Last time, I looked at two responses to the question of reputation. Especially where it concerns Christian leaders. I talked about two responses, which I personified with the words ‘booster’ and ‘bomber’ (see Guarding your Reputation – Part One).
So, faced with these twin temptations, how should Christian servants approach the question of reputation?
Three things to consider.
1) You cannot guard your reputation.
It is too great a burden, and it is one the Lord never asked you to shoulder. At times, you should gently and firmly correct misrepresentations of you, but you must be careful to place the reputation of the gospel ahead of your own. Sometimes, however, the two cannot be separated neatly. Consider the apostle Paul’s defence of himself in 2 Corinthians. His concern was clearly the gospel, but he knew that the message could not be separated from the messenger. So while we shouldn’t tie our reputations as tightly to the gospel as Paul did – he was, after all, a foundational apostle appointed directly by Christ – there are, in fact, times when reputation bombing is inappropriate and damaging to the gospel. Sometimes you have to defend yourself.
Be aware, however, that you can't control everyone’s opinions of you. The apostle Paul certainly couldn’t, and in our world of social media, tribes and networks, it’s even harder. At times, an attempt to protect your reputation will only cause more harm. This is especially true if you’re communicating with ‘boosters’ who see you as a rival or who might suspect you of hubris. Consider Nehemiah, who offered a short defence with these words: ‘Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.’ Moses also stands out as a man who entrusted his reputation to God (see Numbers 12), but he also sought the restoration of those who maligned him when God humbled them, as we should. We need the gracious patience of the Lord Jesus to stay resolutely committed to doing our Father’s will despite betrayals, denials and false accusations, yet without reviling those who revile us (1 Peter 2:20-23). We must trust in the Lord who made Himself of no reputation (Philippians 2:7) to vindicate us in His timing (Psalm 135:14).
2) Scripture never calls us to guard our own reputation.
It does, however, charge us to guard two things: the gospel and our hearts. Our twin concerns should be communicating Christ and cultivating character. The deposit of the gospel has been entrusted to us and, as Paul urged Timothy, we must guard it carefully, making it our chief concern and remaining faithful to it (1 Timothy 1:11; cf. 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:13-14). If doing so damages our reputation, that’s a price worth paying. At the same time, we must guard our hearts – the inner life of our thoughts, emotions and decisions – as the wisdom of Proverbs challenges us (Proverbs 4:23). A good conscience matters as much as a sincere faith. Furthermore, the love that is generated by the gospel can only flow from pure hearts (1 Timothy 1:5), so we must hold fast both to core convictions (the ‘faith’, meaning the gospel) and a clear conscience (1 Timothy 1:19; cf. 3:9).
How do we do this? Through the two disciplines of the heart described by Paul in Philippians 4: prayer that clears the way for God’s peace to guard our thoughts and emotions (verses 6-7) and meditation on the truths of the gospel, so that they become the air we breathe, the window through which we view the world (verses 8-9). Don’t aspire to grow a reputation based on a flawless public persona. Instead, seek to nurture the fruit of the Spirit, which enables us to let go of our desires for revenge, and empowers us to repay evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).
3) We don’t guard the gospel and our hearts alone.
We live and thrive by being part of a community of believers. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul urges two of his sisters in the Lord to reconcile. Guarding the gospel and our hearts should be right at the heart of our fellowship with our brothers and sisters. We must seek opportunities to support each other and to encourage one another. In humility, we should also submit within relationships of accountability to those who walk the same road. This is hard, but it is essential if we are to walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6.8) Seek also to delight in Jesus together and speak out the wonders of his mercy and grace. Such shared experiences should make confession a natural response, and accountability should also follow from a heart touched by grace. Specifically seek out those who value integrity and a desire for God’s glory over reputation. Develop strong bonds with those who are prepared to speak truth to you when the going gets tough, and perhaps you’re veering off track. If you don’t have that support, please seek it. We at Living Leadership would love to help you by linking you with one of our workers or associates and inviting you into our mentoring groups, conferences and networks. Please contact us if we can help.
So, stop trying to guard your reputation – leave that to the Lord. Instead, make sure that, in partnership with others, you guard the deposit of the gospel entrusted to you and let God’s peace guard your heart as you walk humbly with your God.