By any other name

“And I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9 NKJV).

Bangladesh is a country of more than 100 navigable rivers plus many ponds, swamps and lakes. It contains the world’s largest delta. Not surprisingly Banglas are fish eating people. Fish is relatively available to them, even to the poorer population. They eat all types – from fresh, salt, or brackish water, wild caught or pond raised. They will drain roadside dishes for tiny crustaceans and minnows, or eat steaks from large species caught in the Bay of Bengal.

Many of their favorites are various species of (or relatives of) carp. There are German carp, China carp, silver carp, minar carp, rui, and many others. I recently ate a new (to me) species which I was told was “katol,” and was similar to rui. After eating and enjoying it my first thought was “by any other name, carp is still bony.”

Names can identify and clarify if used correctly. Otherwise they may disguise and confuse. When we are not precise and accurate with our names, or especially when we intentionally create a name with misleading connotations, we are dishonest and deceptive. Frequently the deception is deliberate and intended either to give benefit to ourselves or to harm others. Many times both results occur.

In Revelation, John twice describes communities of people claiming to be true Israelites, practicing the religion of Judaism (Revelation 2:9; 3:9), but charges them with lying. They were not true Jews. Rather their communities were “Synagogue(s) of Satan.”

Perhaps he meant that it was by that time Christians who were the true Israel (i.e., people of God), as Paul taught in Romans 2:28-29.

It is more likely however that those two communities were not following the Law of Moses, at least not sincerely and accurately. They claimed to be Israel, but did not possess the distinctive characteristics of Israel.

That sounds familiar doesn’t it? Many people today claim to be one thing while actually following a completely different set of rules or customs. This is more than just a mild form of hypocrisy. It is deliberate deception, intended to justify themselves and/or to lead others to harm.

We are all familiar with the many euphemisms by which some have achieved acceptance and popularity for behavior once condemned as sin. Homosexuality is now an alternate life style. Alcoholism is a disease. Adultery is simply exercising one’s sexuality. Modern people don’t lie, they simply see things differently. Truth is relative, there are no absolutes, and sin is an outmoded concept of a dark and ignorant past.

When we speak of these matters in today’s terminology there is built-in tolerance or even respect. But underneath it all, it is just like the fish – they are still carp, and still full of bones. New names don’t change their essential nature.

Even more importantly new names do not change God’s judgment of those who accept these sins. Note carefully the inspired words:

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

As Christians we should be precise and honest in our language, speaking clearly so that people will know exactly who we are (Colossians 3:17). We also must listen carefully and examine the claims of others. It is easy to make claims. Those claims should be validated by consistent and compatible behavior (Matthew 3:8).

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1).

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