Hallowed Be Thy Name

Matthew 6:9
How often do we think about our own names? It can give you a weird feeling if you think about it for too long, since thinking about your own name usually means too deep a look inside yourself. And yet, it can be healthy every now and then to look at your name, and ask yourself the question, “What does my name mean?” Often, what we’ll discover is that we don’t know what our name means, or if we do, it doesn’t really have anything to do with who we are. It is quite different with God. His name means something important. And His name is extremely important when it comes to knowing who He is.

We look today at the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer. It has to do with God’s name. Let’s take a look at this request one word at a time. The first word is “Hallowed.” That is not a word that we use very often in day to day conversation. In fact, just about the only time we ever hear it is when we say this prayer. What does the word “hallow” mean? It means “to set apart for special use.” So here it means that we do not use God’s name like we use any other name. There is something special, something different about it.

Of course, we cannot even begin to think about this petition without immediately being reminded of the third commandment: “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.” What is stated there in a negative form (do not misuse the name of the Lord) is here in Matthew stated in a positive form (you shall use it properly).

What comes to mind for most of us when we think of this commandment is swearing. Certainly, swearing is forbidden under the third commandment. So also is the use of God’s name in a joking manner, or using it as an exclamation. In fact, the misuse of God’s name should disturb us even more than common curse words. We should stand up for God’s name when it is being misused. However, there is a right and a wrong way to do that. We should stand up for God’s name in a way that impacts people with the knowledge that we really do care about God’s name. In other words, we should speak the truth in love. Here is one example of someone doing just that: the story is told by Rob Schenck: “Some years ago, after a long speaking itinerary in the midwest, I boarded a late-night flight to return home. I was tired and looking forward to a rest. Sitting behind me in the airplane were two salesmen whose conversation was peppered with profanity. I had finally had it when they began running the Lord’s name into the gutter. I raised myself up from my seat and turned around so that I was looking down on them from my perch. Then I asked, ‘Are either one of you in the ministry?’ The one in the aisle seat raised his eyebrows incredulously and said, ‘What the…would ever make you think that?’ ‘Well, I am in the ministry,’ I said with a smile. ‘And I am amazed at your communication skills. You just said God, damn, hell, and Jesus Christ in one sentence. I can’t get all of that into a whole sermon!’ They both blushed and were silent during the entire rest of the trip!”

Here is what our catechisms have to say about this part of the Lord’s Prayer: Q 122: What does the first reqest mean? A. Hallowed be your name means: Help us to really know you, to bless, worship, and praise you for all your works and for all that shines forth from them: your almighty power, wisdom, kindness, justice, mercy, and truth. And it means: Help us to direct all our living- what we think, say, and do- so that your name will never be blasphemed because of us but always honored and praised. The WLC: Q 190: What do we pray for in the first petition? A. In the first petition, (which is, Hallowed be thy name), acknowledging the utter inability and indisposition that is in ourselves and all men to honour God aright, we pray, that God would by His grace enable and incline us and others to know, to acknowledge, and highly to esteem him, his titles, attributes, ordinances, word, works, and whatsoever he is pleased to make himself known by; and to glorify him in thought, word, and deed: that he would prevent and remove atheism, ignorance, idolatry, profaneness, and whatsoever is dishonorable to him; and, by his over-ruling providence, direct and dispose of all things to his own glory. The Heidelberg Q. and A. is fairly self-explanatory. The WLC requires a brief summary: what it is saying is that even this petition is not divorced from the Gospel. We cannot worship God correctly in and of ourselves. Instead, we would do anything rather than worship God correctly by bringing honor and glory to His name. Therefore, this petition is also a request for God’s Good News to spread through all the world. The name recognition for God is to be expanded until all people in the world recognize, acknowledge, and bow before that Name above all names.

We are unable to worship God and use His name properly in and of ourselves. If left to ourselves, we would dishonor God by dragging His name through the mud, spitting on Him, and finding any way possible to bring disgrace on to God. We are rebels. But, of course, God’s honor cannot be stolen in an ultimate sense. God will be glorified in all things. Even through the rebellion of mankind, God will be glorified. That is, He will overturn evil, and good will triumph.

