Look down at your shirt for a moment—is there a little emblem on the pocket? Or a certain swoosh on your tennis shoes? If you’re drinking coffee while reading this article, is there a green circle with a woman on the cup?
This is called “branding”—a marketing strategy by which products are given their distinctive identities. A brand is a collection of images and ideas that symbolize a particular product or company. What comes to mind, for instance, when you think of a set of Golden Arches or a little Apple with a bite missing?
Companies are no longer interested in creating a product, they want to establish a brand—a distinctive, instantly recognizable identity that strikes positive cords in the consumer and can be extended to new and modified products. Branding attempts to sell a “feeling” as much as a product; and companies spend millions of dollars on just the right symbols, slogans, color schemes, and package designs necessary for branding a product, an author, a company, or a concept.
What about a brand called YOU?
What’s distinctive about you? What “feeling” do you produce in others when they think of you? What does your appearance, attitudes, or activities communicate to others? What makes you different?
Long before Starbucks, Nike, or Apple Computer, Jesus Christ understood the importance of branding, and He designed a particular “look” for all His disciples. He wanted to give them a simple identity, which He explained in John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
That’s a brand more powerful than any ever concocted by Madison Avenue; and it’s so important that without it, nothing else rings true in our lives. Speaking once at Moody Church in Chicago, Dr. Harry Ironside told of a missionary in China who was translating the New Testament into the Chinese language. He was assisted by an eminent Chinese scholar, a Confucianist who had never before been exposed to Christianity. Week after week and month after month they sat side by side, working through the text.
When the project was nearly completed, the missionary told his friend, “You have been of great help to me. I could never have gotten along without you. Now I want to ask you a question. As we have gone together through the New Testament, hasn’t the beauty of Christianity touched you? Wouldn’t you like to become a Christian?”
The Confucianist replied, “Yes, it does appeal to me. I think that it presents the most wonderful system of ethics that I have ever known. I believe that if I ever saw a Christian, I might become more interested in becoming one myself.”
“But,” exclaimed the missionary, “I am a Christian!”
“You?” the scholar replied. “You, a Christian? I hope you will not take offense, but I must tell you that I have observed you and listened to you from the beginning. If I understand the New Testament, a Christian is one who follows Jesus; and Jesus said, ‘By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.’
“You cannot be a Christian, for I have listened to you as you have talked about others in an unkind way. I have observed, too, that whereas your New Testament says that God will supply all your needs, you do not trust Him. You worry about this and about that; and if your check is a day late, you become dreadfully concerned. No, you cannot be a Christian. But I think that if I ever see one, I should like to be one.”
The missionary was so rebuked, he broke down completely, sobbing out a confession asking God’s forgiveness; and he asked for the scholar’s forgiveness, too. He was so broken that the Confucianist later remarked, “Well, perhaps I have seen a Christian after all.”
Christians aren’t known to the world by all dressing the same, combing our hair alike, or voting identically. We are known by our love. That’s our identity. That’s the core of our Christ-likeness. As Zechariah 3 says, we are simply brands plucked from the fire. And the world will know we are Christians by our love.