Please enjoy this preview content from Truth Magazine!
VOICES OF YOUTH: The Importance of a Name
By Abraham Mayberry
Synopsis: By examining the third commandment given at Mount Sinai in its original context, young people can learn that “bearing God’s name” is more than just the words they speak, but encompasses a fully changed identity and lifestyle that is still relevant today.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other word, would smell as sweet” (Shakespeare, 39). This famous quote comes from the popular balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet, where Juliet questions why Romeo must be part of their enemy’s family, the Montagues. Because of her love for Romeo, Juliet believes a “name” is simply a word, and it shouldn’t matter that he is a Montague. Yes, a name is just a word, but I believe it is much more critical to a person than Juliet thinks.
Names are important because they shape our identity. We bear the name given to us from the womb to the tomb. We wear different names in life. My family name is Mayberry, which causes people to think of the Andy Griffith show or my many relatives. When my students hear Mr. Mayberry, they probably think about my classes and the homework I sometimes give them. At work, I wear the name of a Florida College Academy Prep high school teacher. With that, I am responsible for representing that institution’s values in my work. As a member of the University church of Christ in Tampa, I find belonging in a caring church community that strives to follow Christ and support me as one of their own.
Names provide us with identity, help form our values, and give us a sense of belonging and mission. In the Scriptures, God teaches us a lot through names.
The Old Testament Example of Ancient Israel
Probably, one of the first places when thinking of names in the Bible comes from one of the 10 Commandments given to the nation of Israel, where the LORD says, “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” (Exod. 20:7). Growing up, I usually heard this verse in context to not using God’s name as a swear word. It is a serious offense because it is irreverent and dishonors our Creator. It is crucial how we use God’s name. While that is true, this command is so much more than just saying God’s name irreverently.
Looking at the Hebrew word nasah, here rendered “take,” can mean “to bear, carry, lift up, or take.” Examining other parts of Exodus, we can find how Scripture helps us better understand that this can mean more than just our speech. Compare this to Exodus 28, where we read about the specific clothes assigned to the high priest because of their role and position: “So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance for the LORD.” Aaron literally carries the names of Israel’s tribes on him. This idea is similar to “carrying the name of the LORD” (Exod. 28:29). As a priest, he was a representative of God to the people of Israel and also a representative of the people before God.
So, when God tells His people, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel” (Exod. 19:5-6). Dr. Carmen Joy Imes presents this concept in her book, Bearing God’s Name, by stating,
By looking at Aaron, every Israelite is reminded of their calling as a nation. Just as he is set apart for service (“holy”), so are they (“a holy nation”). At Sinai, Yahweh claims this nation as His very own and releases them to live out their calling. That calling is to bear Yahweh’s name among the nations, that is, to represent Him well (Imes, 48-52).
God was transforming this group of scattered slaves in Egypt into His holy nation. Israel’s calling at Mount Sinai was to bear the LORD’s name to the rest of the world and represent Him well. God claimed Israel as His people. If they were to live in a way that would be a negative portrayal, that would be a great offense and sin against God. As God’s representatives, they are responsible for accurately representing God.
Looking at the rest of Israel’s history, they failed to fulfill this mission by profaning the name of the LORD. In Ezekiel 36, the prophet reflects on this failure, revealing that God had concern for His holy name because Israel violated and misrepresented God’s holy name among the nations. Because Israel failed to represent God well, God fixed the situation through Jesus.
The New Testament Example of Jesus and Christians
In the New Testament, the theme of the name continues. Jesus is God that came to earth to save humanity from their sins. The apostle Paul states, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11). Paul associates the LORD’s name with Jesus, demonstrating that Jesus is God, and thus worthy of praise.
Jesus taught His disciples to follow His example (John 13:15). That includes making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them all He commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). Through putting on our faith in baptism, the Holy Spirit marks us as a name-bearer for Yahweh (Eph. 1:13). Dr. Imes compares this to an invisible, spiritual tattoo showing whose we are (Imes, 180). God calls Paul a chosen instrument to carry the name to the world (Acts 9:15). Just like Israel was supposed to represent God to the nations, the church is also to represent Jesus to the world. Instead of gathering at Mount Sinai, where the people symbolically receive the name in the Old Testament, in Revelation, the faithful continue to bear the LORD’s name at Mt. Zion (Rev. 14) (Imes, 180-181).
Taking the name of God is central to the story of the Bible and the responsibility of all Christians today. When we fail to live as God wants us to, the result is the same as that of Israel—God’s name is dishonored and blasphemed. Our bad examples and hypocrisy can lead others away from God. Because we call ourselves Christians, that gives us an identity that shapes our values and mission to live a holy life and represent God well.
Examples Today: Our Mission
Just like Israel, God calls us to live a transformed life that well represents Him. This calling to represent Him well covers all aspects of our lives.
We can carry His name through our speech. That includes sharing the gospel with others, constantly praising God for His blessings, and not using God’s name as a swear word. Whether in the line at Publix, eating lunch with friends at school, posting on Instagram, or conversing with coworkers, we should incorporate Christ in every single conversation. It can be as simple as thanking God for a beautiful day, tasty food, or my presenting the Good News. Our words can tell others about the awesome God that we follow.
Another way we can bear God’s name is through our dress. Do our clothes direct others to God or ourselves? What do our clothes communicate by their brand’s ethical practices, length, tightness, images, or messages?
Last, we can be a representative of God through our actions. We should follow Christ’s example of forgiveness, obedience, self-control, patience, and sacrifice. Living as a name-bearer for Christ should make us stand out. We are to be a representative of His kingdom and can find belonging, support, and unity in God’s church as we strive to bear God’s name well.
Paul’s wisdom for this type of life is that in “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col. 3:17). Although Shakespeare’s Juliet believed names shouldn’t mean much, the spiritual name we wear is essential to our calling in our Christian walk.
All Scriptures are quoted from the English Standard Version (ESV). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016.
Imes, Carmen Joy. Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters. Dower’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2019.
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. New York: Penguin Press, 2016.
Abraham Mayberry grew up in Nashville, TN. He attended Lipscomb Academy K-12 and Florida College between 2019-2022. At FC, he received his BA with a major in History and with minors in Biblical Literature and Education. He now works as a high school teacher at Florida College Academy Prep in Temple Terrace, FL. For more information on the Academy, go here. He can be reached here.