Name calling has been a thing for a long, long time. We accept what others say about us, and even our own self-given identities evolve.
We’re about a week into our study in John’s gospel, and already massive truths have come crashing over my head. This topic of names, for instance. John earned the nickname ‘son of thunder’ because of the story (which I find hilarious) in Luke 9:51-56. In case you’re wondering, ‘son of thunder’ means kind of the opposite of ‘all-around nice guy.’ But this isn’t the only title you’ll find attached to his lapel. What did John call himself as he penned his gospel? ‘The disciple whom Jesus loved.’
Gutsy, right? I mean, would you feel comfortable filling out a name tag with that on it? (If your answer is yes, we need to schedule a chat pronto. I must learn from you, sensei.)
Somewhere between “Jesus loves me, this I know” and ministry life, I got the feeling that it was prideful to go around boasting of Christ’s affectionate heart toward me. I wasn’t that great. No Millennial snowflake here. So I stuffed the assurance that I was truly, deeply, irrevocably loved and longed for by the Lord back into the deepest shadows of my mind. Good girls don’t brag about being loved. Being good enough long enough will make you forget that you are loved. You (and by ‘you’ I mean ‘I,’ but ‘you’ feels safer, so we’ll roll with it) desperately try to earn what you’ve already been given.
The tragedy is that every soul was made to be loved in exactly the way Christ pours over us. We’re meant to be publicly dripping His smile, saturated to the uttermost with the pleasure He takes in our belonging to Him. How else is the world supposed to notice anything out of the ordinary when they glance our way? It’s not haughty to remember we’re loved; it’s haughty to forget. To forget assumes we can make it through this broken world on our broken own. This is not a zero-sum game. The King who came to share His abundant life with us has abundant resources to love everyone who responds to His desire for intimacy.
In the introduction to his commentary on John, D.A. Carson addresses this issue. He answers critics pointing out the alleged pride or competitive spirit in John’s calling himself ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ in the following stunning way:
The suggestion betrays a profound ignorance of the psychological dynamics of Christian experience: those who are most profoundly aware of their own sin and need, and who in consequence most deeply feel the wonders of the grace of God that has reached out and saved them, even them, are those who are most likely to talk about themselves as the objects of God’s love in Christ Jesus. Those who do not think of themselves in such terms ought to: their failure to do so reflects the paucity of their own spiritual experience, as the prayer of Ephesians 3:14–21 makes clear. If a ‘son of thunder’ has become the apostle of love, small wonder he thinks of himself as the peculiar object of the love of Jesus. But that is scarcely the mark of arrogance; it is, rather, the mark of brokenness.
Five points if you had to look up what “paucity” means, too.
Read the quote again. (Seriously, it’s too good to only be perused once.) It is a ‘psychological dynamic of the Christian experience,’ a natural response that simply can’t be helped, that overwhelming mercy leads to basking in the affection of Jesus. Christ Himself said so: “who is forgiven much loves much.”
Now we make this personal. If jotting down “beloved” on a name tag and wearing it around seems like the most foreign concept your soul has ever heard, first of all, try it. Second, take a few minutes to remember everything Jesus saved you from—your “own sin and need,” as Carson puts it. This is not time for an airbrushed history; your spiritual vitality hinges on the accuracy with which you see how much God has done for you. Call forth your ugliest moments. Get into the dregs and slosh around in your inadequacy.
And then let the kindness of Christ wash over you again. He saw it all before He called you, and still He called. If a torrent of applause doesn’t spring forth from your heart in that moment, you should probably check your pulse.
So in the words of Jack Miller, “Cheer up! You’re a worse sinner than you ever dared imagine, and you’re more loved than you ever dared hope.” Time to break out the name tags and learn from John. We are all beloved.