“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. (Proverbs 22:1; ESV)”
It’s very hard to put a price tag on a good reputation, especially considering the teaching of the Scriptures that the good name is more important than riches.
Jesus likewise spoke to the importance of His followers having a good reputation when He taught, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16; ESV)”
A reputation is just a public perception of an individual based on the observed things that they have done. Everyone who associates with other people for any length of time is going to have such a thing, good, bad, or somewhere in-between.
Jesus most certainly wanted His disciples to cultivate a good reputation through doing good. This is what it means to “let your light shine.”
Elsewhere the apostle Paul echoed the words of Jesus, teaching the church, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Philippians 2:14-16; ESV)”
Again, Christian are to shine as lights, but we have two other concepts mentioned: being blameless and innocent. Blameless, in particular, again speaks to our reputation. Being blameless means that there is nothing others can accuse you of. You have lived your life in such a way as to have no public stains upon your character. There are multiple passages which refer to the idea that God wants His people to have such a reputation. For example, “blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord (Psalm 119:1; ESV).”
Are concern for our reputation is not just concerning our reputation among men, but our reputation with God. A good reputation in the eyes of God is truly beyond worth, for God will bless the blameless, now and into eternity.
But, if a reputation is precious, it is also quite fragile.
“Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor (Ecclesiastes 10:1; ESV).”
A colorful proverb reminding us that it doesn’t take that many mistakes to undo a reputation.
How many dead flies in a jar of perfume before the perfume is unsellable? The “stench” created by said flies may be entirely mental, but it is there nonetheless. Likewise, how many scandals must a politician have in order to undo a perfect record of trustworthiness? How many affairs does it take on the part of a spouse in order to create distrust in their fidelity? How many lies can you tell to a friend before they begin to doubt your word?
It doesn’t take much.
A man can go a lifetime being wise and honorable, and then in a single moment of weakness and folly, throw it all away.
Related, with God, how many sins does it take to make us guilty in the eyes of the divine? Just one is the answer.
Consider Jesus, who went a lifetime walking blameless before God. How many sins would it have taken to undo His spotless nature, rendering Him unfit to be our Messiah.
Thankfully, when we sin, God is willing to forgive us when we repent. Men are sometimes not so forgiving. Our misdeeds, mistakes and ill-chosen decisions can come back to haunt us for many years.
Which is just one more reason to be diligent to walk upright and blameless, paying attention both to the choices we make and the consequences of those choices. Because there will be consequences.
All of which is to say, sometimes we do good to remind ourselves, when we are tempted to do something foolish: a good reputation is not something to take lightly, but is a thing worth cultivating and maintaining. It is better than riches. It is certainly better than whatever momentary satisfaction we might get from that brief moment of sin which we will have a hard time living down later.
Speaking of good decisions: the church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise if you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us at chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.