Be Careful Before You Label Somebody

by | Jul 17, 2020

Have you ever seen a building labeled condemned? Pretty much the government is saying that the building is a lost cause and, unless there are some drastic changes, the building should be torn down. You shouldn’t go near it. The label provides a valuable service in informing and protecting.

It would be incredibly time consuming and exhausting if we didn’t have labels for things like vehicles, chairs, or foods. Labeling and categorizing  is something that all human beings instinctively do and it’s  generally helpful.

We understand this when it comes to inanimate objects, but what about people? Should we label and categorize them? If so, how do we do that? As Christians, we ultimately look to our Savior, Jesus, as our example of how we should live.  We follow him. So, a helpful question to ask is this: Did Jesus use labels and categories for people and if so how? The short answer is yes. Jesus used categories and labels for people and these were both positive AND negative. We might be tempted to think that we should only label others in positive ways, but Jesus himself used some labels that were decidedly negative.

Here are some examples: Evil (Matthew 7:11),  Devil (John 6:70) Sinful and adulterous generation (Mark 8:38), Dogs (Matthew 7:6), Pigs (Matthew 7:6), Serpents (Matthew 23:27), Brood of vipers (Matthew 23:33).

The point is that Jesus labeled and categorized people. To label and categorize is part of what it means to be human. However, none of us possess the perfect judgment of Jesus. So, before we label somebody, we need to ask ourselves this question: How do we give labels and judgments that are consistent with Jesus’ character? Think about terms like cultural Marxist, or social justice warrior, or any label that you can think of getting tossed around these days. Before you slap a label on someone, whether in your own mind or publicly with your mouth or on social media, answer the following questions:

 

Am I being truthful? Am I certain that the label accurately reflects someone else’s ideas? 

Christians are concerned about the truth. (Ephesians 4:15) Conversely, Satan’s native tongue is lying (John 8:44). It could be argued that we are never more like Satan than when we intentionally obscure the truth about people.

 

Am I being careful? Does the label I’m tempted to use apply to me in some way

We make judgments with the humbling knowledge that we’ll be judged by God by the same standards that we use (Matthew 7:1-5) . That should make us careful about tossing out labels too quickly. We do the hard work of determining if a label in fact applies to a person. We also do introspective work in order to determine if the label that we are tempted to use about another person also applies to us in some way.

 

Am I being generous? Would the person I’m labeling agree with my label? When we are dealing with ideas, a helpful question for the sake of more fruitful dialogue is this: Is this a label that the person I’m talking to or about would choose for themselves? When we are trying to persuade others to the truth, one helpful rule of thumb is to, whenever possible, engage with the ideas of others by reasoning from the terms they might use for themselves.

 

Am I being gentle? Is the label derogatory in nature? There are some labels that we use that are merely for the purpose of making fun of or denigrating people. There are many terms that I can cite here but  some of the softer examples of these terms are “social justice warrior” or “Karen”. We must ask ourselves if these are terms that build up and edify (1 Thessalonians 5:11), or are they used for the sole purpose of tearing others down (Ephesians 4:29) and stirring up anger (Proverbs 15:1).

We have to remember that the world knows that we belong to Jesus not just because of the positions that we hold, but also because of the love that we exude.

 

Am I being hopeful? Does labeling a person aid a conversation’s advancement or shut down a conversation? We often lump people into categories so that they become easier to attack or condemn (or cancel). We must remember that condemnation is God’s job, not ours (Romans 12:9).

 

Here’s a helpful diagnostic question:  Am I using this label in order to properly engage someone? Or Am I using this label in order to dismiss someone?

Think about the gospel message. In order for us to accept God’s free offer of salvation, we are first rightly labeled as sinners by God. His purpose in labeling us so is not to condemn us but in order to save us (John 3:17). Our Lord labels us out of love with a desire to continue a conversation that will lead to our salvation. Too often we don’t live a life worthy of the calling we’ve received. We slap the label “condemned” on a vessel that God has extraordinary plans for.

When we are tempted to do this, we must remember that we serve a Savior for whom there are no lost causes. As long as there is blood coursing through the lungs of the person that we are tempted to label, there is always hope. May our label demonstrate that there is a God that specializes in new creations.

 


Prayer Requests:

  1. Pray that believers in Jesus Christ will model the type of posture that Jesus did with people that disagree.
  2. Pray that we would be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry. (James 1:19)
  3. Pray that we would be careful with extending labels and generous with extending grace.
  4. Pray that the world would see this grace extended to people that disagree with us and see God as the source (Matthew 5:16)

 

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  • Eric Saunders

    Eric lives in the DC Metro area with his wife and two sons. He serves as the pastor of the Arlington Campus of McLean Bible Church.

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