Who you are is how you lead. Authenticity and integrity are two characteristics of effective and courageous leadership. What is the basis of those characteristics? Today, let’s explore one fundamental truth of leading as a Jesus follower.
Read Exodus 20:7
Below are three different versions of the same scripture text. Each version portrays the same message but each in a unique way.
- New King James Version: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”
- New Revised Standard Version: “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.”
- Common English Bible: “Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance; the Lord won’t forgive anyone who uses his name that way.”
Don’t mess around with God’s name. Take it seriously. Live it in high regard. Who you are is how you lead.
Name is important to God. There was a moment when Moses had the nerve to ask God, “Who shall I say sent me?” or “What is your name?” God was gracious and answered, “I AM.” The name translated in Hebrew is YHWH.
Hebrew scholars have noted that the letters YHWH, when pronounced, sound like breathing.
YH (inhale) WH (exhale).
There is so much more to say at this point, but what is important to know is that God’s name is as important as breathing. YHWH. YHWH. YHWH. Name is important to God.
The Hebrews were a nomadic tribe. They did not stay in one place long enough to take the name of a nation like the Canaanites, the Egyptians, or the Assyrians. So, they took the name of their deity, YHWH. For them, taking the name was serious business. As the scripture says not to be taken lightly or in vain. They understood that their very lives depended upon the name of God.
As a Christian, you have taken the name of Christ. You have particularly taken the name of Jesus Christ, God’s name in the flesh. In the same sense as the Hebrews understood their very lives depended upon the name of God, who you are, as a Christian, is important.
The words “in vain” mean “empty and meaningless, of no account, of no seriousness.” For the Hebrews, to take the name of God was to live a holy and different life. So, to take the name of God in vain meant that taking God’s name had little significance or impact on their lives. Instead of being holy and different in their living, they continued to live the same old life, have the same old attitudes, and relate to people with the same old prejudices. The name meant nothing, so life did not change.
From this perspective, there are two more things to consider. The first is, taking God’s name in vain is more than saying God’s name in profanity. You don’t take the name of God in vain with your lips. You take it in vain with your living. Somehow, in our culture, we have reduced taking God’s name in vain to saying God’s name in a vulgar way. Please understand, I am not saying that is good. But I am saying, you take God’s name in vain when you confess you are a child of God, and you live contrary to God’s purposes.
The second thing is, you can’t take God’s name in vain if you have not taken God’s name. We often point to people outside the church who use God’s name in profane and vulgar ways. But, if they have never taken the name of God, how can they take God’s name in vain? It is those of us inside the church, we nice people who would not dare let one little cuss word fall over our lips, whose lives are totally unchanged by the grace of God, who take the name in vain. In other words, if you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus, but you live your life outside the love of God for you and for others, you have taken God’s name in vain.
If you are still with me, let’s go a little deeper. Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Those words can be translated as Jesus saying, “Be different as I am different” or “Be different as God is different.” The question is, what is it that distinguishes you? What makes you different?
The Hebrews had the idea that when God gave you a name God made you a daughter or a son. You were adopted into God’s family. You were a child of God. From that time on, God’s name was important to you. That is what Jesus is teaching when he says to pray, “Hallowed be thy name.” Let your name mean something.
At your baptism, you were given God’s name. You were baptized in the name of the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You were claimed by God as a daughter or son of God. As a child of God, you live as one of God’s beloved children.
In the Flesh
Why is this important?
God is made known to people and is identified in and through those of us who wear God’s name. You can see God in the lightning and hear God in the thunder; you can experience magnificent sunsets and breathtaking views of mountains; you can experience God in the wind and watch the mighty waves roll; but God is made known to us in human flesh.
If God is to be known in the world around us, and known by the people we encounter, it will be because we are wearing God’s name. We are identified as God’s children.
In John 17, Jesus prays that his followers might be kept “in the name.” The way our churches and our communities will experience God’s love is to see and experience God’s love being translated into flesh, your flesh, through your living and loving relationships. Just as Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” You and I continue the incarnation over and over and over again. We live our lives in such a way that we say, “If you have seen me, you have seen Jesus and if you have seen Jesus, you have seen God.” The world will be transformed by God’s name becoming flesh in you and me.
You translate who God is by your words, your prayers, and your preaching, and ultimately by the way you relate to people in God’s name. To take God’s name in vain is to give people the wrong or distorted image of God.
As a teenager, I delivered newspapers, cut grass, and did odd jobs in the neighborhood to earn money for school. I opened a bank account at the bank in town. When I needed or wanted spending money I would go to the grocery store and cash a check. It was easy and simple. I made my check out for cash and Freda, the woman at the cash register, would give me the amount of the check. The system worked well until I graduated from high school and went off to college.
When I got to college, I opened an account and transferred my money to the bank where I was living. One weekend, while home visiting, I wanted spending money. I went to the grocery store, where I had gone for years, to cash a check. I made my check out for cash and gave it to Freda, the same woman who had cashed my checks for years. She looked at the check and then looked at me, and said, “We don’t cash out-of-town checks.”
I said, “But you have been cashing my checks for years. Can’t you cash this one for me?”
Before she could say anything, a man standing in line behind me said, “Freda, cash his check. That is Dick Bias’s boy. Look at him. He is a spitting’ image of his old man.”
She said, “He does resemble Richard. Why didn’t you tell me you were Richard’s boy?” With that, she took my check and cashed it.
The man in line had seen in me the image of my father. I didn’t have a name on my forehead. I didn’t tell him my name. He said it was the “image of my father” that identified me.
The Image of God
When people see you as a person of peace, of reconciliation, of mercy, of humility, of kindness, they say “I know who you are. You are God’s daughter,” or “You are God’s son.” They see Jesus, the image of God, in you.
The apostle Paul called it the “fruit of the Spirit,” “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If you live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.”
In other words, “Don’t mess around with God’s name. Take it seriously. Live it in high regard.”
How will you define God’s name today? What will set you apart? How will you live differently with the people you meet? What will you do to show them whose name you wear? In whom will you identify God’s image? How will you let them know you have seen Jesus in them?
Inhale YH, exhale WH. YHWH.
- How did you define God’s name today?
- How did you live in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control with the people around you?
- In whom did you see God?
- With whom could you have responded with more grace?
- With whom might you need forgiveness?
- Give God thanks for the day and for the people who are helping you become more who God created you to be.
“O God, you have given me your name and you have asked me to keep it holy, to keep it different. By your grace, keep me in your name so that the world might see you in me and experience your love through my living. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Who you are is how you lead.