Do you think it is about organizing all kinds of events, for example, or knocking on people's doors, or standing on a street corner, or organizing a soup kitchen? Those are good things. But, they don't mean anything at all, if you in your own life don't evangelize by the things you say and do. All of those other activities are only the icing on the cake. It is not so hard to organize events outside of your own circle of friends and your own family. In that way you can leave your own private life intact. But, if you want to evangelize, you also have to do that in your public life. In the life you live every day.
The best way to evangelize is to make God's name great in the way that you present yourself to others. What kind of a person do your fellow workers see? What kind of person do your children see, or your wife or husband or your parents? No doubt your fellow workers know that you're a Christian. They know that you go to church etc. Those things are hard to hide. But do they know what a Christian is by looking at you? A Christian is not just someone who goes to church. No, a Christian is someone who reflects the qualities of Christ.
We read together from article 29 of the Belgic confession. And it speaks there about the marks of Christians. It says there that the Christian believes in Jesus Christ as the only Saviour, he flees from sin and pursues righteousness, and he loves the true God and his neighbour. Does that sound like you?
Do you know what one of the biggest stumbling blocks is to others coming to know the Lord Jesus Christ? It is their misconception of who God is. And they have the misconception often because of you and of me. If you want to make an impact on others, then you have to be a witness in your every day life, in your workplace, in your place of recreation, in your neighbourhood. That is the best kind of the evangelism.
You first of all have to do that with your mouth. When someone uses the name "Jesus Christ" in vain, then you can introduce that name to them. You can ask them, "Do you know that name as well? Let me tell you what that name means to me. What he has done for me. And that's why I go to church. I would love to invite you along. So that you can also know more about that name." Have you ever done that? Don't be shy. Your neighbours know little or nothing about God. And what they do know is a total misrepresentation. God’s name does not mean anything to them, it’s just a word to them. You have to magnify his name to them.
As Christians we have to bear a lot of blame for not revealing God’s name in a way that He should be known. The media represents fundamentalist Christians as intolerant bigots who worship a God who is angry with all kinds of sinners, such as homosexuals, pedophiles, Muslim people etc. etc. And they are able to use plenty of quotes from the various Christian groups to back up their claim. That is where the people of the world get information from about God. Liberal Christians represent God as a God of love, and people like that better. They give the impression that if you do something wrong, he will not hold you responsible. And so, the world would rather think of such a kind of God. They want a God of love. A God who always forgives, and won’t hold you responsible for sin. And so the world has a totally wrong picture of who God is and what his name means.
There are lots of opportunities to dispel those wrong notions. You can write to the newspapers. You can make his name known. Do you do that? Everyone has the opportunity to make God’s name great.
But, you have to be in a position where people will listen to you. In other words, you must have credibility. If you're just as anxious about your daily troubles as the rest of the world; if you handle your problems in much the same way as your fellow workers, and as your neighbours, then you will not have much credibility with them. If you cheat and elbow your way through life, then you blaspheme the name of God which is written on your forehead.
If you played fast and lose with the truth, and do not keep your promises, like many unbelievers do, then you also blaspheme God's name. Scripture tells us that our yes must be yes and our no, no. When we make a promise, then it is like swearing an oath. A Christian does not promise that he is going to do something, if he knows full well that he is not likely able to keep that promise. He is supposed to be an image bearer of God. And God always keeps his promises. He is a faithful God. You can rely on him. And in our business dealings, and in all our dealings we too have to be reliable. We have to stand out like a beacon. If we are not then we blaspheme God's name.
You may say, well we are all sinners just like the rest of the world. We slip and we fall. You are right. And therefore, that is also how you should model the fact that you are a Christian. Article 29 of the Belgic confession says that although great weakness remains in us as Christians, we fight against it by the Spirit all the days of our lives. And now comes the important sentence, "they appeal constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of Jesus Christ, and only have forgiveness of their sins through faith in him."
How does your neighbour see you? As a holy roller? As someone better than they? Or do they see a humble man or woman who constantly fights against his or her sins, and who asks for the forgiveness of sins, also of their fellow workers, when they have wronged them? Is that you? Is that how you hold God's name high? Is that also what you do in your own home? For if you want to talk about being a prophet in the world, then you had better do that first of all in the home. You have to model that to your children and to your wife or husband. Then you do the same thing in the church. We sin against each other. But if you do, you had better admit it, and humble yourself.
If that is how you conduct yourself, then you magnify God's name in your life.
We read together from Paul's letter to the Thessalonians. Paul commends the church there for being a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. He says in verse eight "your faith in God has become known everywhere." How do you think that happened? How do you think their faith became known throughout that whole region? How did they attract others to their church? Well, Paul makes that quite clear. He writes in verse nine about the kind of reception that they gave to the apostle Paul. In other words they were totally open to his ministry. They were eager to hear God's words from his lips. And they showed him hospitality. And as a result, as he says further in that verse, they turned from idols to serve the living and true God. They put Paul’s words into action.
The people around them saw how different they were from the others. They saw that from their conduct. If you conduct yourself differently from the world, then you are noticed. And then you also will need to explain that to others. Those Thessalonians suddenly turned from one way of living to another way of living. That requires an explanation. Then they will have spoken about why they conduct themselves in the way that they do. For the people do not just get to know our God by the kinds of lives we live, but especially by the way we give credit to God for everything. He is sovereign over our whole lives. He rules.
As I said earlier, there are all kinds of idols that we serve. Also today. Do your neighbours, do your fellow workers, do your children see that you do not serve the same idols as the world? Do they see that God's name is more important to you than anything else in your whole life? Do you also speak about that with them?
What about in your family? Do you just set the rules in the family without an explanation? Do your children know why there are rules? Do they understand that they are Christian principles and why?
Brothers and sisters, when it comes to the third Commandment there are still lots of things that we have to work on. Every day. Because of our sins we blaspheme God's name all the time. It is comforting to know that the Lord our God is a merciful God. If we are truly sorry for her sins, then he will also forgive us. In spite of the way that we are, God loves us. Isn't that great? That's the message you may also give to others. God forgives repentant sinners. He wants to give them eternal life. He wants to dwell with you for ever and ever so that you may magnify his great and wonderful name all the days of your life here on earth and into eternity. Blessed be God's great name. Amen
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2007, Rev. W.B. Slomp
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