Names are an important part of life. Names are foundational to our identity – whether for individuals, businesses, churches, or other organizations. We love to hear and see our name – whether it’s on a school honor roll, in the newspaper, on a hand-addressed envelope, the side of a building, or somewhere else – (well, maybe not the police docket or detention list). If you’re anything like me, you love to see it spelled correctly.
More than that though, we love to HEAR our name. I struggle to remember names. I always remember faces, but names are a lot harder. I’m embarrassed to say that I still don’t know all the names of the people at my church, but I try hard to call people by name whenever possible because that communicates care and affection.
Schoolteachers will tell you that they always learn the names of the misbehaved kids first, so there are obviously exceptions to this rule . . . but I’d say they’re few and far between.
Let’s look at four key facts regarding names:
1. NAMES SIGNIFY IMPORTANCE (Most of us don’t name our furniture, our appliances, the rocks in our yard, etc. Names are reserved for those things that are special.)
The power and influence of a name cannot be overstated. In Scripture we see the significance of names. In Genesis, God gave Adam a major responsibility: naming all the animals. Can you imagine what a lengthy process that must have been?
Those of you who are parents have had the privilege of selecting names for your children. I remember what a big deal this was to Michelle and me. We simply x’d some names because we had negative associations with them. I really liked the name Tristan for a boy – from my childhood reading of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small book series. Michelle quickly threw it out of the running because she had taught a very ill-behaved little boy named Tristan when she was doing her student teaching in Waco, Texas. I suppose this is the same reason we don’t have many Jezebels running around.
Naming pets is also a joy and a considerable responsibility. We tend to choose pet names based on identifying physical features — like Spot or Brownie — or based on their apparent personality — like Bubbles or Prince. And if we’re honest, there are times when once that beloved pet’s personality has fully developed, we found ourselves thinking, ‘I got that name wrong!’
2. NAMES IMPLY MEANING OR PURPOSE
As we consider this line of thinking, let’s look at sampling of Scriptures that deal with this concept of names – and illustrate the fact that names are important to God.
- Genesis 17:5 – God said to Abram, “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.”
- Genesis 17:19-20 – God said to Abraham: “your your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.”
- Samuel 1:20 – Hannah named her son Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”
- Luke 2:21 – “And at the eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived.”
As important as names are in our world, no other name even comes close to that of Jesus.
We pray and worship in the name of Jesus.
We cast out demons in the name of Jesus.
We heal in the name of Jesus.
We bless in the name of Jesus.
3. NAMES INDICATE RELATIONSHIP
Think about your own name for a moment. Our last names or surnames identify the family to which we belong – or the family that we married into. (For some that in itself falls under the ‘for better or worse’ category!) Some of you may be named for someone in your family – a parent or grandparent. Some of you may have been given your mother’s maiden name. All these things indicate relationship.
In the New Testament book of Acts (11:26), we are told that church members were first called Christians at Antioch. It’s worth noting that this was NOT a name that the church members gave themselves. They didn’t say, “Hey, let’s call ourselves Christians so that everyone will know what we believe and who we worship.” Rather, it was the pagans in the community of Antioch that labeled church members as Christians. It’s a label that was used in a derogatory manner. It was intended to be a mockery of Jesus and all He stood for. Wow, talk about a label that stuck!
Today we church members think nothing of calling ourselves Christians. If anything, I think we are often too lax about identifying ourselves in such a way. If we’re really honest, most of us are guilty at times of calling ourselves Christians without giving much thought at all to how we are representing Him to those around us.
That’s because . . .
4. NAMES CARRY RESPONSIBILITY
2 Corinthians 5:20 – Paul writes, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” Ambassadors are always on duty. To be an ambassador for Christ means we represent Him not just sometimes but ALL the time.
No matter where we are physically . . .
When we’re all alone
When we’re at home with our family members
When we’re at church with other believers
When we’re at work with our bosses and co-workers
When we’re at school with our children and their teachers and friends
When we’re at the gym and ball fields with other parents and grandparents
When we’re at parties with friends and associates
When we’re at restaurants and places of business with the general public
When we’re in our neighborhood with those who live around us
When we’re online through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, blogs, and online forums
When we’re at polling places electing our government leaders
No matter where we are emotionally . . .
When we’re happy and all is right with the world
When we’re angry
When we’re confused
When we’re sad
When we’re lonely
When we’re misunderstood
When we’re afraid
When we’re anxious
When we’re depressed
When we’re grief-stricken
No matter where we are financially . . .
When we’re rich (and by the standard of the rest of the world, most of us are)
When we’re poor
When we’re in debt
When we’re living in luxury
When we’re barely scraping by from paycheck to paycheck
You get the idea. If we’re really are ambassadors for Christ . . . If we really believe He is who He says He is . . . If we really claim to follow Him and obey Him, then we are His representatives in this world all day, every day for the rest of our life here on this earth.
I recently finished leading a study called The Christian Atheist. The basic premise of the book by Craig Groeschel is that we have an awful lot of people who claim to know Christ but who live as if He doesn’t exists.
I interact with many people in the course of any given month – people at church, people in the community, people online. The #1 complaint I hear about Christians is that we’re all a bunch of hypocrites. And while none of us is perfect – or ever will be in our lifetimes – in many ways we damage the good and perfect name of Jesus Christ when we represent Him poorly.
How do we negatively reflect on the name of Jesus Christ?
When we mistreat our family members
When we speak ill of our neighbors
When we betray our friends
When we gossip
When we curse
When we don’t take care of our bodies
When we don’t look after the poor
When we don’t feed the hungry
In Matthew 25:31-40 Jesus speaks of the final judgment.
Our discipleship is not entirely up to us, but we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit and be obedient to the Word of God. When we answer the call to follow Christ, we must lay down our desire to be treated with dignity, honor, and respect, our desire to be loved by this world, our desire to be held in high regard.
The call to follow Christ is a call to humility. Philippians 2 says:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:1-11, NIV
Jesus came to serve – not to be served.
Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21 that we to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Whether you are . . .
An office worker who resides in a cubicle for 50 hours a week
A trucker who is on the road and away from your family six days a week
A postal worker who sorts or delivers mail and packages
An attorney who deals with complaints on a daily basis
A teacher who instructs at-risk students
A nurse, a pharmacist, a landscaper, a construction worker – or ANYTHING ELSE . . .
FIRST AND FOREMOST, if you are a follower of Christ, then your chief job is to serve Him. EVERYTHING else is secondary.
I started this message by talking about how much we love to hear our name. One week ago today I buried my father. He had become ill and gone into Baptist Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi a couple days before I went to see him. What we had thought was a bump in the road became the end of the road instead. Although I was there with him for a couple days before he began to drift away, I didn’t get to hear him call my name. Perhaps you have had the sad experience of having a dearly loved family member forget your name – or even your relationship to them. Oh, how we long to hear our name.
I want to assure you that God knows your name. He cares for you. He loves you with a love that won’t let go. And He’s also ever aware of how you are representing the name of His only Son, Jesus Christ. There’s an old song that says simply, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Is that how people know you? Your family, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, your barber or beautician, your accountant, doctor, mailman, etc.? Are you living your life in such a way that the people around you, like the people in Antioch, could honestly label you a Christian?
(NOTE: This post was originally written and delivered as a sermon by the author on Sunday, April 28, 2013.)