A person’s reputation is an important asset. It opens doors and creates opportunities for employment and social impact. Our reputation affects the way people approach us and how they present themselves to us. The problem arises when we lose sight of what truly makes for a great reputation and whom it is that we ought to be trying to impress. Christians have been taught for generations that it is important that we make a good first impression and that we must be careful about who we associate with. If we spend time in the company of the “wrong” type of people they might rub-off on us and give others the idea that we agree with or participate in their bad behaviours.
We all like to be liked. There’s nothing wrong with the desire to have others think well of us. But when you look at how Jesus lived His life it seems that we might focus a little too much on making a good impression on those around us.
“Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!” – Luke 15:1-2 NLT
Jesus spent a considerable amount of His time with “notorious” sinners. He associated with people that everyone knew stories about. Those kinds of people that you may have crossed the road to avoid getting too close to. They had created very bad reputations for themselves because everyone knew the mistakes they had made. These were the people who were often at the center of all the juiciest gossip. The very same people that your momma warned you about.
Somehow the church has become infected with the idea that we need to be careful about the company we keep, even though Jesus himself clearly set a very different example for us to follow. Jesus didn’t let the potential damage to His own reputation stop Him from spending quality time with the very worst that society had to offer. He didn’t seem concerned that the religious people of His day didn’t like the choices He made.
There is really nothing complicated going on here. The simple fact is that if I am going to make any kind of impact on this world I need to be in contact with those who are the least like me. Spending all my time and attention on other Christians will not create a significant change in anyone. Meanwhile, if I lived more like the way Jesus demonstrated for me I would be able to shine the light of His love into many dark places. If I considered it to be more important to make a change than to protect my reputation I might be far more effective in the mission.
If religious people don’t find our spirituality upsetting, perhaps we are not living enough like Jesus. I would rather have a bad reputation and be like Jesus than have a clean reputation and have never made a real impact. Pray with me for more opportunities to change the world around us by shining His light into the darkness.