What does that word mean? Is it good or bad?
When I was a classroom teacher I would ask my middle school language arts students these questions to make a couple important points: 1. Many words don’t have meanings, they have usages, and 2. We should always be aware of a word’s connotation.
Whether or not words have intrinsic meaning is a subject of philosophical debate (yes, someone somewhere is losing sleep over this). Our example using trunk shows us how complicated the issue can be because trunk really has no clear meaning on its own. It could refer to a part of a car or part of an elephant or part of a tree or something you store old clothes in and keep in the attic. We don’t really know without context.
And trunk isn’t good or bad. No word is…because words don’t have intrinsic moral value. I can’t think of a single word that deserves a time out (well, other than diet…lol). It’s what a word defines or describes that might be good or bad. I think we sometimes miss this because many words have both denotations (dictionary definition) and connotations—underlying emotional connections that can be positive or negative.
Here’s an example. I just turned 50 this year. I could be described as old or mature. One of these adjectives makes me want to cry, while the other makes me want to stand a little taller and strut my stuff. Why? Because even though they mean something similar, they have totally different connotations. Old sounds negative or bad. Mature sounds positive or good.
So, why does any of this matter? It matters because if we don’t give at least a little bit of thought to the words being thrown at us, we can be easily manipulated by them. Just think of the young teenage girl who hears a cute guy say the word God in passing and immediately thinks he’s a sold-out Christian. Mom! he said “God”! I just know he’s the one.
There are three Christian buzz words I believe we should be thinking more deeply about to avoid deception and manipulation: unity, division, and awakening.
Your autopilot feeling about this word is probably warm fuzzies. It does have a positive connotation, and for the most part, I’d agree that unity is a good thing. But merely attaching the word unity to something doesn’t make it morally good. In fact, it could lead to something horribly immoral. Would you want to declare unity with a serial killer? Or with someone who fully supports and promotes something you don’t believe in at all? Even a different gospel? I wouldn’t.
I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing the word unity thrown around a lot lately. And it sure does have stadium-packing power, which makes me stop and wonder…is unity for unity’s sake a good thing? Or is it what we’re unified over or who we’re unified with that matters most? I subscribe to the latter.
The Bible speaks of unity’s beauty and significance. In John 17:23, Jesus tells us that our unity will show the world the Father’s love. But there’s a huge caveat we must not forget here: it’s the unity of…believers. Let’s face it, not everyone who claims to be a Christian really is one. In Matthew chapter 7, Jesus very clearly warns us that in the last days there will be many false prophets who will do some pretty amazing things like driving out demons and performing miracles, and He instructs us to watch out for them. He tells us they will be hard to spot because they will look exactly like sheep. Think about that a minute. The false folks will not be obvious, which clearly indicates a need for some very careful fruit inspection. If it’s bad, I don’t want to unify with that.
It’s easy for crafty people to weaponize words we all treasure—luring us into unity with something we’d never agree to if more fully explained. Even when discussing Jesus, just a handful of people could be talking about an entirely different person. All it takes to get people where you want them is oratory talent and the ability to cry on demand. I’m sad to say this, but it really is easy to emotionally manipulate a crowd. In fact, we’re even more easily manipulated when in a crowd than when alone. Which is another reason I’m not jumping on every unity bandwagon. We must use discernment…which isn’t a feeling, by the way. It’s analysis, which requires intellect.
Now, this word is on the opposite side of the feelings spectrum. No warm fuzzies found here. In fact, this word is apt to be accompanied by a finger-wagging tisk tisk. If you’re accused of causing division, you might as well have the scarlet letter D sewn on all your clothing. It’s that bad.
But let’s think about it for a minute. Just as with unity, division is only as good or bad as what you’re dividing over or from. If I find out that I’m participating in a group that is up to no good, and then I decide to step away from it and warn my friends of the danger, I’m causing division. But is that bad division? Not at all. Wouldn’t you do the same? I sure hope so.
