Our text is the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:7): Let us confess the Second Commandment and its meaning: You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.
There are some Bible verses I wish I could change. Here’s one from 1 Thessalonians: give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (5:18). I find this verse too demanding, and I wish I could make it say: “give thanks most of the time, for this is good advice”. But of course, the verse actually says: give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. There is no wiggle room here, no space for excuses. Just “give thanks all the time, for this is what God demands of those who are baptized into Christ Jesus”.
So how are you doing with God’s demand to give thanks always—24 hours a day/7 days a week? Before you answer that question, let me explain what it means to give thanks to God. It does NOT mean that every waking moment has to be filled with us thinking or saying “thanks, God!”. After all, God knows we need to concentrate on our work and chores. Rather, giving God thanks means that we honour God’s Name, and that is something we can do, by God’s grace, even when we are preoccupied with our daily duties.
Saying “thank you” to God is a start, but there is more much to a proper thanksgiving. Giving God thanks has to do primarily with honouring God’s Name. That is where the Second Commandment and Luther’s explanation come in. Giving God thanks has to do with refraining from all that dishonours God’s Name—cursing, swearing, using satanic arts, lying, and deceiving. And giving God thanks has to do with honouring God’s Name—calling upon it in every trouble, praying, praising, and giving thanks.
Honouring God’s Name is to be a daily habit. Martin Luther gives an example of a master builder who was accustomed to begin his daily work with the curse: “Onward, then, in the devil’s hundred thousand names!” When someone pointed out the foolishness and danger of that manner of speaking, the builder replied that he would call on God in time of need. One day he fell off a bridge. And out of his old habit, this curse again came from his lips. Thus he died frivolously while calling on the devil (Peters: Commentary of Luther’s Catechism: the Ten Commandment, p. 163).
This master builder had developed the bad habit of invoking the devil’s name. But you are to stand on guard against everything that dishonours God’s Name. Cursing, swearing by God’s Name for oaths that are frivolous or false, and using satanic arts such as fortune telling—these all dishonour God’s holy Name. But the most grievous way of dishonouring God’s Name is by lying and deceiving by His Name. We fail to honour God’s Name when we use God’s Name to tell a lie, when we assert in God’s Name something that is not true. In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther writes that we [must] guard against and dread every misuse of the holy name as the greatest sin that can be committed outwardly. We tend to think that such sins as adultery and murder must be the greatest. But actually, even more grievous is the sin of misusing God’s holy Name.
Now, how might you and I misuse God’s Name? Well, do we ever use God’s Name to tell a lie, to say something that is not true? Luther had in mind here the teaching of false doctrine. Today, lots of churches condone abortion and homosexuality; and there are unbelieving theologians denying that Jesus is God and that He was born of the Virgin Mary and raised from the dead. And then, there are still many churches that do not confess correctly what the Bible teaches about Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and how one becomes and remains a Christian. Whenever churches and Christians teach false doctrine, they are guilty of using God’s Name to say something that is not true, and of thus misusing God’s Name.
And I daresay there is a particular way in which you have been guilty of using God’s Name to say something that is not true. Have you ever thought or said these things: “God doesn’t care if I do this sin”; “God just wants me to be nice and then I’ll go to heaven”; or “God must be punishing me”; “God does not hear my prayers”; “God must not be in control”; “God does not keep His promises“; “God is keeping a record of all my sins, even though I have repented of them”; “God is not good and merciful”; “God does not love me”. These are all lies, thought or spoken in the Name of God.
And when we allow such lies to take root in our hearts, then, truly, we are guilty before God. This is a serious matter. It is not just that we have thankless hearts; rather, we are guilty of misusing God’s Name, of taking God’s Name in vain. And as God said when He first gave the Ten Commandments: 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 (Exodus 20:7).
The Holy Triune God will not leave unpunished anyone who misuses His Name. Now if that were God’s final word, we would all be doomed, for we have taken His holy Name in vain through our many acts of unbelief. But God’s word of condemnation is not His final word—alleluia! Jesus Christ, God’s Son, honoured His Father’s holy Name perfectly His whole life, and then He died on the cross bearing our sins and the condemnation we so justly deserved. And now, the Holy Triune God is bringing this salvation to sinners in Holy Baptism.
Your God placed His Name upon you in Holy Baptism and made you His dearly beloved child through your dear Lord Jesus Christ. In His Name He has revealed Himself to you as the God of love, that you might worship Him, that you may give thanks to Him always by honouring His Name aright.
God would have the honouring of His Name become a habit in our lives. This is the way of true thanksgiving. And of course, there is more to it than simply thinking or saying 24/7 “thank you, God!”. True thanksgiving is seeking to honour God’s Name in every circumstance, in times of joy and in times of suffering and in the humdrum of our daily chores.
