Words have a lot of power, and how we use our words can bring healing, health, and strength to others. However, words used inappropriately can cause hurt, harm, and even death. All words have meaning, and some words can be used with other words to mean different things. Additionally, the tone and context of how words are used also contribute to how we receive what is said. I’ve noticed that some words that were bad words when I was a kid are now commonly used on television, in films, books, and in regular conversation. The other thing I’ve noticed is that some words that were not bad words when I was a kid are considered inappropriate today. How does this transformation of words come about? How can a word commonly used twenty years ago become a pejorative term today? What words are we using today that will not be suitable for society tomorrow? 

I won’t be presenting any in-depth findings in this piece today that answers all of these questions, I do want to consider one word that was used negatively about 2,000 years ago and still has some negative connotations in the world today, depending on the country and company in which it’s used. That word is “Christian.”

If I asked a Christian what it means to be a Christian, I’d likely get several different types of responses. I’d expect all of them to be positive. However, if I asked someone in say, North Korea, what they thought it meant to be a Christian and to share their thoughts on the term, I’d get a very different, likely negative, response. As Christians in the West, we might not realize we’re not welcome everywhere in the world with open arms. Indeed, we might not even realize that the persecution of Christians is alive and active today. 

In 2020 the average number of Christians who were martyred for following Jesus was thirteen a day according to this report on OpenDoors.org. In the West, we don’t see these sorts of events happening directly, but we should be ever mindful, when we pray, to pray for those who face death and persecution daily for the freedom they have in Christ. 

The meanings of words change when thinking changes. Thinking changes when society changes. Therefore, it makes sense in an ever-evolving technological world, to see words grow and take on new shapes. When we consider Christianity and the word “Christian”, we must consider the use of this word in the Bible.

The word Christian only appears three times within Scripture in the Bible. I’ve included the three verses that contain this verse below.

And when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Acts 11:26 (NIV)

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

Acts 26:28 (NIV)

However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

1 Peter 4:16 (NIV)

Originally, “Christian,” was a derogatory term used by unbelievers. “Saints, brethren, and followers of the way,” were some of the terms Christians would have self-identified with, although “the way” would have been from a primarily Jewish perspective. Hostile Jews may have also used the term “Nazarene’s.” 

When we consider Christian in a derogatory manner, these verses from Acts and 1 Peter 4 can present us with a new perspective. We’re likely familiar with the term “dogs” used by the Jews to describe Gentiles. Most of the time, when we see the word “dogs” in the Bible, it’s talking about our canine friends. However, we can see from this passage in Matthew that it also relates to those who are not Jewish.

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Matthew 15:21-28 (NIV)

In this passage, Jesus is telling this Canaanite woman that he’s only been sent to the people of Israel to help them. They are described as, “the lost sheep of Israel,” which makes everyone else one of the “dogs” who shouldn’t get the bread (His teaching, healing, etc.) that’s meant for the children (Israel). Instead of being offended by the Lord’s statement, the woman accepts the term “dog” in the metaphor and uses it to convince Jesus to heal her daughter. 

The Canaanite woman has reappropriated the word. Her acceptance of the metaphor and her place as a “dog” causes it to lose power over her.

In a way, this is what we see in 1 Peter 4:16 when he tells people who suffer as Christians to not be ashamed of the term. What does Peter say? “Praise God that you bear that name.” Christians have been doing exactly what Peter told them to do, and we see the results of it today.

Like the cross that was an object of shame and humility, but redeemed as an object of Glory, for on it our Lord and Savior was crucified, so the word Christian is one that we proudly bear, although the world still may look upon it with derision.

Do you know God? God knows you, and He loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, right now, and He wants you to know Him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, be freed from death, and live eternally with Him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away. 

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation today:

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all my sins. I repent from my ways. Wash me in your blood and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I believe that you died on the cross, were buried, and on the third day, God the Father raised you from the dead. Right now, Lord Jesus, I open the door to my heart, and I receive you into my heart as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.