What’s in a name?

It is not uncommon for me to write posts connected with what God is showing to me from His word as I study each week.  This week is no exception.  As an aside, I must admit, I’m thoroughly blessed and privileged that one of my important work responsibilities is to study His word, something I just love to do.

I’m currently studying Ephesians 3:14-21.  What Paul says in verses 14-15 and 19b particularly stand out to me as cornerstones of what he is saying in this section.  Verses 14-15 read, “For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, of whom every family in the heavens and upon the earth is being named…”  For some months now, as I have studied and preached through Galatians and now Ephesians, I have been constantly focused on the idea of the Christian’s true identity, which is defined as how God already knows us – Christ.  

Verses 14 & 15 reiterate that idea.  Those of us who are “in Christ” through believing the message of Christ are part of the family of God, the Father, who has given to us His name.  Names, particularly surnames, carry reputation with it, reputations that can be of a positive or negative nature.  Think about a child whose father’s name was Benedict Arnold; what would immediately come to one’s mind about the family tree?  Or how about Hitler? Or Castro or a family in your local community that is known for some negative reason.  When a child, whose family name has something negative connected to it, does something negative, people are not surprised by it; rather, they actually expect it.  And regardless of the name, somewhere, somehow, and in some group, reputations and characteristics are attached to family names and trees.  That’s just the reality of it.  And that reputation and characteristics of that family name are attached to everyone with it until and unless a member of that family does something to change it or distance one’s self from it.  My goodness, how many people have changed their surname in an attempt to do just this.

Each generation of every family has the ability to positively or negatively affect the family name through their lives. And the same is true of the name of God’s family.  I’m a student of history.  I find it interesting how in the 1800’s, when there was a societal problem and people were unsure of to deal with it, people cheered when the Christians showed up to help and serve in addressing the problem.  Fast forward into the 20th century and something changed.  When there was a societal problem and the Christians showed up, people no longer cheered.  There was actually despair because, unlike in the 1800’s when the Christians showed up to serve, they now showed up to take control and tell people how and what to do.

And that trend has continued into the 21st century.  As a whole, Christians and churches have a reputation for wanting to be in control, being able to tell others what they can or cannot do and what they should do, and sitting in judgment of people who don’t fall in line with their edicts of how to live life.  I have personally experienced this.  During my ministry years spent in northwest Pennsylvania, I was privileged to be allowed to go every week into the lunch rooms of both the middle and high school of our district to spend time with the students and to be there for them in whatever capacity they needed.  When I first approached the two principals of these buildings, after telling them who I was, the very first thing, and I do mean the very first thing, I emphasized with them was that I was there to serve the school and them.  I emphasized that I was under their authority and that my desire was to be their servant.  I was not there to exert any perceived right or do anything that would take away from their goal of producing young people who are contributing citizens of society.  They were shocked by this.  It had not been their experience that Christians wanted to truly serve and be servants and were willing to place themselves under the authority of another in this type of situation.  And let me tell you, I never once betrayed my servant status.  I cleaned up tables after lunch, helped stack chairs, and did whatever was asked of me if there was any way I could possibly do it.  This relationship lasted for 5 years or so and I was so highly regarded on that campus that I was even given my own visitor’s name badge with my name (Pastor Jim) on it.  Additionally, because of this, I was asked by the student leadership group to be the speaker at an all-school assembly dealing with the topic of respect.  I started many relationships with students during that time, relationships that continue to this day, albeit through Facebook, but I’ll take what I can get.

I remember reading a story about a college campus pastor who was sitting with a young man who was not a Christian.  This pastor was sharing the gospel with him and the young man seemed to be in total agreement with what the pastor was saying.  So, the pastor decided to attempt to “close the deal” and asked the young man if he wanted to become a Christian.  The young man’s response took the pastor a back.  The young man said no.  When the pastor asked why not, the young man said, “Because I don’t want to be like you,” meaning that he did not want to have the reputation that was attached to Christians through his personal and friends experience attached to him.  He did not want that family name to be attached to him because of all the rest.

Now, one can argue against that all one wants, but unfortunately there are way too many people for whom this young man’s experience resonates and resembles their own.  The overall and general reputation now attached to the name of God’s family by the world at large is not one characterized by love, humility, grace, mercy and serving.  Rather, it is characterized by control, a you-had-better-do-things-our-way attitude, judgment, and condemnation. 

The identity of one who is an adopted son or daughter of God is sure, but our level of experience regarding it varies.  And that’s where the last half of verse 19 comes in to play.  “…so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”  There is a difference between possessing and experiencing that true identity.  Being “filled with all the fullness of God” means that we are filled with God’s love, understanding, and power of which Paul has spoken in the intervening verses.  It means that when people encounter us, they experience the true character and nature of God which is integral to the reputation of the family name.  Paul wants all the saints (the adopted sons and daughters of God) to take possession of Christ’s love which surpasses all knowledge and understanding.

What does this world need to experience from those who have been given the name of the Father?  Love, true love.  I find it interesting that many Christians have no problem and are drawn to and actually relish those opportunities known as “speaking the truth in love,” better known as “tough love,” especially when in doing so, they are able to inform a person how messed up s/he is.  What I don’t see stressed as often about love in action is the Apostle Peter’s words: “Above all, have fervent love among yourselves, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8) or the Apostle Paul’s words describing the character of true love when he said that love “endures/puts up with/perhaps passes over in silence all things (1 Corinthians 13:6).

Could it be that more Christians are drawn to, operate in, and excel in the “tough love” realm because, in some way, a measure of justice is combined with it in making sure the person to whom this love is shown is taken down a peg or two?  Why is it Christians are more prone to respond to situations in our culture today with a message of God’s wrath and judgment rather than God’s love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness.  Could it be be from a residual affect of the old nature that desires others to receive justice for their sins?  That bears some additional thought. 

I pray that through wearing the family name just as Christ did while on earth that people would be drawn to God, not out of some fear of judgment or wrath, but in response to an incredibly loving, grace-filled, merciful, and forgiving God that yearns to demonstrate Himself and His character in marvelous ways, impacting their lives in incredibly positive ways.



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