Sometimes words can take us on a wild ride. Words can morph into various meanings and the original gets lost. For example, “Girl” did not always mean a young female; it simply meant a young person. “Fantastic” means extraordinarily good but originally it meant something imaginative. We see this meaning in a cousin word, fantasy. And what about, “backlog?” It represents a long list of tasks that need to get done but its original meaning is from the 1600s. It literally meant what it says, a log in the back of a fireplace.
We can also see changes in the meaning of religious words. The cultural slang has taken “bad” to mean awesome or good; “Heaven” to be an earthly place of ecstasy, and “wicked” to be something incredible.
“Christian” is another one that has changed. According to Luke who wrote the book of Acts, “… The Disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (1) The early Christians were known for sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with Jews and non-Jews out of a deep passion and love for God even if it meant persecution. They followed Jesus no matter the cost. Today, “Christian” may take on the characteristics of being good or following a set of rules that may have nothing to do with Jesus.
The other day I had a conversation with a friend who doesn’t embrace Christian beliefs. His description of Christians was far from flattering. He quickly told me that, “They criticize and put others down. They are political. They make us feel bad for who we are and what we do.”
As we talked further, I mentioned that the Bible teaches that Christians should be known by their love. He shook his head, “No, that’s not what I see at all. If that was true, I would have more respect and listen to what they say.”
So when we say we are a Christian, we mean that we are followers of Jesus. To the ones who hear us, they may receive that we are criticizers and politically driven.
Playing the game of words is difficult, but being aware of different meanings can help us identify miscommunication. When we share Jesus with others or someone learns that we are Christian, living the meaning can help others understand the original message. And when we pray, ask God to speak His words to the hearts of listeners. This way, the message of Jesus Christ will be made known.
Pamela Williams writes from Southern California.
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