Dangerous Act: Why Naming Matters

The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor“Naming” matters. When God called Abram, he changed his name to Abraham because he would be a father of many nations. God also did a name change for Sarah, Abraham’s wife. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, signifying his struggle and the fact that he was an overcomer. Sometimes when our names don’t match our character, we are given nicknames which better reflect our true selves. It may be a good sign if a person is called “Lucky” but a bad sign if he is called “Slouch.” Jesus nicknamed his disciples and the brothers, John and James, “Sons of Thunder (Mk. 3:17).” He probably gave them this nickname because of their ambition for power (ex. desire to sit on his right and left in glory, Mark 10:35-41) and because of their aggression (ex. desire to call down fire from heaven on the people who did not welcome Jesus, Luke 9:52-55). How we choose to name people absolutely matters in this world.

The gospel of Jesus Christ includes the “need to name rightly who we are and who we are not (118).” It also requires that we rightly name others, not simply by what we can see. To this end, we must always revisit the wise words that God shared with Samuel, “Do not consider [the] appearance or his height, for…the Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (I Sam. 16:7b).” More often than not, we are so focused on people’s outward appearance that we cannot break beyond the surface to truly see their hearts. I sometimes think about the images of so many beautiful celebrity women in Hollywood. Looking at them, we may think, “She is beautiful; she has such a cute face; I love her haircut, style or makeup; I wish I had her physique.” At the same time, we continue to watch as she changes boyfriends like some of us change seasonal wardrobes. Then, if we are thinking women, we will ask ourselves, “Does she truly see herself as beautiful? If she truly liked herself and valued her identity, would she discard or allow so many man to discard her like old sneakers?” Suddenly, we find ourselves questioning whether she is really “Hot Stuff.”

Naming begins first with how we see ourselves, then it considers how we treat and respond to others. One of the first jobs that God gave Adam was to name the animals. Adam named all of the livestock, the birds and the beasts, but he found nothing like himself in which to name. But God created an ezer and named her, woman, because she was created out of the man. This man (Adam) and woman were both created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Therefore, “naming is as primary to our being made in God’s image as almost anything else we might, well…name (pg. 121).” We must learn to name rightly. “Love names us rightly (pg. 121).” Love makes us “transformed namers.” The gospel changes how we name God, ourselves, and our neighbors. “It’s not about a new set of labels. It’s about learning to live in the world as people who are named from the inside out by the God who made us, who is now remaking us and wanting us to be agents of that grace toward others (pg. 122).”

Reflection: In what ways is this biblical theme of naming and renaming familiar to you? Is it part of how you think about your own life as a disciple? How do you experience being named or renamed by God? What does this theme of naming mean to you personally? To how you name others in your life? Why? How has your name been changed by the name of Jesus in your life (pg. 120)?

© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2013

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