An Ugly Sweater: The Reputation Dilemma

Oh, how it pains the heart…

On Sunday night, we studied the book of Thessalonians. And in this study it was made known that Paul is both defending his own reputation for leaving the city during strife, as well as praising the fantastic reputation of the young congregation in Thessalonica amidst such persecution. In the lesson, we pointed out since the idea of a “Good Reputation” is so significant to Paul (as well as to God), we ought to protect our reputation, earn one and maintain it through diligence, and seek guidance as to how to live a life of honor (the Thessalonians were “imitators” of God and Paul – 1:6). It all seems rather straightforward, right? But what might be an easy question to ask is, how do I start this journey of a good reputation? How do I find a guide of sorts? Or worse yet, what happens when an individual(s) you respect or hold up in high esteem is less than admirable?

Another subject brought up last night was my infatuation for the infamous Bill Cosby (or Heathcliff Huxtable) as a young kid. I talked about how much I loved the show, as well as his comedy and strong character. What I did not talk about is that Cosby’s principles and personality were ones I tried to maintain throughout my years. I admired his charity, work ethic, humor (I even claim I emulated his humor in my own life, though that is up for debate…), the way he said “Bar-Be-QUE!”, and all the way down to his “Ugly Sweaters.” Granted, they are not identical to his, and of course it is just an excuse to dress comfortably, but I still wore similar shirts with pride. So, it has been (in a corny way) heartbreaking to see a “fallen hero” of sorts. No, I am not saying I know for sure that all the accusations are real, but at the very least, I know that he is far from the pedestal I put him on (as much as one can a celebrity).

It brings up a difficult question, how do you find someone in this life who you can look up to and learn from? In some of Paul’s final thoughts in 1 Thessalonians, he urges these words, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” (5:12-13).

We understand the idea of “appreciating” someone for their work and sacrifice in life. It is what Paul wanted to be done (as well as the “give you instruction” part). But it seems to be only half of what Paul was urging here. You see, the word for “appreciate” is used multiple times in the book. Yet, it is always translated as “know” or “understand.” So, it is more consistent to use it likewise here, and go with the NIV translation of “acknowledge those who work hard among you…” You see, to acknowledge implies a time or period of “getting to know” someone. Before we look to someone and assume a commendable image, we must first, in a sense, investigate this individual. No, I am not advocating stalking a sweet older man/lady, but we must understand that Jesus said we would know an individual by their fruits (Matt. 7:16-20). How will you know a person, whether commendable or not, unless you take the time to get to know them? The answer is that it is simply impossible. In order to respect, praise, or appreciate, we must first sincerely know them, and that requires time and diligence.

So, if we truly want to have a strong and growing reputation that is worth protecting for ourselves and our church, we must find those who have already done it. We must understand that all men fall short (cf. Romans 3:23), and that there is only Jesus’s example that will never fade. But still, we must get to know and learn to appreciate those who have risen above their own faults, and have come out with dignity. Yes, there will be a few in whom you wish you never “wore sweaters for,” but if we get to know those with a worthy reputation, we will greatly benefit from their guidance.

P.S. Coldplay’s new album is really, really good! But “Everglow” and “Army of One” are my favorite tunes so far!

P.P.S. The Elm and Hudson church of Christ MEDIA page is where you can check out lessons by our Pulpt Minister Daniel Ingram (as well as one of mine). Hope you can check it out and be encouraged and edified!

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