Labeling something incorrectly—or deceptively—can be dangerous, even deadly!
Some years ago, the Appeal-Democrat reported a case of deceptive and dangerous mislabeling: “A British Columbia-based nursery is trying to track down people who bought poisonous plants that were incorrectly labeled ‘tasty in soup.’ Valleybrook Gardens, which distributed the plants has worked with government officials to locate the buyers of 17 improperly labeled perennials sold at stores in Lynnwood, Wash., British Columbia and Ontario from April 18 to 25. Only eight of the plants had been accounted for by Sunday. The label should have read, ‘All parts of this plant are toxic,’ but an employee changed it to, ‘All parts of this plant are tasty in soup,’ said Michel Benoit, the nursery’s general manager. ‘The employee was making a practical joke and thought it would be caught by a horticulturist,’ said Benoit.”
As a Christian pastor, it makes me very sad when a person who is filled with the toxins of hatred, cruelty, harsh judgments, abuse of others, hypocrisy, gossip, greed, and selfishness goes around with the label “Christian” pasted upon himself or herself, poisoning the hearts of others.
Andy Frost writes about people who have lost their faith because of toxic people in the church: “They have not been let down by Jesus but in some way they have been let down or hurt by the very people who claim to represent Him. Their stories are painful to listen to…stories of cover-ups, hypocrisy, gossip and the abuse of power.”
Jesus describes such people who are full of toxins but who paste the label “Christian” on themselves as “ferocious wolves” in “sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15).
And Jesus tells us, in Matthew 7:16 & 20, that the way we can recognize true people of faith from false people of faith is by the fruit of their lives.
What is the fruit we should be looking for in ourselves or in others as evidence of genuine faith? Jesus spell it out in John 13:35: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
According to Jesus, if people see us loving others, that will be evidence to them that Christ is living in us and loving through us. But if people do not see us loving others, they will see no evidence of Christ’s presence in us.
Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw comment, “In the South, we have a saying: ‘You are the spittin’ image’ of someone. Folks still speculate over how exactly the phrase originated, but I’ve heard it put like this. It’s a shorthand for ‘spirit and image.’ Spittin’ image. It means more than just that you look like that person. It goes beyond just appearance to include character and temperament. It means that you remind people of that person. You have their charisma. You do the same things they did. In the truest sense, Christians are to be the spittin’ image of Jesus in the world. We are to be the things he was. We are to preach the things he preached and live the way he lived…. We are to remind the world of Jesus.”
What was the character of Jesus?
Love was His character. He reached out to the rejected; He was a friend to those who had no friend; He touched the untouchable; He lifted up the downtrodden; He had mercy on the sinner. He loved graciously, unconditionally, and without limitation. He loved sacrificially!
Do people see this character trait in us? That will be the evidence to the world whether Christ lives in us or not.■
—Tom Tripp is the Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Colusa.