It was an early Wednesday morning as I headed over for a little reading at my "low-rent office" (also known as Starbucks). I got my coffee and settled into one of those big cushy chairs they have there, ready to study a Bible commentary and prepare for a future teaching series at our church. As I started into the first page, a voice came from the chair next to me...
"So, is that like a commentary on the book of Mark?"
“Yeah, it is,” I said.
Then came an interesting question.
"Is it a conservative commentary, or one of those... ?"
"It depends on what it's compared to, I guess." I replied.
I've been thinking lately about the way in which we label certain things. We seem to have a label for everything; people appear to have a desire to define or label just about anything. These labels are used to identify and categorize things. Labeling helps us to make sense of a confusing world. But labeling also has another, often darker, side.
Through labeling, we assign value. Once we have labeled something, we feel comfortable again having categorized it (rightly or wrongly) and assigned it a place within our worldview. Once we’ve labeled it, no more discussion is needed. It is what it is.
Labels, however, can shortcut the needed work of wrestling with the issues of our time. And, they can be especially destructive when used within issues of faith, because we can easily become convinced that “our labels” also carry with them the sanction of God. We are on shaky ground when we casually or arbitrarily label ideas, questions, or even people as "liberal,” “conservative,” "bad,” “good,” "dangerous,” “biblical,” “un-biblical,” “in” or "out".
When we look at the life of Jesus, we see He lived in a day that was filled with labels. Religious leaders had clearly defined labels about people. There were those who were "in" and those who were "out." The gospels are filled with moments where people assigned labels to Jesus. Yet, He somehow stood outside them, above them. He lived a life that transcended labels. Jesus came to explode the kind of thinking that imprisons people in a world of labels and categories. He came to live in a way that offered inherent dignity to all - a life of love and compassion and generosity.
For Jesus, apparently labels never had the final word on the value of a person. He did.
In all things, our goal should be to pursue following Jesus and stand for what is true, right and good (as defined by Him!). We are to stand for justice and peace in this world. Today, let’s be careful in what and whom we label. We are not the ones to have the last word, Jesus is. And with Him, all things are possible.
To comment on today's devotional, click here.
1. What are some of the labels we use for people, ideas or things?
2. How can labels be destructive?
3. How is it that we can live a life of love, beyond labels?
Luke 10:25-37; John 9
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