In part one of this topic, we covered the fact that labels (derogatory terms) are stuck onto individuals and are difficult to remove, but labels can also be attached to an individual due to a past deed, way of life or due to an association they may have had.
In our vocabulary, such terms may be used quite generally (as in, “those people”) or can be more specific (as in, “Nazis”). Whatever the label, please don’t be responsible for it getting stuck onto an individual. It is fine to have convictions about what is right and wrong, but when we allow them to become prejudices, we may begin attaching labels to people without knowing it.
For instance, let’s say your convictions about alcoholism lead you to have a strong prejudice against alcoholics, with no tolerance for them. Then one day, you start telling a friend from church or your office how horrible alcoholics are and how they never change their ways. Maybe you announce you could never be associated with anyone who had ever been an alcoholic. Imagine you really don’t know much about this person’s past and lo and behold, find they struggled with alcoholism for a long time, but have now been alcohol free for ten years. This person has now been labeled by you and may never share that part of his or her life with you, thereby shutting down the possibility of building a relationship between the two of you.
Now, remove the word alcoholism and insert the word addicts, aborters, homosexuals, Muslims, Jews, Germans, gamblers, adulterers, prostitutes or any other label you can think of. What kinds of labels have you assigned to these people? We must remember that God does not call the perfect. We are told in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence” (King James Version).
The point is we do not know where people have come from in their lives. We may not know their past struggles or whether they may still be struggling with something. When we attach labels in a general manner, we become judge and jury over a person’s past. We allow no room for change and we possibly turn their hearts from us. We can never know whom God is calling, nor do we know what they are being called from. We can’t tag the Nazi label on someone just for being German. We can’t assume that just because someone was once a drug addict, we can now tag that person with a drug abuser label. What if they are not or never were a part of the given label you pasted on them, but their spouse, parents or other family members are or were? What if they struggle with how to deal with those family members and then hear from us that we would shun such people? How would this affect our relationship with them? It’s something to think about.
As God’s people, we are to be lights to the world. Our actions and words tell others who we are. We must remember God allows for repentance through our Lord Jesus Christ. How can we hold on to unfair labels knowing this? No matter how much someone’s actions or past might bother us, even if it is something we could not fathom doing, it does not mean they are not or could not be repentant. (Because of human nature, we sometimes think of our own sins as small and those of others as large!)
Paul speaks of this repentance when he writes, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortionists, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, King James Version).
The apostle Paul was a great example of someone who could easily be labeled. He had no sympathy for Christians in his past and had even been involved in their torture and executions—but when he found the truth, he changed his ways. He was not initially well accepted by the Church (Acts 9:26), but in order for him to become the leader he was, the people of the Church had to learn to accept him. They had to be forgiving and they were able to do so because of their faith through Christ’s teaching as well as the knowledge that they too had made mistakes in their pasts.
Labels are created so things can be easily identified, making the ingredients and other facts available for all to see, but when we apply labels to people, we might expose them for who they were, not who they are or could become. Labels are hard to remove. We can often justifiably label evil as evil, but we should accept God’s definitions of evil as found in His word and not attach our own personal labels to others. In other words, we must be careful to not permanently apply labels, and we must be willing to drop our preconceived ideas, such as, “Once a _______, always a _______.”
God allows for change. In fact, He expects it from us. Christ’s sacrifice gave us this option and we must follow His forgiving nature. “Be merciful as your Father is merciful. Stop judging, and you will never be judged. Stop condemning, and you will never be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:36, God’s Word Translation).
For more helpful information, request or download our free booklet, Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion.