Adjectives, also called modifiers, are powerful. They are the difference between a car and a fast car. They’re the difference between a man and a rich man, or tall man, or annoying man. Adjectives help us better explain and understand the world. Our language would be pretty boring without them. As with all powerful things, they can be used for good or ill. While they help us explain and categorize the world, they also allow us to categorize and divide people.
People are most easily divided into racial, ethnic, or religious categories: white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc. If I were to describe my friend, it would be easy to describe him using the above categories first. I might say he’s Asian, and you would then place him immediately into whatever box you have labeled “Asian” in your mind, good, bad, or indifferent. If I said he was a doctor, you would then place him in a sub-category that fits your understanding of “doctor,” likely wealthy, educated, important, etc. As I continued to describe my friend, you would increasingly see him through the lenses of the adjectives I use to describe him. However, no matter how many adjectives I might use to paint the best picture possible, you will not really understand who my friend is unless you personally get to know him. He is a man who happens to be Asian and a doctor.
It matters how we others. When walking down the street, do you see a person, or a homeless person? Do you see a man, or an immigrant man? Do you see a woman, or an addicted woman? Do you see a child, or an unruly child? Do you see the person made in the image of God, or just their appearance or behavior? Do your descriptors change the amount of love and grace you extend to that person?
The apostle Paul writes specifically about the division found within the body of Christ as a result of the categories we use. As divided as the world is, the Church must be a place of unity. Paul writes: “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” – Colossians 3:11
But what about those outside the Church? Should we love people less because they are of a different religion or social class? Or because their politics, beliefs, or lifestyle is diametrically opposed to our own? (This assumes our politics and lifestyles are godly!) Shouldn’t we love these people more? Jesus Christ was clear in His mission, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:31-32 This Jesus says in response to the religious snobs questioning why Jesus was eating with sinners and tax collectors. When Jesus called Levi out of the tax booth, He didn’t see greedy, dishonest, tax-collector Levi. He saw Levi. He saw a man who needed hope, forgiveness, and redemption. Instead of writing Levi off, Jesus gave him purpose. We so desperately need to shed the adjectives and see the people underneath as the precious souls Jesus went to the cross to save, that Jesus loves enough to die for—just like you and me.
The mission of the Church is to love people—all people—and introduce them to Jesus Christ. Don’t let your adjectives get in the way.