Today’s devotional: looking past labels

We all label people—it’s almost impossible to avoid. We draw conclusions about others based on their appearance and behavior (and sometimes based on our own preconceptions). Sometimes this is harmless and useful—for instance, in identifying a policeman by his uniform. But when we make moral and spiritual assumptions about people based on their appearance or behavior, we tread on much shakier ground.

In this Nehemiah Notes devotional, Blaine Smith writes about the unfortunate power of labeling:

Such labeling is a compulsive process that we can scarcely avoid completely. Yet the tragedy isn’t that our first impressions so often are inaccurate, but that they so easily get locked in concrete. They become still-life pictures that never change….

Just as unfortunate can be our tendency to label ourselves. Christ is working to change our lives, yet often the greatest barrier is our difficulty in letting go of old self-perceptions.

He holds up Jesus as the perfect example of somebody who looked beyond labels, always pushing past surface impressions to identify people’s potential. The most dramatic example of Jesus defying human labeling and judgment is in his treatment of the “woman at the well;” despite her sinful behavior, Christ engaged her and transformed her into a messenger of his Gospel:

Jesus was under no illusions about her past…. Yet he also showed great respect for her, privileging her with a private discussion about his messiahship.

Following her conversation with Jesus, the woman broke out of her shell. She returned to Samaria and declared to numerous people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”

John minces no words about the woman’s effectiveness in arousing her townspeople’s interest in Jesus. “They came out of the town and made their way toward him…. Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony…. And because of his words many more became believers.”

What’s most interesting is that Jesus allowed her to play this critical evangelistic role. She ignited one of the most stunning explosions of interest in Christ recorded in the New Testament. And all because Jesus saw beyond her immediate condition to a vision of what she could become.

None of us have Jesus’ divine insight into other people’s hearts and motivations. But Jesus’ example shows us that while we should recognize and respond to the behavior that people present to the world, our interaction with others should not stop there. The sinner who offends and repels us just might be a saint waiting for someone to engage them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

2 Responses to “Today’s devotional: looking past labels”

  • em says:

    I like :)

  • This is perhaps one of the most important lessons in all the New Testament. Not just the Samaritan woman at the well but also the sinful woman who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair and applied perfumed oil for his refreshing. In both situations we find very sinful women ministering to the Christ. We also find total repentence, forgiveness and as is mentioned in this writing, two soon to become evangelists. I realize how controversial the truth of this is but it certainly appears that Jesus anoints two repentant sinful women to share the gospel truth. That comes very close to being ordained by God Himself.