Reputations. Cities have them. Pamplona, Spain. Amsterdam, Netherlands. Las Vegas, Nevada. Cancun, Mexico. Paris, France. Mecca, Saudi Arabia. They are associated with behavior, activities, or events.
Individuals have them. Consider names like Hitler, Dahmer, Darwin, Einstein, Princess Diana, Madonna, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Stalin, Marx, Gandhi, and Jesus. They are all names ripe with connotation, whether positive or negative.
Corporations and countries earn their reputation, and professions and products do, too. The reputation may exceed the quality of what it represents, and occasionally one’s reputation does not do them justice. But, reputations, once received, are hard to change.
Consider the name “Christian.” It is a word with a definite connotation for just about everyone. For some, it is positive. For others, it is negative. Sometimes, the problem lies with the prejudice of the beholder. Other times, a person claiming to be a Christian behaves in such a way as to sully the reputation of the name.
What reputation do “Christians” have where you work or go to school? Does the very mention of the name cause the rank and file to cringe, roll their eyes, or fly into a raging tirade? What reputation do “Christians” have in your extended family or circle of non-Christian friends? Does it conjure for them synonyms like “hypocrite,” “self-righteous,” “holier-than-thou,” or “ignorant”?
Remember, some of this may be due to the prejudice of these individuals. It could be that they had a negative experience with one person claiming to wear that name. Hopefully, it will never be because we have done anything to lower the beauty and dignity of the name that shows our Savior’s ownership. But, right now and from this day forward, we can raise people’s estimation of Christianity by representing Christ at all times by our speech, attitude, choices, and loving compassion. Mahatma Gandhi once famously said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” May we never give anyone cause to say that about Christians due to our influence! Build Christ’s reputation where you are. Show Him to others.
I have not had the heart or stomach to watch the viral video of Karen Klein, who achieved infamy at the hands of the proverbial children left to themselves (cf. Prov. 29:15) who hopefully brought shame to their mothers. But, I saw snippets of her being poked and prodded, and I have read that she was called fat, ugly, a troll, and much worse by the middle school students she was assigned to monitor on a Greece, New York, school bus. She was treated cruelly and unfair, shown disrespect by children who without reformation of character appear destined for the penal system and eternal punishment. It was truly heartbreaking, and no doubt a day that will live with Klein for the rest of her life. But, she never raised her voice or left her seat choosing instead to remain calm. She did shed tears.
Out of this social embarrassment, however, has come something very positive. Various online groups have raised over $140,000 to send Karen on “a vacation of a lifetime.” In addition, she has received encouraging and sympathetic emails, letters, and Facebook messages from people across the nation (information gleaned from Stephanie Hanes, Christian Science Monitor, 6/21/12).
Most of us will not have our problems and mistreatments captured on a YouTube video. Neither will the kindnesses and good deeds of others toward us be similarly immortalized. Yet, all of us will be hurt and helped by others. We will know suffering and strength. Upon what will we choose to focus? The good or the grime?
Karen Klein is my newfound hero because of how she handled her “banes” and how she focused on her “blessings.” There is no indication she is a Christian, but she lives out what Peter tells Christians to do. Concerning mistreatment by cruel masters, Peter tell slaves, “For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God” (1 Pet. 2:19-20). Jesus, whom Peter holds up as an example (1 Pet. 2:21), says, “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Mat. 5:39). You will be assaulted, at least verbally, by people of the character of these sadistic adolescents. Don’t let it embitter you. Instead, choose the high road and see the good in life.
These are the “matter-of-fact” words of the Lord to Jeremiah concerning a sermon He wanted him to preach in the temple court of Jerusalem (Jer. 26:2). God shows optimism that the people might repent, but they would have to “listen to” Him through Jeremiah’s message (Jer. 26:3-4). If they would not “heed” the words of His servants the prophets, they would suffer severely for it (Jer. 26:5).
The priests and the prophets heard what Jeremiah spoke (Jer. 26:7-8), but it made them so mad they grabbed him and threatened to kill him (Jer. 26:8ff). If not for the princes and the people (Jer. 26:16), they might have done to him what Jehoiakim once did to the prophet Urijah (Jer. 26:23). But, despite the threats he received, Jeremiah obeyed the Lord’s command and did not change his message to soothe his angry hearers. Instead, he told them, “Amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God; then the Lord will relent concerning the doom that He has prophesied against you” (Jer. 26:13).
