This may seem like a strange sort of topic to write on, but there is a reason for it. I have lost count of the number of times fellow believers have said something like: ‘You shouldn’t call people names. It is un-Christlike and unloving and you must not do it if you are a Christian’.
I have gotten this line thrown at me so many times that I just scratch my head and wonder if these often well-meaning folks have actually even read their Bibles. The very simple truth is this: name-calling, properly understood, occurs all the time in Scripture. Whether we are talking about the prophets, the disciples, or even Jesus himself, it is a regular occurrence and they do not have the slightest problem with it.
If that is the case, why do so many Christians have such a problem with it? Why do they decry the very things we find so often in the Bible itself? Why do these folks think they can be more Christlike than Christ, and more loving than God himself?
Now before I go any further, let me say what I am not implying here: we are not to go out of our way abusing people, denigrating people and attacking people. But that is a very different thing from standing up for truth, and calling a spade a spade.
By name-calling I mean simply this: calling people what they are. If a person repeatedly and persistently lies, then to call him a liar is neither untrue nor unkind nor unloving. It is simply speaking the truth. And the biblical writers do it all the time. They have no problem in speaking the truth in this fashion.
If a person is constantly cowardly, guess what? He is a coward, and there is nothing wrong with telling the truth here. If a person is a persistent God-hater, there is nothing amiss at all in calling him just that: a God-hater. If a person steals stuff all the time, he is a thief, pure and simple.
Yet time and time again I get over-sensitive believers telling me one can never call a person a liar or a thief or God-hater. Never? So Paul for example was sinning when he did this time and time again? Simply look at the many sin lists presented in Scripture.
In addition to the many obvious ones found in the Old Testament, such as Deuteronomy 27-28, we have plenty of these in the New Testament as well. Paul had plenty of them. Just consider a few of the following lists which he offers:
Rom 1:28-32 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
1 Cor 6:9-11 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were.
Gal 5:19-21 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Eph 5:3-7 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.
I Tim 1:8-11 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
2 Tim 3:1-9 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.
Wow, that sure is a lot of name calling going on there. The very thing wimpy believers say we just cannot do, Paul seems to do in buckets full. He had no qualms at all about calling people greedy or immoral or unrighteous or ungodly or evil or rebellious or reprobate. And he could speak of both believers and non-believers in such terms. And he did it in love as well.
Yet too many believers think this is somehow un-Christlike and unbiblical. Sorry, but if I have to choose between the apostle Paul, inspired as he was by the Holy Spirit to write what he did, and these wimpy Christians, I know who I will side with any day of the week.
It is not being judgmental to speak the truth. If a person regularly denounces God, berates him and vents his anger about God, then it is perfectly accurate and correct to refer to such a person as a God-hater. That is exactly what they are, and Paul knew all about such folks, and consistently called them what they were.
So many believers today think we have to live in some sort of sanitised cloud, never saying anything that might even remotely be considered to be offensive or harsh. But the Bible is full of harsh and offensive language. Indeed, I have discussed this often elsewhere, eg:
As always, getting the biblical balance right is crucial here. If it is wrong for some believers to be always full of criticism and negative attacks, constantly deriding and belittling others, so too it is wrong for some believers to be so limp-wristed that they are never willing to speak out against sin and point out obvious wrong and evil behaviours.
And to point out such evil of course does not mean we cannot be praying for those folks. I can rightly call an abortionist names, such as a baby-killer, for that is exactly what he is. But I of course can also be praying for him. Speaking truth and interceding for others goes hand in hand. We do not have to choose between one and the other.
Speaking the truth in love is part of our Christian calling. It may be hard to always get it right, but we must try nonetheless. So is proclaiming the gospel. It will of course offend some, anger some, and turn off some. But that is their problem. We have an obligation to speak truth.
Being insensitive and overly harsh is certainly wrong. But so too is being so afraid to offend anyone that we end up saying nothing. Let’s seek to get that biblical balance right.