"What's In A Name" by Tim Smelser

What’s In a Name?

Names have always fascinated me: first names, last names, nicknames. For many people, their last name may have been derived from the job or trade an ancestor performed generations ago. When a child is named by its parents that name could be based on a favorite Bible character, a favorite friend or relative, or a name that has been in the family for many generations. Then there are the nicknames, or names by which one might commonly be known to close friends. Nicknames are often a variation of one’s first name, last name, or just something silly that matches an individual’s personality. Through the years, as I have paid attention to various names, I have known of a football player named Tee, a golfer named Chip, a weatherman named Winter, and a preacher whose last name was Bible. I also knew a preacher named Boring, but let’s not get into that here!

Most of us, I’m sure, have noted how names in the Bible have significance and meaning. Some are strong and powerful: Joshua (Jehovah is my salvation), Daniel (God is my judge), Ezekiel (God is my strength) and Zedekiah (Jehovah is my righteousness). Some are less flattering though, like Jacob (scoundrel, cheat) or Nabal (fool, foolish). Then of course there is the youngest son of Jacob. His mother Rachel named him Ben-oni (son of my sorrow) because she was dying in childbirth. Jacob wisely changed his name to Benjamin (son of my right hand). After all, who wants to go through life named, “I caused my mother’s death?” The name Abimelech means “my father is/was king.” Whether Gideon named him this or Abimelech changed his original name, it certainly reflects some unauthorized political ambitions.

All of this is to simply show that names mean something. Names show a connection, an affinity or a relationship, and names can often reveal personality or inner character. So what of our names, spiritually speaking, today? I’m not talking about what name we might happen to put on a sign outside our meeting place. I am talking about the name we wear that indicates our relationship with God; the name by which others might know us or even call us when they think of who we are spiritually. Christian? Saint? Believer? A part of the Way?

Peter refers to the
name Christian in 1 Peter 4:16 and admonishes us to “glorify God in this name.” While many scholars believe this may have originally been used as a term of derision, the word “called” in Acts 11:26 frequently refers to divine communication or ordination. Sadly, today the name Christian often means nothing more than a citizen of a country who is not Jewish or Muslim. Literally it means “that which belongs to or pertains to Christ.” It is not something to be taken lightly or casually. Like a family name or a given name, it shows a peculiar and distinctive relationship. In similar fashion the term “saint” shows a relationship, but it also should reveal personality or inner character. The word means “holy one; one sanctified and separated.” While perhaps not a proper name, saint was a term used in reference to Christians, followers of Jesus. Ananias used it this way in Acts 9:13 and Paul often addressed his letters to those who were “called saints” (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2). Do we wear these names in a manner befitting their meanings, or do we simply wear them ceremonially?

If we truly live our lives reflecting the names we wear spiritually, there is another name that awaits us. This is a name which will be given to us by God and by which we will be known to God. In Revelation 2, as the Lord encourages the saints at Pergamum to be faithful and overcome, He references this new name. “To him who overcomes…I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it” (2:17). In Revelation 3, to the saints in Philadelphia, a similar promise is made. “He that overcomes…I will write upon him the name of my God…and my own new name.” This is likely a reference to Isaiah 56:1-5, where God tells His people of the blessings which await those who are faithful and righteous. “Unto them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name better than of sons and of daughters; I will give them an everlasting name….” (Isaiah 56:5).

We may be known by many different names and titles to friends, family members, co-workers and neighbors, but we must always conduct ourselves as those who belong to Christ. We must live like He lived. As saints we should not only consider ourselves separated from the world, but we should behave and live daily as citizens of a heavenly kingdom. Our name means something, and if we hope to receive a new name, an everlasting name from our God and Savior, we will remember this fact on a daily basis.

Tim Smelser