It’s true, spitefully trying to break up healthy fellowship such as trying to bring division between true believers is not pleasing to God. But I see a lot of people crying Division! when it’s not at all the case. Here are a couple examples of what is NOT division:
One Christian writing a book review that points out unbiblical claims in another book written by a Christian for Christians is not division. It’s judging teachings or truth claims, and we are actually called to do that. I’m thankful when someone is on the ball enough to catch bad theology in something I’ve read or listened to because sometimes I’m not really looking for it or just didn’t know it. There is no way we can all spot every error out there. We need each other to chime in, and that kind of input isn’t division its sometimes just food for thought and other times a giant warning flag. By the way…anyone who writes a book and puts it out for the public is expecting reviews. In fact, scholars invite peer reviews, which usually involve calling out error or areas of disagreement. And they love this. The more peer reviews the better. A book review is not a divisive personal attack.
Another thing that’s not division is when a victim of spiritual abuse (or any other abuse) tells his or her story to others, naming their abusers. When we label victims divisors or shame them for sharing what they’ve been through, it’s victimizing them again. Imagine a support group of young girls who’ve been rescued out of sex slavery talking amongst themselves about what they’ve been through. Would you ever go up to one of them and call them divisive for this? Or label them ungodly for talking about their abusers behind their backs? No way! But that is happening all the time in churches. People who have left (or been kicked out of) churches due to abusive situations are often left on their own—actually shunned—because people are afraid to reach out to them. Talking honestly about what happened to you in a dark alley is encouraged. Talking openly about what happened to you behind closed doors in a church is called division. And boy does the enemy love this. How fortunate for abusers who are protected by this false idea.
What’s really crazy is that Jesus Himself would be labeled the biggest divisor of all. He called out false teachers and prophets and told us to do it, too. And listen to what He says in Luke 12:51-53 (NIV):
Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.
Seems like Jesus would be kicked out of most churches these days. Or at least blasted on Facebook.
This word has a positive connotation to most people unless you’re a teenager thinking about getting out of bed on a Monday morning. But I’ll be honest, this word gives me the heebie jeebies. I think it’s because it sounds so New Age, and kinda sounds like the title of a horror movie. This is an incredibly popular word in Christian circles for some reason right now, and it’s important for us to think about it a little.
Awakenings are only as good as what’s being awakened, right? Awakening Smaug, the dragon from The Hobbit, not so good. Awakening my need for personal repentance if I’ve started mistreating people and acting like an entitled brat, very good.
The problem I have is that the term awakening is so vague and isn’t usually defined clearly when used. There are several large events around the world with the word Awaken or Awakening in the title, and I always want to ask Awaken what? And when I go to the website to find an answer, I really don’t find anything clear. It’s confusing.
I did a quick word search in the Bible for any form of the word awake. What I found was very few references, most of them literal references to not being asleep. A few in the Psalms, which are poetry and songs, were directed to God or figuratively toward a sword or a soul. In Song of Solomon it warns against awakening love. But I didn’t see any instruction to have or seek an awakening in the New Testament. Now, I’m not saying that just because a word isn’t used very often in the Bible it’s not important. But I am saying the Bible doesn’t systematically teach awakenings as a spiritual discipline…or something Christians should actively seek or do such as Jesus’ command for us to love Him with our minds or the command to rightly divide the Word of Truth.
The word awakening is used in several New Age religions. Here is a general definition I found just from a basic Google search:
An Awakening is when the confused and frightened self transcends to a higher consciousness, an awareness full of love and peace. A spiritual Awakening should not be confused with "enlightenment" that may be defined as an intellectual understanding of higher religious principles.
There are other definitions, but awakening often refers to tapping into unused energy in the brain or stirring up some inner power or life force that brings someone to a higher level of…well something. Just google awakening, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s a funky word, and it definitely needs clarification.
Should we search our hearts? Yes. We always need to search our hearts for hidden sin so we can confess it and enjoy forgiveness. King David modeled a prayer life like this in Psalm 139:23 where he gives God permission to search his thoughts. I try to follow that example as a lifestyle, but other than a deeper awareness of my need for ongoing sanctification, I’m not quite sure what needs to be awakened in me.
Friends, we are living in crazy times, and we are engaged in a daily battle for truth. Good and bad ideas are thrown around every day, and we must do our part to take thoughts (and words) captive to see if they are obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)