Posted by: Mike Willoughby | April 20, 2010

Go Fish!

Think of all the ways we work to make ourselves distinctive.  From fashion to furnishings, cars to cuts of hair and education to experience – we tend to enhance ourselves and accentuate our lifestyles in ways that will set us apart from those around us.  I believe the drive to be distinctive is built into each of us.  Even though we are surrounded by billions of other humans, we were individually created by God in his image and just like a snowflake, we are each unique.  God actually calls us to be distinctive.  The word “holy” literally means “to be set apart.”  When the Bible instructs us to be a “holy people” it is reminding us we are to be distinctive and set apart from the rest of the world for God’s purposes. 

Many of us declare our distinctiveness on the trunks of our vehicles with little fish.  The fish symbol has been used to represent Christianity almost as long as the Christian faith has existed.  Earliest archeological discoveries of this symbol in conjunction with Christianity go back to the early decades of the second century.  Although the fish symbol could have many different origins including the famous miracle where Jesus fed thousands of people starting with just five loaves of bread and two fish, most historians agree the fish symbol has a deeper meaning.  Sometimes, you see a Greek word inside the fish outline.  Ichthys is the Greek word for fish and it also forms an acrostic consisting of the initial letters of five Greek words that concisely but clearly declare the distinctive character of Jesus and His nature.  The Greek words Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter are translated into English, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the Savior.  The symbol appears to have been broadly used to identify Christians to each other without drawing unwanted attention from Roman officials during times of persecution.  Several examples of this symbol have been discovered in the Roman catacombs where Christians sometimes took refuge during times of persecution in the second and third centuries.

Since the earliest Christians declared their faith with this little fish symbol, is it appropriate for us to also use the little ichthys to differentiate ourselves?  Sure – I have no problem with little fish on the back of our cars.  I especially enjoy seeing big fish along with one or more little fish signifying a family united in the grace of God by their spiritual fishy nature.  On a side note, I don’t enjoy seeing a fish-bearing vehicle displaying clearly illegal or just rude behavior on the road.  If we are going to talk the talk with our badges and bumper stickers, we had better be prepared to walk the walk with our behavior.  However, even though the fish symbol or a cross may be a permissible indicator of our faith, I don’t think a badge or sticker is what God had in mind when he called us to be a Holy People.  I believe he had something much more fundamental in mind.  I believe he expects that our every behavior would testify to our nature and make us distinctive in the world.

Jesus himself delivers this expectation in John 13:34-35 where he tells his disciples they must be distinctive in the world:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

People should be able to recognize the presence of genuine Christian faith in my life without having to see the trunk of my car.  The true badge of my faith is not a cross or a fish.  My badge is my behavior including, most importantly, the love I show for my brothers and sisters. 

Is love really all that distinctive?  Unfortunately in this world, selfless love is rare and distinctive indeed.  Even within our churches, genuine selfless love is far too unusual.  However, if I am to honor Jesus in my life as my personal savior, I must display the same kind of love in my life as Jesus displayed in His life.  You know the kind of sacrificial love Jesus showed for each of us!  Knowing the depth of his love, you recognize the challenge we face in loving each other in the same way.  It is very much against our human nature to consistently put others ahead of ourselves and sacrifice our own self-interests in order to serve others.  However, this is precisely what God calls us to do and this is what makes us truly distinctive.

This week, join me in recommitting to leading a distinctively Christian lifestyle characterized by selfless love.  If I am the kind of loving person Christ expects me to be, others will see the fish on my tailgate and nod their head in recognition.  If I am not a loving person, I fear they will observe the little fish and say to themselves, “Really?”  More importantly, if I am the person Christ expects me to be, He will see me on the Judgment Day and nod his head in recognition.  Otherwise, I may show up with my fish symbol in hand only to hear him say, “Really?”

Until next week,

Meet me at the intersection!


  1. Excellent reminder! This indeed, is the bottomline…

  2. Great post, Mike! This brings back many, invaluable conversations my father & mother had with us while growing up. We were just discussing this very thing with one of our sons last week. A boy in his class makes the choice to repeatedly talk down to others, use inappropriate language when the teacher isn’t around and is just plain rude; this very same boy wears a large cross daily around his neck. After apparently talking to the boy about this & inquiring, our son was frustrated saying, “he just doesn’t get it!” We shared with him that, ironically, many adults “just don’t get it either”, unfortunately. What a great reminder, Mike, for all of us to remember . . . that our true badge is our daily behavior (behind closed doors as well as in front of others) and how we show love to one another! Thanks for sharing! Bret and I appreciate your “boosts” each week; you motivate us to want to be better and do better each and every week! Many blessings ~

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