Reputations are not bought or given, they are earned. It takes a lot to earn a good reputation and not much to lose it. Once lost, reputations are hard to get back, if not impossible. Just like the fictional saying about elephants, people rarely forget. They may forgive but they don’t forget and they will remind you of that every opportunity they get, which makes you wonder if their forgiveness was genuine. It is suppose to be different in the Body of Christ as God demonstrates that his type of forgiveness also requires forgetting. Considering we do not have the power to remove things from our memory it means taking the decision not to mention that thing to anyone every again, as if it never happened, which will take us back to our thought on reputation and you will see how the two are tied together.
In John’s third letter he mentions a man named Demetrius, who was most likely the one John sent to deliver his letter. As in other situations Demetrius would have been more than a messenger, he would have also been a minister, a preacher, teacher or prophet, an evangelist even. In the same way that Paul sent out men of God like Timothy, Tychicus and many others as a means of encouragement along with his letters, John was sending Demetrius to be an encouragement to the church Gaius was a member of. This letter was a means of introduction that I want us to consider:
Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true. (3 John 1:11-12)
I have no idea why we allow the truth of the Word to be twisted and confused, complicating everything. John puts it simply: if it is good it is from God; if it is evil it is not from God. There is other Scripture that supports this simplicity:
Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:16-17)
We are also warned to test the spirits, usually looking for three witnesses or confirmations. In the case of Demetrius John gives three: everyone, the Word, and themselves. John says that Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone. In other words everyone speaks well of him because of his solid reputation. With this we need to understand that they are speaking of his reputation since accepting Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit. Sometimes in the Church we forget that we have been recreated, a new birth. What is in the past belonged to someone else because now we live in Jesus.
Can you imagine the “field day” today’s media would have with the likes of the Apostle Paul, the former persecutor of the Church; or the Apostle Peter, the traitor to Jesus, the loud mouth, the braggart; or even the Apostle John, the brawler, the drunk, the hothead. What they formerly were did not matter after receiving the Spirit because they were made new. We cannot do a thing about our former life but the reputation we earn now is not so much about us as it is about Jesus. Remember that Jesus said that the world will judge us by what we do and if we love one another then they will know we are his disciples. Our reputation is no longer just about us, it reflects on the Church and on Jesus as well.
It is the reason the Apostle Paul spent so much time explaining to the Church what life in the Spirit should look like, not that we would conform but instead we would submit to the transformation that is taking place:
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Galatians 5:19-26)
In my opinion the greatest act of this life, a life of love in Jesus, is forgiveness. It is the action that our Father took because of his love for us. The cross is all about forgiveness and reconciliation with God. The greatest part of our reputation as followers of Jesus should be love and forgiveness. Unfortunately it is far easier to concentrate on what we wear, what we eat, where we go, which Bible translation we use, how we pray. As I study the life of Jesus I do not see that he was concerned about such things with people, other than to criticize the leaders for being more concerned for these things than they were about the people they were given to care about. Jesus’ concern was always the heart and relationship, as it should be ours, and it required love and forgiveness. It was his forgiving of sins that gained him the sharpest criticism from the leaders.
We too should have this same reputation and perhaps gain the same criticism as Jesus did. To be honest, we could have far worse things we are known for than that of being easy forgivers. If you find it hard to forgive you should really ask yourself if you actually know Jesus. It is possible to know of him without knowing him. Sometimes we can grow lazy in this relationship and sometimes we can get distracted by other things but at the end of the day we know we have Jesus if we are able to do what he did; love and forgive. As Paul says, we can be great preachers, healers, prophets, church janitors, church secretaries, pew warmers but if we do not possess love we have gained nothing and we are nothing. Our reputations must begin with the root of love from which forgiveness sprouts.