You honour God’s Name and give Him thanks by making a true confession. You may not think you are thanking God when you confess the Creed, but you are! You are speaking what is true about God, and that brings honour to His Name. Of course, the Creed is not meant to be confessed only in Church. It is meet, right, and salutary that you pray the Creed everyday as part of your devotional life. Praying the Creed daily helps to put a proper perspective on your problems. It is if you were saying: “In spite of my troubles, I know that God loves me and hears my prayers and He will never leave me, for He has created me; He has saved me; and He makes and keeps me holy to the day of the resurrection of the dead!”.
Praying the Creed also helps you know what to say when someone asks you what you believe. “Well, I believe there is only one true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and that God the Son became Man and died on the cross to save sinners, and He is coming again on the Last Day to judge both the living and the dead. And we can come to faith only through God the Holy Spirit, who works through Baptism for the remission of sins.” Remain true to this confession even should you ever be persecuted for being a Christian, for this is the confession that will keep you faithful unto death.
Oh, yes, you honour God’s Name and give Him thanks by making a true confession. And so, confess the creed everyday of your life. That is one of the habits of thanksgiving that the Holy Spirit desires to work in you.
And then, you also honour God’s Name by calling upon His Name in every trouble, praying, praising, and giving God thanks.
Calling upon God’s Name is how you are to begin and end each day. As Luther says in the Small Catechism, in the morning and in the evening, make the sign of the cross and pray “In the Name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit”. If you only knew how this Invocation sends the demons running, you would never miss a day of praying the Invocation. In Luther’s example, the master builder daily called upon the devil’s name; so engrained was the habit that the builder ended up calling upon the devil as he was falling off the bridge. Habits are hard to break; that is true of good habits as well as bad. By God’s grace, then, develop the good habit of beginning and ending each day invoking, calling upon the Name of the one true God.
Do you know what you are doing when you pray “In the Name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit”? You are calling upon the one true God and asking Him to bless you, to protect you, to allow no temptation or trial to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. And you are reminding God—who needs no reminding—that you are indeed His child through Holy Baptism. And you are reminding yourself—you who need plenty of reminding—that God’s Name is greater than every trouble the day may bring. And so, do not fear, do not despair, for your life is safe in the hand of the God who loves you.
And then, throughout the day, you pray; you praise God; and you give Him thanks. Your heart and your lips should always be eager to pray, praise, and give God thanks. In his Large Catechism, Luther writes that it is also useful that we form the habit of daily commending ourselves to God [Psalm 31:5],…and all that we have, against every need that may arise.…Likewise, children should continue to cross themselves when anything monstrous or terrible is seen or heard. They can shout, “Lord God, protect us!” “Help, dear Lord Jesus!” …. Also, if anyone meets with unexpected good fortune, however trivial, he says, “God be praised and thanked!” or “God has bestowed this on me!”.
Now, would it not be wonderful if we all developed such good habits. What if, when you hear of sad news or are frightened, the first words out of your mouth were “Lord, have mercy!” And what if, when you hear of glad news or receive good fortune, your first words were “Thanks be to God!”. Of course, commending ourselves to God, pleading for His mercy, and praising God for His blessings is exactly what we are doing when we pray the greatest of all prayers, the Lord’s Prayer. And so, even if you feel you don’t know how to pray or have time to pray, at the very least, develop the good habit of praying the Lord’s Prayer in the morning, at night, and throughout the day.
Thanksgiving is an act that involve our whole being. With our hearts, we believe in the one true God. And then, with our lips, we confess our faith and we call upon God’s Name. And in our praying, we ask God to help us lead holy lives according to His holy Word. Yes, in thanksgiving, our hearts, our lips, our lives are touched by God’s grace in Christ Jesus.
This Thanksgiving, I would have you know these three things: 1) Thanksgiving is more than simply saying “thank you”; it is the act of honouring God’s holy Name in our hearts and with our lips and our lives. And 2) thanksgiving is the good habit of daily confessing the only true God and of daily calling upon His Name in true faith until the day we die. And 3) thanksgiving is God’s good gift to you. What a joy and privilege to live a life of thanksgiving by honouring God with our hearts, lips, and lives. Such a life is God’s gift to us in Christ.
In the post-communion liturgy are the words that embody the true spirit of Thanksgiving: O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endureth forever. There have been many times in your life and in mine when we have lived as if we did not believe these words. Each in our own way, we have lived at times thinking or saying lies about God and not confessing the truth of who He is. But do not fear! For you have a gracious, loving God, who is truly good and whose steadfast love endures forever. So great is His love for you that He gave His only-begotten Son to be your Saviour, who laid down His life to win the victory over sin, death, and the devil. And now, this Saviour comes to us through His Holy Word and Supper to forgive us, to heal us, to cleanse us, to strengthen us, so that we may confess Him and give Him thanks our whole lives long. This Saviour is the reason we can give [God] thanks in all circumstances. For this Saviour, who died for us—who rose that we may live forever—promises to be with His baptized children wherever they are. And so Jesus walks through the troubles and sorrows and failures of His children, ever showing Himself to be the Giver of all good gifts, even the greatest gifts of all—forgiveness, life and salvation in His Holy Name! Thanks be to God! Amen.