Word for Wednesday…Labels
…and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians’.Acts 11:26
I have finally given in. I have officially conceded defeat. I am now willing to accept the label that others have been imposing on me for quite some time now. I’m a runner. Why was I so resistant? I’ve never been a fan of labels. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I like to imagine myself a mysterious and eclectic individual, defying all categories society might impose on me. Maybe it’s because I don’t like to be associated with any subcultures, and runners are definitely a subculture. But I can run (pun intended) from it no longer. Why now? A few weeks ago, in the midst of my weekly early-morning Saturday run, I looked down at my special running shoes, the running shorts I was wearing, the small can of pepper spray in my pocket (for dogs with sharp teeth that run faster), the thing I wear around my waist to carry my phone, my special watch, which tracks my time and distance, and the running app installed on my phone, and felt compelled to acknowledge the inevitable and embrace my true identity; I am a runner and there is no denying it.
The first followers of Jesus were called his disciples. This was in keeping with the fact that Jesus was considered a Jewish Rabbi, a teacher, and they were his students, seeking to learn from him and follow his example. For the first several years after his death and resurrection, they were not considered adherents of a different religion, but a sect within Judaism. They were simply Jews who believed that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. Eventually, as persecution of this sect increased, Jews who were more mainstream sought to distance themselves from them. This was likely the most significant factor that led to the moment Luke describes in Acts, when the followers of Jesus first received the label “Christians,” which literally means “little Christs.” I wonder if it was not their choice, but was rather imposed upon them. Their allegiance to Jesus and his teachings, and their visible commitment to follow his example, became their most identifiable characteristic, thereby earning them this new identity.
Today, the label Christian carries quite a bit of baggage. Many non-believers wrongly associate it with a certain political views or social ills, like racism, intolerance, hatred or hypocrisy. Rather than attempt to redefine the term, many Christians are opting to embrace that early label of “disciple,” or simply “Christ-follower.” Regardless of the label you choose, your decision to embrace it should be one of hesitancy, characterized by humility, accepting it only after others have arrived at that conclusion. Calling yourself a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, a Christ-follower, etc. should be an affirmation of a conclusion already reached by others, who have plainly observed your love for God, your love for others, your obedience, selflessness, service, etc..