Does Your Character Match Your Reputation?
In John Bunyan’s perennially blessed work “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, we are introduced to a character called “Talkative”. As with all characters in this book, his name denotes his dominant attribute; his character. Mr. Talkative was, “something more comely at a distance than at hand.” His reputation from afar was good and attractive but his true character was lamentable. His mouth was always filled with good and holy things but his doing, that is his character, was about nothing. Most of us have met a Mr. Talkative at some point. Some of us have even been Mr. Talkative at some point (Lord help us). We should take serious care to ensure that our reputation and are character are as much aligned as possible lest it be said of us as it was of Talkative: “A saint abroad and a devil at home.” Does your reputation match your character?
We know that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and Jesus acted the same publicly as He did privately. By that I mean, anything that Jesus said privately, he was also prepared to say publicly (Matthew 10:27). The radical disparity between public and private persona is called “hypocrisy”. We are not talking merely about comfort levels with certain people or family vs co-workers. You may feel more comfortable discussing personal issues with a particular person, or you may feel more inclined to be jovial around a family member than a new acquaintance.But we are talking about such a comfort level as brings about an entirely different disposition and essential way of life. It has been said that your reputation is how others see you act, but your character is how you act when others aren’t around to see it; or perhaps when different people are around. It is possible to have a good reputation in general and poor character. God spare us from the error of Sardis. Are we striving to be consistent in our behaviors; acting privately as we would publicly? Do we take on a completely ungodly attitude when around certain people?
We’ve all heard the idiom, “a little birdie told me” in reference to becoming aware of something that had otherwise been deliberately hidden. The phrase is almost certainly derived from this above passage in Ecclesiastes. This provides one motive for our consistency. Namely, that other people might find out and that shame (or worse) might come as a result. It should go without saying that if shameful activities were not shameful, everyone would do them publicly. It is under the cover of “darkness” as it were; in the realm of secrecy where shameful activities take place. But there are varying degrees. One needn’t be a secret drug addict or a whoremonger to be well steeped in hypocrisy. Let’s consider something no doubt accessible to us all. Are there not certain people you are more comfortable with? By this I mean people that you are more prone to adopting a generally cavalier attitude around. Are there not some friends, family members or co-workers which you are much more easily tempted to say things around which you would never say in a more public setting much less a prayer meeting? Why is this? We are all prone to this hypocrisy to one degree or another and while nobody should be expected to feel as comfortable with everyone in the same way, if that “comfort” is essentially constituting another character entirely, then we have been established as hypocrites.
The word “hypocrite” is an old theater term that actually means “an actor” or “a stage player”. Ancient Greek actors wore very large masks to denote their characters. You see now? A hypocrite is one who “acts” a part. Just as Mr. Talkative was, the stage player (hypocrite) appears to be someone else from afar. But it is much easier to justify that hypocrisy when it isn’t an overtly grievous sin like prostitution or drug addiction. A great many people are simply more comfortable telling certain jokes around old familiar friends, when they wouldn’t dream of doing it at a Christian gathering? Why the disparity? Since our reputation is how the general public views us and our character is how we are when nobody is looking, or when only certain people especially close to us are around, then the greater the chasm of difference between these two planes, and the greater the hypocrisy. It should be our aim to have these lines converge as closely as possible, that whether in a group of new people or around familiar people, there is a consistency that sets us apart. It may be that if one becomes too insolent in their attitude that a “little birdie” might tell the matter and we be put to shame as a result. Unless you are prepared to curse the king to his face, don’t even do it in your thoughts. But there are greater motives than this.
The Christian life is not to be a compartmentalized life, but a transparent and consistent life. We never know who is listening to our conversations or observing our actions. Many stories could be told of the unintended good that was wrought as a result of preaching the gospel to one, while another secretly listened and had their heart moved. Unbelievers also tend to observe the Christian at moments when they are least likely to perceive the observation. We have a great motivation to witness to people who may be observing us without our knowledge. If we live all of our moments as unto the Lord, then we can have greater confidence that whoever may perceive them (birds included), the name of Jesus will be well represented by keeping both us, and therefore Him, from shame.
While nobody desires public shame, or their reputation to be tarnished, we will ultimately be judged by no man. There is One who will be our Judge, and One to whom we will give an account. If we thought in these terms, we might spare ourselves from all manner of hypocrisy. Our attitude and disposition might change radically as a result of who is in a room with us, but what about the room within us? Jesus said this in John 14:23,
If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”
If we were more constantly aware of God’s presence at all times and in all places (and actually believed it), we might have a character more consistent with what is hopefully a good reputation as well. Remember David’s words: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.” (Psalm 139:7-8). If Jesus were literally, physically, standing next to you in any given moment do you think you would tell that inappropriate joke or make that comment? Does not the Bible tell us that the fear of the Lord is to hate evil, and that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom? How foolish we can be to think God is not constantly aware of our inconsistencies; our hypocritical nature. God is concerned with our heart in all things, and “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Sometimes it just takes the right audience to flush out the true heart. If the judgment of others is not a motivation, it is doubtless that the judgment of Jesus must be. Looks of disgust from a fellow sinner may be half compelling enough, but who can bear the look of disgust and disappointment from The Sinless Savior who died that we might truly live; and live eternally? Shall we crucify Him anew? God forbid!
I write this not as one who has summited the Everest of humiliation and piety and planted his flag of victory atop, but as one who is earnestly endeavoring to climb that mountain and to make serious strides by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is by His power alone that we can hope to mortify the deeds of the flesh, NO, that we can be assured they will be mortified, for this is His will and He is not wanting in power. By the Spirit, we CAN put to death the deeds of the flesh. It is a constant war; our flesh against our spirit. But we are told to present our bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), and that includes our tongues and our thoughts, whether abroad or at home, that in all settings we might be good ambassadors to the name of Jesus. May the Lord bring us past, “O wretched man that I am!” to the putting off of the old man daily, nailing him to a cross so that we might, “… put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Romans 13:14)
Insofar as this is agreeable to His will, for Jesus’ sake, may it be a daily reality for all who lay hold of His promises, submitting their wills to His. Amen.