The title question is one I’ve been mulling over the past couple of days since a charge was thrown my way that I care too much about my reputation and how I look in the eyes of others. Well, the first place we should go with such accusations is before the Lord with honest introspection. Is it true? It doesn’t help to justify and defend if others see something in us we are unwilling to admit about ourselves. That’s why I think it’s important whenever there is a consensus of critism. Not that this is the case here, but generally, if a number of people are saying the same thing about you, it’s something to pay attention to.
But the second place we should go is to Scripture because for the Christian, it is our ultimate authority. Now this is nowhere near an exhaustive examination but some observations. In asking this question does reputation matter, here are some musings I’ve come up with thus far.
No, reputation is about pride.
Well, it can be for sure. We can take so much care in how we look in front of others that it becomes more about self-preservation than Christ proclamation. When it comes to the issue of reputation, we can look no further than mission of the Son to humble himself on our behalf. I love how the NKJV portrays Christ’s condescension;
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Jesus’ mission wasn’t to look good in front of others but to do what was good according to the Father’s will. His earthly ministry demonstrated that he cared nothing about what people thought of him but everything about revealing the mind and will of God so that people see his glory and purpose. His obedience to this call is ours as well, to proclaim him who became of no reputation so that we can be reconciled to the Father and live at peace with him in this world. We do that in spite of our reputation and caring what others think of us.
This is also reflected in the ministry of the postles who testified to the risen Lord and instructed his bride. The apostle Paul says it best here;
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish so that I may gain Christ. (Phil. 3:7-8)
Whereas Paul had a pretty good reputation as a Pharisee, he counts it as nothing. His call and our call is to faithfulness in spite of what others think of us even when that means putting ourselves in situations for criticism. In reflecting on 1 Cor. 9:19-23, Paul became a servant to all (vs. 19) for the sake of others. You can bet that meant he went into circles and circumstances for which he would be criticized. But he couldn’t care about that and neither should we.
As I wrote about in my last piece, we should care about how to navigate through this noisy, sinful world as people who are called to be salt and light. But we don’t do that at the expense of obedience or self-preservation. For me, honestly, that’s a tricky balance and an honest temptation.
Yes, reputation is about trust
But I do see a consideration of reputation when it comes to faithfulness to Christ in how we present ourselves before others. Reputation builds trust in the message we proclaim. Paul tells the church at Thessalonica;
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. (1 Thess. 1:4-5 ESV)
He proceeds to say “and you became imitators of us and of the Lord.” Paul’s life was on display and these Christians trusted his message because of the consistency. In his epistle to the Romans, he says, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in the all the world.” (Rom. 1:8). In other words, the church had a reputation in other parts of the world because of their faith with lives consistent to what they proclaimed. The Bible is full of admonishment to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (Eph. 4:1). That means we certainly have to care about how we present ourselves to others.
Christian leaders are especially admonished to consider their reputation. In the list of pastoral qualifications in 1 Tim. 3:1-7, being above reproach (vs. 2) and being thought well of by outsiders (vs. 7) are criteria for Christian leaders. I actually think it should be a consideration for every Christian. As Paul indicates in Phil. 4:5, “let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” And elsewhere, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Col. 4:6 ESV). You can bet this will impact how people listen to what we have to say. Ultimately, it is about Christian character.
This is why tarnishing another’s reputation is a serious matter: it removes the trust in that person regarding the Christian proclamation. Just think about the times in which you’ve thought of a Christian leader differently because of what was said about them even without having all the facts. I know I have! I believe this has become a prevalent issue in our day with easy exposure to sound bytes manipulated to tell a certain story about someone. Is that what that person really believes? Is that who they really are? But once you’ve put that plug in someone else’s ear, it can get believed. We need to be careful here, saints.
So what’s the conclusion? On one hand, our call to Christian obedience and faithfulness means we are not always going to be thought well of by others, especially the unbelieving world. Even within Christian circles, we can be called to say hard things that people don’t want to hear. But that shouldn’t deter our ability to speak the truth of God’s word where needed.
But on the other hand, we do need to regard the kind of people we are to be. Our lives should be consistent to the message we proclaim because the author and subject of our message has impacted our lives. We do need to be mindful that we are living epistles and others are watching. Our reputation will speak volumes for in it reveals our character.
UPDATE: When I initially wrote this piece, I didn’t connect reputation that brings glory to God to Christian character. I’ve now made that adjustment. Reputation for our own name and our own sake is not the goal. Reputation for Christ’s name and his glory, is.