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The Idol Of Reputation: Are You Nicer Than Jesus?

By Randall Terry
Published November 1, 1993

Just Don’t Preach the Whole Word of God!

“I just wish you could do things a little different. I mean, you read about it in the paper. I wish you could do it in a way that doesn’t give Christians a bad name …”

- Prison chaplain, on why people involved in Operation Rescue are wrong for their actions

I don’t know how I do it, but I consistently bring out the worst in people. People I don’t even know hate me. Newspaper columnists who have never met me write against me. Television commentators I’ve never had a minute with rail against me. (And I’m a likeable guy!)

I go to speak in churches all over the country, and I’m met by frothing, screaming, pro-abortion and/or homosexual activists. One time in Philadelphia the “activists from hell” gathered at the entrance of a church parking lot and threw condoms at our people as they entered. Another time I was scheduled to speak at the University of San Francisco. (Yes, I knew this was a dumb move from the beginning. “Thanks” to my hosts!) About sixty Christians got inside, then the homosexuals surrounded the entry way, then the building. They kicked in a plate glass window, kicked a door off its hinges, refused entrance to those who wanted to get in, and made such raucous and violent threats that the police forced us to cancel the meeting. Our people had to escort each other to their cars. However, the police did not arrest any of the sodomites.

The Idol of Our Reputation

Okay, I’ll be honest. There are times when I’m encouraged when our enemies come out. It strengthens me because it reminds me that I’m on the right track. But there are times when unjust or unfounded criticism bother me – especially from Christians – and I want to defend myself. But I learned a long time ago that the preservation of my reputation is of very little consequence to God.

Before I go any further, let me bring some balance. The Apostle Paul wrote that if someone was to be an elder “he must have a good report from them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:7). And so, having a good name and a good reputation for righteous living are noble goals. “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches” (Prov. 22:1).

But let’s face it, for many of us having a good reputation has become something of an idol. What we desire is not a “good reputation” according to biblical terms. We want a good reputation on this world’s terms. We dread the thought of looking too radical, of sounding too controversial, of doing or saying anything that would upset our neighbors, co-workers, or family members; we dread the thought of tarnishing our precious image.

Most Christians tend to refuse to take a strong public action on a controversial issue. You would never catch them taking a public stand against child-killing, sodomy, school condom giveaways, or intrusion by “social services” into families’ lives. They wouldn’t want to appear at a prayerful protest with a bunch of radicals. Even worse, many Christians refuse to even say what they believe to relatives, fellow employees, neighbors, or even fellow Christians, for fear of displeasing them. When an opportunity presents itself, or duty cries for a simple verbal response, millions of Christians are deafeningly silent when they should be professing God’s Word.

Herein lies the problem. When the dear old brother said to me that he didn’t want Christians to have a bad name, he wasn’t referring to a bad name because of sin, he was talking about a bad name because of zeal for righteousness. It was said of Christ, “… The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up” (John 2:17).

As Christians we must believe our Lord’s words and follow His example. As we will see, that might mean we will be heroes, or we may be villains.

They Loved Him; They Despised Him

Consider Jesus’ example. At times the crowds thronged around him and exciting reports about Him spread across the country. “But so much more went there a fame abroad of him: and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed of him of their infirmities” (Luke 5:15).

Jesus became famous. The multitudes sang His praises. The talk in the coffee shops was great. The editorials were positive. The disciples were basking in the attention they experienced from being close to Jesus, and it was definitely going to their heads. “Let one of us sit at your right hand and the other at your left in glory” (Mark 10:37). Perhaps they thought, “This discipleship stuff is awesome! If this is what it means to be a disciple, I can handle it! Yo, Jesus, count me in!”

However, Jesus’ popularity did not extend to all quarters. He wasn’t making everybody happy. When He taught the multitudes, the malcontent maligned Him, saying, “He deceives the people” (John 7:12). When He healed the sick, the nay-sayers berated Him, saying, “This man is not from God, for He does not keep the Sabbath” (John 9:14-16).

