Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard said, “Once you label me you negate me.” What he meant by that statement is this: once you apply a label to a person, you undermine their individuality. You stop seeing them for the whole person the are and you only look at them within the boundaries of the label you have placed upon them. So, people who accept the label that has been applied to that person will no longer see that individual as they really are; they will only see that person within the confines of what the label allows. How true that is!
For instance, if I call you a bigot or a racist and enough people hear me apply that label to you, they will come to see you as a bigot or a racist. It will not matter to them that you may not even be a bigot. They won’t care what kind of work you do for other ethnic groups, or that you may have friends from other ethnic groups. They will not be able to get past the label, and in their eyes, you will always be a bigot. If I call you stingy, and say it long enough and loud enough, it will not matter that you may be a very generous person, to those who accept the label, you will alway be stingy.
It is a dangerous thing to label people. When you try to define a person within the narrow constraints of some belief system or way of life by giving them a label, you are actually trying to cancel out their individuality. You are trying to negate them, as Kierkegaard said. Your labeling of an individual is your attempt to erase them and leave the people who listen to you looking to you as their source of information regarding the other person. It doesn’t matter that you may not know what you are talking about, and that your label is nowhere near the truth, some people will believe the label you have applied. The fact is, labels stick! People hear the name you attach to a person and every time they see them, every time they hear them, all they can remember is the label you have applied.
Let’s be very careful when it comes to the business of labeling other people. We can damage a testimony, harm a reputation, undermine a ministry, negate an individual, when we take it upon ourselves to pigeonhole people and shove them into neatly labeled categories. When we engage in labeling others, we are in the business of making them seem insignificant while we seek to make ourselves look more important.
We have all been guilty of throwing labels. I have been labeled by some people over the years. In recent days I have been called a “Hyper-Calvinist”, a “Calvinist”, a “false prophet”, and a “false teacher”, among other things. Be that as it may, I reject your labels, because I am none of the things you say I am. Although in the minds of some, those labels will always define me. When they think of me, see me, hear me, they will think of what you called me. The same would be true if I were to label you.
So, why don’t we drop the labels and stop trying to force people into neatly laid out categories? Why can’t we just allow people the liberty to be who they are in the Lord without having to try and force them to be just like us? Why can’t we just accept the differences in those around us without trying to make everyone fit into our mold, and then rejecting out of hand those who won’t fit?
Labels are important! They determine how we think of the people we know and encounter in life. It would be good if believers could learn to love others like Jesus loves them. If we could flesh out the truth of the second great commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”, Matt. 22:39. So, if I love you like I should, I will not label you. If I do, however, the label will sound something like friend, brother, sister, etc. You get the idea! Just think about it and drop the labels.
By the way, the meeting here at New Beginnings Baptist is going well. We had a great service last night. I cannot remember the last time I preached with such a sense of the presence and power of God. It was glorious! Pray for the continuation of the meeting.