Binky. Paci. Pacifier.
The common baby item we know and love as the pacifier goes by many endearing names. No name for a pacifier is quite as endearing, however, as the name my oldest (who just turned four) uses: “fireplace”.
Yes, she calls pacifiers “fireplaces”. I’m not sure how it started or why it has continued for so long (she has never even used a pacifier), but my four year old is convinced that pacifiers are called fireplaces. She can remember the exact outfit she wore to the grocery store two years ago, but cannot seem to remember that pacifiers and fireplaces are two very different things. Most of the time, this word mix-up doesn’t cause a problem. Her two younger siblings are also not particularly fond of pacifiers so we don’t even have any in our house. But there have been times out in public that her creative definition has led to interesting situations:
-A few weeks ago at a zoo, we were standing over a pond next to the alligator exhibit. As I looked into the pond, I saw a white pacifier floating on the surface and knew what was about to happen. My sweet four year old looked at me frantically and yelled: “Mom! Look! Oh no! A baby dropped her fireplace by the alligators! They are going to eat her fireplace!!”
–Or the time she ran up to me while I was talking to a visitor at church: “Mom, a baby was crying so I put a fireplace in his mouth.”
–Or when her baby sister was at a playground and crawling towards a pacifier on the ground: “Sissy, no! That is not your fireplace!”
In situations like these, my sweet girl tends to get confused looks and often a few chuckles. Everybody knows that her definition of “fireplace,” no matter how confident she may be, is incorrect. A pacifier is not a fireplace. As she uses her own definition instead of the true definition, others in conversation with her will likely be unaware they are speaking about two very different things.
And while I would like to think I would never embrace a definition so boldly misused as calling a pacifier a fireplace, there are many words surrounding us every day that have likewise been significantly misdefined…yet are much harder to identify.
Misdefining a “pacifier” for a “fireplace” may cause us to chuckle. But misdefining words that God has clearly defined for us has consequences that have much more of an impact on our lives. Let’s take a look at two words in particular that are having their definitions twisted in Christian and secular culture today: love and truth.
“Love is patient,
Love is kind and is not jealous;
Love does not brag and is not arrogant,
Does not act unbecomingly;
It does not seek its own
Is not provoked,
Does not take into account a wrong suffered,
Does not rejoice in unrighteousness,
But rejoices with the truth;
Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Our culture is all about love.
We love love! And yet, the definition of love we see so frequently is very different from the definition of love we see in 1 Corinthians. We have been sold a cheap imitation of love that says we love best when we avoid conflict, agree with everyone, and embrace all beliefs as truth. Love as it is defined by God is not the same love promoted in our culture today. God says love does not brag and is not arrogant, but culture says love should be proud…there is even a month dedicated to pride that simultaneously claims to celebrate love! God says love does not take into account a wrong suffered, but culture says we love ourselves best by canceling and silencing voices that we don’t like. God says love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but culture says loving women must include the right to kill children. This is not true love.
Have you ever been called unloving for sharing the Gospel, talking about sin, or expressing a belief contrary to what popular culture believes? It feels a little disorienting, doesn’t it? That is because we are talking about a fireplace while culture is talking about a pacifier.
Christian culture is not immune to changing the definition of love either. Love within Christian culture has likewise diverged from the portrait of it we see in 1 Corinthians. Take a look at how love is portrayed in posts from Christian influencers, books from popular Christian authors, and lyrics from popular Christian songs. What we’ll find is a definition that suggests love, but actually is just promoting avoiding conflict and embracing all beliefs as truth. When we subscribe to this kind of love, we actually are allowing others to continue living in sin and bondage. We allow people to be overcome by bitterness and anxiety instead of pointing to God’s Word and enduring alongside them to pursue freedom through repentance.
So when we hear the word “love,” how do we know if it is God’s definition or the world’s definition?
True love flies in the face of the cheap imitation we have been sold by culture. True, Biblical love will encourage us to be patient and kind, and yet call us to rejoice with the truth of God’s Word. It exhorts us to repent of our own sin and help others find freedom from their sin through turning to Christ, and expects us to bear all things, endure all things, and hope all things. How rich is the love of God! As we love others in the way the Bible calls us to, we have the privilege of showing others hope and encouraging them with truth!
Although in order to encourage others with truth, we have to have an idea of what Biblical truth is. Which leads me to my next “fireplace” word…what, exactly, is truth?
Culture would really like us to believe that truth is complicated.
That it is gray, ever-changing, and varies person to person or culture to culture.
That your truth is great, and my truth is likewise pretty awesome, and both of our truths can co-exist in this world with everyone else’s truths as a big, happy family.
But we know this idea of relative truth is just a fantasy.
Just because my toddler believes with all of her heart that a pacifier is a fireplace, it does not mean that a pacifier is a fireplace. A pacifier is a pacifier, no matter how convinced she may be otherwise. The Bible says quite a bit about truth:
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life;
no one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
The sum of your word is truth,
and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
and we have seen his glory,
glory as of the only Son from the Father,
full of grace and truth.
We can trust the Bible to be our foundation for truth, because Jesus says He is the truth! Jesus is the Word, so He is the One who gets to define what is true. What a relief that determining truth is not on our shoulders! When we put ourselves in charge of truth, things become a bit chaotic. When everyone’s truth is viewed as true, we begin to lose our grip on reality. We place the burden on ourselves to decide if we are boys or girls, if murder is okay or not, or what makes a person “good” or “bad.”
Within Christian culture, truth has likewise been redefined as relative. We are encouraged to pick and choose the parts of the Bible that we like, and to reject what we don’t like as “outdated,” “legalistic,” or “not relevant to our culture.” We are quick to proclaim verses about grace, love, and social justice as true, but hesitant when it comes to men’s and women’s roles, children being a blessing, or obeying the commands Jesus has given us. While Christian podcasters, authors, and influencers can sometimes be helpful, it is God’s Word alone that should be our source and foundation for truth.
When we accept truth as something that is relative and up to us to decide, we will find ourselves picking and choosing which commands from God we find pleasing and will choose to follow. When we truly love God, we love His Word. And although living the life He calls us to live is often hard and challenging, we can rest assured that it is also sanctifying and glorious.
When we allow our definitions for certain words to diverge from how they are defined in the Bible, our entire view of God and the way He calls us to live can quickly become distorted and skewed. As we go about our days in conversations with family, friends, and strangers, let us be aware and discerning of the plethora of words that are misdefined even in Christian culture. Whether it be love, truth, obedience, Pharisee, forgiveness, bitterness, or justice (all words I would have loved to dive into in this blog post…we’ll just have to save them for another time!), it is important for us to know God’s Word and how words like these are being used and defined. We should frequently be asking ourselves: “Is that how God speaks about this topic?”
To live a life that honors and glorifies Him, we need to know what is actually love and what is actually truth. By spending consistent time in our Bibles, we can learn what God has to say about what truth and love are and what they should look like in our lives. Staying committed to the definitions God has given us can help us from turning pacifiers into fireplaces.