Today, we are not yet at the point of facing physical persecution and death for preaching exactly what God’s Word says, but it is still not always easy. Offending the guilty, “stepping on toes,” and “goin’ to meddlin’” can exact a price from the proclaimer. The pressure and temptation exists to adapt the message to the audience’s lifestyle. Paul warned of this possibility, telling Timothy, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). That describes the environment in many places, including some places among God’s people. We must predetermine that, whether the winds blow for good or ill, we will not diminish a word of what God commands (2 Tim. 4:1-2). Not warning people does not change the danger. It just makes us subject to it, too! As Micaiah famously said, “As the Lord lives, whatever the Lord says to me, that will I speak” (1 Kings 22:14).
Laura Elliott, first grade Bible class teacher at the Cold Harbor Road congregation, was teaching my son Dale’s class about king Solomon’s three hundred wives and seven hundred concubines, about how not only was it wrong to have so many wives but how difficult it must have been for Solomon to keep up with all of their names. Laura tells me that Dale’s solution was simple: “Couldn’t he just call them all ‘honey’?” If only keeping up with their names was Solomon’s most serious task with regard to these women!
Reading 1 Kings 11, right off the heels of Solomon’s hosting of the Queen of Sheba and the extremely opulent exchange of gifts between them, we are impressed with an incredible flaw in Solomon’s character. Perhaps Ecclesiastes was written later enough in his life after 1 Kings 11 that he realized, with regret, the folly of such a lifestyle. Consider some things about Solomon’s deadly mistake.
First, his mistake was in whom he had such great affection (1 Kings 11:1-2). They were foreign women from nations with whom God explicitly forbad such fraternization! God knew that such worldly yoking would lead men to fall away from Him (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14; 1 Cor. 15:33). Be careful as to who is the object of your affection – choosing wrong is a deadly mistake!
Second, his mistake was in how he held them in affection (1 Kings 11:1-2). These women of the world were apparently beautiful and seductive. The word for “love” in these two verses speaks more to physical attraction and very little, if at all, to pure, spiritual love. It might be said that Solomon pursued these women from lust. From his own pen, he wrote of how dangerous such pursuit is (Prov. 5; 6:24-35; 7:5-27; etc.). To follow his example today is a deadly mistake!
Third, his mistake was in what his affection for them led him to do (1 Kings 11:3-10). It led him to worship the idols revered by these pagan women. It also led him to ignore God’s commands and even outright rebel against them! The natural consequence of following in his footsteps is the same today – a choice must be made. Choosing the path of sensuality prevents one from obeying God. Obeying God makes it impossible to, at the same time, pursue such a sinful path. Choose like he did, and you make a deadly mistake!
Finally, his mistake was in what his affection for them cost him (1 Kings 11:11). His pursuit of these women cost him the kingdom! God took it from him through the rebellion of Jeroboam and the folly of Rehoboam, his son.
Following Solomon’s example is costly! It will often cost one dearly – financially, socially, and physically. Lacking repentance, it will surely cost one eternally! Yet, so many are imitating Solomon’s deadly mistake!
May we take a page from inspiration and learn from Solomon’s deadly mistake.
Have you ever had someone you trusted and admired tell you about a speaker of whom he or she either thought highly or poorly? Perhaps it colored your thinking of that one’s lesson, even if only subconsciously. Have you ever had someone speak ill of a person, castigating their character or maligning their motives? Maybe, whether it was apparent to you or not, it influenced your view of that person. We human beings can have such an influence on one another. Our view and estimation of someone or something can be an overlay over another person’s point of view. That has powerful potential for good or evil.
Each of us has an obligation to think for ourselves, to evaluate people, preaching, programs, positions, problems, and the like. It is intellectual laziness to let another do our thinking for us. All individuals deserve to be evaluated by us based on what we observe first-hand.
It seems the Jews who dogged Paul’s missionary steps were trying to “poison the water” in every place Paul went (Acts 14:2,19;17:5). Demetrius did this to Paul in Macedonia (Acts 19:24ff). Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, in part, to dispel the untrue reports made against him that tainted some of the brethren’s view of him. What drove these men to try so hard to destroy Paul’s work and influence? It does not matter. It was indefensible behavior.
It is a mark of spiritual maturity for one to ignore the gossip, slander, and smearing of another. Each person is owed the charity of our unprejudiced acceptance before we draw our own conclusions. It is an exercise in which we would wish others to engage when considering us. May we have the grace to return the kindness (Luke 6:31).