Now, imagine for a moment that you are going to come before the President of the United States. Wouldn’t you want to seek counsel about how to approach him; what etiquette might be involved? Now imagine that you are a traitor to the United States, that you had sold state secrets to a foreign country. Now, how would you want to approach the President of the United States? We should approach God with penitence and humility. We can only approach God if we have Jesus Christ as our Mediator, since only He has opened the doors to paradise. Hebrews says that there is only one Mediator between God and man, and that Mediator is Christ Jesus. We cannot expect God to listen to us if we are in rebellion to Him. So the call to God that His name be hallowed is also a call to us that we hallow His name by calling on the name of Jesus for our salvation.

Furthermore, when we pray that God’s name be hallowed, we are also praying that salvation will come to the world. I know that we have looked at this a bit already, but I want to drive this point home: honoring God’s name is a way of sharing the Gospel. For instance, in that example I gave earlier about the two men on the airplane, the pastor was sharing the Gospel in a way, since the men were not honoring God, or holding His name as sacred. They could not do so, since they were in rebellion. My old pastor in Philadelphia, Phil Ryken, says this: “When non-Christians use God’s name- even in vain- it shows that deep down they know there really is a God. Their rage is direct rebellion against His honor.” When we confront in a loving way this dishonor of God’s name, we are confronting that rebellion against God in which they are engaged. Tconfronting rebellion is part of sharing the Gospel to people. It is not the whole of it. But it is a part. And it is a very important part.

If we pray that God’s name be hallowed, that should strengthen us to do just that. How do we hallow God’s name? We must be careful here not to limit the application too narrowly. This hallowing of God’s name has a very wide application. For instance, we hallow God’s name when we worship Him properly. We hallow God’s name when we avoid grumbling and complaining, since it is against God’s goodness (and hence against His name) that we grumble. We hallow God’s name when we give the same honor and glory to Christ the Son as we give to God the Father. Some people deny the divinity of Christ. For instance, the book that has now become a movie, The Da Vinci Code, asserts that Jesus was just a man, a prophet, and no more. But if that is true, then Jesus cannot take our sin upon Himself. Only God can carry the infinite burden of sin and do away with it. If Jesus is not God, then we are still in our sins, with no hope of salvation whatsoever. We hallow God’s name when we obey the Scriptures that God has given to us. In that sense, hallowing God’s name cannot be a sort of shorthand for the entire Christian life. All that we do is to be for the honor and glory of God’s name.

Here is an appropriate analogy to help us understand how to treat God’s name. This illustration is from Gary North, quoted in Phil Ryken’s book on the Ten Commandments: “One way for a modern American to begin to understand this…is to treat God’s name as a trademarked property. In order to gain widespread distribution for His copyrighted repair manuel-the Bible- and also to capture greater market share for His authorized franchise-the Church- God has graciously licensed the use of His name to anyone who will use it according to His written instructions. It needs to be understood, however, that God’s name has not been released into the public domain. God retains legal control over His name and threatens serious penalties against the unauthorized misuse of this supremely valuable property. All trademark violations will be prosecuted to the full limits of the law. The prosecutor, judge, jury, and enforcer is God.” That is what the third commandment means when it says, “God will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.”

Well, how do we misuse God’s name? How do we not hallow it? We misuse God’s name when we use the name of God carelessly or in an exclamation such as “Oh, my God!” “What the heck?” “Good Lord!” “Gosh darn it!” I believe that these expressions do not bring honor and glory to God’s name. We misuse God’s name when we fail to stand up for God’s name when it is being misused by others. And we misuse God’s name when we fail to bring all the honor and glory to God’s name that we should bring. By that count, as we should recognize, none of us honor and glorify God’s name as we ought. Sins of omission here are just as bad as sins of commission. We misuse God’s name when we do not take advantage of ministry opportunities as we should.

I hope we realize by now that none of us are sufficient to hallow God’s name properly. And that is exactly where God gives us grace. What is impossible with man is possible with God. Won’t you start honoring His name today? And not just partially, but fully. That is the call. May God truly help us in this endeavor

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