... Then we get to Jerusalem. It is a sign of Paul’s bad reputation that he gets in trouble for doing something he didn’t do, but for something that to the zealous of Jerusalem thought sounded like something he would do. He is accused of bringing a non-Jew into the temple (21:29). To be honest, it is actually something we can imagine Paul doing, given his theology. But the incident shows how you can get in trouble as much or more because of your reputation than for who you actually are or what you actually do.
On one level, having a good reputation does seem a somewhat superficial matter. What does it matter what other people think of you? Isn’t the most important thing that you actually are a person of virtue, whether other people think well of you or not?
So why is it that Proverbs 22:1 says that, “A good name is more desirable than great riches”? First, Proverbs presumes that the good name is deserved. Proverbs is not talking about an inaccurate reputation but a good reputation that flows from actually being a virtuous person.
Yet there are consequences to having a bad reputation even when it is undeserved. As we see with Paul, people will fill in the blanks by assuming the worst of us if we have a bad reputation to them. By the same token, people will fill in the blanks with good thoughts if we have a good reputation with them. There is unfortunately a lot of truth in the saying that, “Perception is reality,” because people will act toward us according to what they think about us, not necessarily because of who we really are or what our true motives are.
We cannot control what others think of us, and our priority should be on actually being people of virtue—rather than being hypocrites who only look virtuous. Nevertheless, the Bible also shows some concern for how we look to others, not least because we are witnesses to Christ. How we look is not the most important thing, but it is not insignificant either.
There is also a warning to us as those who do the looking too. It is human nature to jump to conclusions. It is human nature to assume all the worst of our enemies and assume the best of our friends. We tend to believe every tawdry email or sound bite about the president or politician we don’t like. Yet we are just as quick to cry foul at the negative injustices the other channel promotes about our candidates and favorites.
Those with the heart of Christ will love their enemy and not be so quick to believe every negative word about an opponent. It will make itself be fair-minded. It will get the story straight from the horse’s mouth rather than believing every rumor. It will be more interested in the truth than the scintillating...