What’s in a name… or perhaps the lack of one?
I’ve struggled with swearing for a long time, but my wife recently challenged me to work on an additional expression of anger: name-calling. One of the most well-known verses about anger actually refers specifically to name-calling:
“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” — Matthew 5:22 ESV
Note that, at least in the English translation, no “bad words” are used—just judgmental names for someone. So do we think it’s okay to call someone a good-for-nothing? No—we’re supposed to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (), to love them as God loved us. And God doesn’t call believers all the derogatory things he could, instead, he calls us beloved and saints. So we should be as convicted about calling someone “idiot” or “moron” as we are swearing about them.
But as I started to work on my name-calling, I noticed myself doing something else; I guess you could call it “reverse name-calling.” I started saying things like “any decent person would…” or “if they had any sensitivity at all they would…” Once I thought about it, though, I realized that it’s still name calling; it’s really no different than calling the person indecent or insensitive. Notice how deceptive our sinful nature can be, to find ways to continue to sin even as we work on stamping sin out.
Of course, the point is not that we can never say a negative word about anyone. (Check out what Jesus had to say about the Pharisees in Matthew 23!) The point is our attitude. When we talk about others’ shortcomings, we should have an attitude of forgiveness and desire for them to change, not one of rejecting them as a person. I believe there is space for venting (though I can’t recall a verse that would be a good example), but that venting needs to lead you in the direction of forgiveness and positive feelings about the person, and not down a bitter and vile path! In my case, however, this reverse name-calling definitely came from the same attitude as normal name-calling and swearing—one of anger and rejection.
Jesus called love one of the most central concepts in the Christian life. In gauging your love, don’t just pay attention to your swearing, but also your name-calling—and even your reverse name-calling.
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (ESV)