The topic is “labels.” I probably already lost you when I said those dreaded words “youth group,” but bear with me.
Labels are detrimental no matter what age you are. You cannot escape them. You can graduate high school, go to college, cure cancer, become famous, and you might still be the kid who wet his pants on stage. Even if you spend your whole life without embarrassment, you always risk being reduced to a news article about whatever new thing your generation has ruined. Labels follow you everywhere.
Why do we label? When I gave this talk, I showed a few examples of lousy off-brand labels. It was a few things like Crust toothpaste, Arm and Hatchet baking soda, a Nintendo WiWi, and more. All of these knock-off products gave themselves a label because it’s who they wanted to be perceived as. To the distracted eye, you might not notice the difference, but once you see the inside, it becomes apparent. Labels are misleading, even the ones we give ourselves.
However, sometimes labels are given to us without our permission. They are meant to tear us down or make the perpetrator feel better about themselves. Something of this sort even happened early on in the Bible. Look at Genesis 25:21-26.
And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. Genesis 25:21-26 ESV
Did you catch some of those labels? Isaac and Rebekah named their children as soon as they were born. I’m not against names, but these titles were more like labels because of their meanings. Pay attention to Jacob’s label; he “came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob.” Jacob literally means “heel-grabber.” That might not mean anything today, but this phrase had a negative connotation in biblical times. A heel-grabber was someone who was sneaky and selfish.
Fresh out of the womb, Jacob is labeled as sneaky and selfish. He takes his brother’s toy stick like a normal child- heel grabber. He accidentally knocks over a family tent- heel grabber. He catches a rock in the end zone- heel grabber. It does not matter what he does; people are still calling him a heel grabber. He begins taking this persona to heart, and a part of me gets the feeling that Jacob decides to actually become a heel grabber. He chooses to steal his brother’s birthright, and the rest is history.
You might have been given a label that makes you feel like you don’t belong. You may have never even got the chance to be yourself. At some point, you took “ownership” of that label by becoming what you’ve been called, just like Jacob did.
However, the story did not end there. Jacob goes through life, marriage, kids, heel grabbing, and all. One day, in Genesis 32:22-32, he encounters a man that wrestles with him until daybreak. They are grabbing heels and pulling hips out of joint until the man realizes that Jacob will not let him go. Jacob then takes this moment to bargain with the man. “But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.'” It is this moment that Jacob was destined for. God knew from the very beginning that the label that plagued Jacob for his whole life would one day come to fruition. He took the most significant issue of Jacob, his sneakiness and selfishness, and turned it into something that he could use to demand a blessing from an angel (or what Jacob called seeing God face to face). He gets a new name, Israel, and everything changes from there.
Labels are given to us for various reasons, but they don’t define us. The only one who can label us is the one who created us. God provides us with a label and a new name because we belong to him. Labels are similar to naming rights. You can only name something if you own the rights to it. We try so hard to name ourselves or destroy the labels we’ve been given. The only real label we can have comes from God. He bought our naming rights with the blood of Jesus on the cross. He was rejected, so we could be accepted.
Even when we don’t measure up or become a heel grabber, we are still accepted. We can keep our new labels of being forgiven, loved, and wanted.
Spend this week:
• remembering that the labels you’ve been given don’t
• being aware of the labels you place on others.
• actively praying to become the person God wants you
• letting Christ take every label off of you
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned
with salt, so that you may know how to answer
everyone. Colossians 4:6