The apostles quickly learned that they would have a mixed review at best in this world. At times, eager inquirers clamored to be near enough for their shadows to fall on them. At other times, their shadows were extinguished in a dark jail cell. The unhappy locals screamed, “These men who have upset the world have come here also” (Acts 17:6). In Ephesus, the local merchants created a mob scene that could have cost Paul his life had the disciples not intervened (see Acts 19:23-41).

And lest you think these injustices and false accusations were only for Christ and the apostles, think again. “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?” (Matt. 10:24-25, emphasis added).

I’d love to see that promise embroidered, framed, and hung in the office of every Christian leader in America. The Bible teaches us clearly: We are going to be hated and persecuted for doing what is right.

Do They Hate You? Great Job!

Now, now, cheer up. In fact rejoice! Jesus commands us to rejoice when our reputation is ruined on His account. “Blessed are you when men revile at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).

If your reputation is perfectly intact on every front, if you never irritate anyone, if you never make a stir, you might be doing something wrong – or more likely, you’re not doing something right. “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). The Bible has a crystal clear promise: All who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). If we never experience persecution, if we never make a single soul angry (as Christ often did), something is probably wrong. Probably very wrong.

When we stand for the Lord Jesus Christ and the laws of God revealed in the Bible, it is inevitable that we will offend someone. And in that hour we must not shrink from our duty – no compromise. In that hour of trial the unwholesome preservation of our reputation is of little consequence to God. In fact, He might be trying to smash the idol of reputation. The Prince of Life hung naked and shamed on a cross for you and me in the fulfillment of God’s will. God has the right to require that our reputation be laid in the dust in obedience to His will.

If we are mocked, falsely accused, berated, and maligned for doing or saying what our Lord has commanded, so be it. Blessed be His name. He has given us the indescribable privilege of experiencing the trials with the prophets and of following in our Savior’s blood-stained steps. As the apostle Paul wrote, “For unto you it is given in behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake (Phil. 1:29).

“I’ll Take a Padded Cross, Please”

The demand of discipleship for the Christian has never changed. It is simply this: death to self. We must pick up our cross daily (see Luke 9:23).

Consider this: We love the cross of Christ, and well we should. On that God-ordained cross our Savior was slain, our sins were atoned for, and we were redeemed to God. We embrace the cross of Christ, but we despise and reject the cross He has commanded us to bear – the believer’s cross.

The believer’s cross doesn’t atone for our sins, it doesn’t redeem us to God, and it doesn’t make the sky grow dark. It simply kills us. Usually uneventful, unhistorical, and unrecorded, the believer’s cross is our call- nay, it is our duty – to lay our reputations, our self-preservation, our very lives at the feet of the Lamb of God.

“For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:8). When we become the grain of wheat, falling into the ground and dying alone, then we will bear much fruit (John 12:24). You may desire to be used of God in a great way. Are you willing to go with Christ outside the establishment, or as the Bible puts it, “outside the city gate bearing His reproach”? (Heb. 13:13).

You may desire to speak for God before multitudes. Are you speaking for Him during our lunch hour at work? Are you declaring His Word to your relatives and neighbors? If you shrink back from speaking before the few for fear and love of your reputation, what makes you think you could withstand the blistering heat of prolonged public hatred?

Friend, if you have bowed the knee to the idol of reputation, repent. Ask God for forgiveness. And then ask Him for courage. As you meditate on these truths, certain situations, certain relationships, may come to your mind where you have not said or done what you should have. God will give you another chance. Each time He proves you, He will give you greater and greater responsibility and anointing for His kingdom. If you fail a test, don’t despair. Again seek forgiveness – and prepare yourself for the make-up exam! There is no end to opportunities to die to ourselves, to stand for God in this troubling hour, and to lay our reputation at His nail-scarred feet.

May God help us learn to loathe the preservation of our nice, safe, non-confrontational (uneventful, unfruitful) lives; may we learn to live out Christ’s command that we hate our own lives in comparison to our love and zeal for Him (see John 12:25-26). When people are prepared to lay down their lives, they become very dangerous. Why? They are not afraid. They can’t be bought off or cowed into silence. When we “love not our lives, even unto death” (Rev. 12:11), we will become truly dangerous to the enemies; armies and truly useful for the extension of our Master’s kingdom.

So smash that idol of reputation!


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