For those of you who recognize the sermon title as a lyric from the Bonnie Raitt song “Let’s Give them Something to Talk About”, you don’t have to worry about me trying to sing it today. I will not be singing about how people are talking about people. I will not be singing about loooooovvvveeeee.
As usual, I want to begin by asking what is probably going to be considered a goofy question. The question is what is your reputation? In the circles that you operate in, in the groups of people that are familiar with you, what do they think when you walk into a room? When your name is mentioned in certain circles, what’s the first thing that comes to other people’s minds? When people see you coming, can you imagine what their general thoughts are about you? What do people say or think about you?
The word reputation is a funny word. It comes from Latin and it incorporates the idea of reflecting upon someone or considering someone’s actions repeatedly in order to form an opinion about them. Typically, a reputation is built over time and through multiple actions.
In a good sense, it refers to the position that a person occupies or the standing that a person has before others, in respect to individual attainments, personal integrity, and how they live life. When people see positive things occurring in a person’s life, that positive action helps to cause people to think about that person positively.
In a negative sense, a person’s reputation is not necessarily based on what a person thinks of themselves. Instead, it is based on what other people think of them. A person’s reputation reflects someone else’s opinion of them based on sometimes subjective characteristics and criteria.
We all have probably experienced someone who felt we had a negative reputation based on seeing or hearing something that was unimportant or misunderstood or untrue about us. We all have probably experienced a situation where someone formed an opinion about us without getting the full story before they formed that opinion about us or the situation.
Many great men and women have talked about this negative aspect of reputation formation before. Warren Buffet said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
Benjamin Franklin said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” George Bernard Shaw said, “My reputation grows with every failure.” Henry Ford said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” Edwin Leibree said, “He who worries about reputation has a reputation to worry about.”
We all can probably agree that a positive reputation is valuable to have and maintain in life. When you have a good reputation, doors of opportunity often open wide for you. When you have a bad or negative reputation, doors may often be closed in your face on a regular basis.
In the 21st Century, the act of protecting and repairing a person’s reputation is now big business. There are multiple companies that specialize in protecting people’s names and reputations within online communities. One particular company is called Reputation.com. One of their specialized products is called The Reputation Defender. Their specialty is making sure that a person or company’s name is not besmirched in the online community and that people and companies attain positive Google results when their name is searched.
In popular media, the most highly rated shows on television currently are shows that deal specifically with the intricacies of protecting the reputations of high profile clients, like presidents, athletes, and movie stars. The point of these shows is to look at how important it is for these types of people to maintain their reputations so they can maintain their careers and lifestyles.
Today, I want to suggest that gaining a positive reputation is not only important for movie stars and athletes. I think that it’s also an important idea for the church to consider, as well.
Let me make sure to stress to all of you that I am not saying that any of us should be consumed with what other people think about us. What we do as the church and individual Christians, we do based on a relationship with the creator of the universe. I am not saying that our actions, as God’s children, should be based on what other people will think of us or feel about us. Ultimately, what we care about in the end is what God thinks about us.
I am not saying that the value of what we do is based on how many people like us on Facebook or follow our website. What I am saying is that we should be aware of what other people think about us, and how this affects our ability to share the gospel. We should be aware of how what people think about us affects our ability to share the good news of God’s love in and through Christ, in the world and in our community.
Why am I saying this? Where do I get this idea? I get it from the passage that is printed in our bulletins today. The passage from Colossians 1:1-14. In it, Paul stresses to his Colossian readers that he has heard several things about them, and because of what he has heard about them, it gives him hope for their future effectiveness in spreading God’s word.
I will be quoting from the Message version of the Bible today, and in the Message version, Paul says, “We can’t quit thanking God our Father and Jesus our Messiah for you! We keep getting reports on your steady faith in Christ, our Jesus, and the love you continuously extend to all Christians.” Paul had heard several things about the church at Colossae. Specifically, he heard about their faith in Christ, and how their faith influenced them to show love to the Christian community.
Their faith was not an intellectual adherence to an idea only. It was a faith, a belief, an acceptance, a trust, a commitment to Christ that was so strong that it led them to live their lives in an intentional manner. That intentionality was exhibited through the actions that they showed to other people. We don’t know specifically what those actions were, but Paul classifies them as actions based in love.
Paul goes on to say, “The lines of purpose in your lives never grow slack (there’s always tension between their purpose and ability to live that out), tightly tied as they are to your future in heaven, kept taut by hope.” Paul had heard that their life purpose was easily evident through their actions. The reason that they did what they did was identifiable. Their actions of love had a strong foundation in the hope that they had in a future life with God through Jesus.
Their foundation was not based on unnecessary things or what other people had laid out for them. Instead, their hope was found in the message that had been delivered to them by a man named Epaphras. This message, this gospel truth, was also making its way around the world and was growing stronger in the world day by day, just as it was growing stronger in them. Their hunger for God was growing and it was causing them to behave in particular ways and have a hope that was undeniable.
In verse 9, Paul says that since he and his companions heard about their faith, they began to pray for them and their spiritual growth. Paul’s prayer for the church at Colossae was that God would give them wisdom and that their spirits, their hearts, their minds would be attuned to God’s will. That they would be attuned to what God wanted for them, and what God wanted for them to be doing. CEV says, “We always pray that God will show you everything he wants you to do and that you may have all the wisdom and understanding that this Spirit gives.”
Paul’s prayer was that their inner beings, their inner make up, would continue to be directed towards fulfilling God’s purposes in their lives. Again, Paul doesn’t say specifically what this would be or how it had to look. I believe that he understood that the church at Colossae had the freedom to walk its own path within God’s will and kingdom.
But, Paul does say that if this were to happen, if they were able to tune their inner being towards God, he believed that they would “acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works.” If they made serving God their full concentration, God would reveal to them what was to be done and their efforts to fulfill God’s will would be blessed.
Paul goes on to say that, “We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard.” As you work for God in the area that God has designated you to work, work well and do it with legitimate effort. Do it, not as a way to try to gain salvation, but do it as a way to bring glory to God and share the good news of the gospel. In doing this, God will be proud of you and pleased. CEV says, “Then you will live a life that honors the Lord, and you will always please him by doing good deeds. You will come to know God even better.”
Paul adds, “As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work.” By practicing the act of obedience to God, you will better understand what it is that you have been called to do and become. This involves a long-term commitment from God’s children. “We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives.” Paul wants them to be strong and stay with the work that they have begun. It will not be easy and will not always be fun, but the work that they have begun is too important to give up on.
The Christian writer Kent says, “This strengthening…..is not for the purpose of enabling believers to work great miracles or perform stupendous feats before a skeptical world. It is rather for the production of spiritual fruit, particularly under trying circumstances. The display of patience (endurance under trial) and longsuffering…..is not always easy to demonstrate. But when the believer is confronted with adversity, whether from harsh circumstances or hostile persons, and can respond as Paul here describes, it is good evidence that he has learned something of the will of God, and has drawn upon the resources of the Holy Spirit.”
Paul calls this the “strength that endures the unendurable.” The strength to continue what has been started even when things don’t look like they are turning out like you expected. The strength to endure even when circumstances seem to be getting harder to manage. The strength to endure even as a road being traveled gets steeper and harder to navigate and climb. The strength to endure and persevere even when everyone else who had been traveling with you has given up and thrown in the towel. The strength to maintain the course until you see the fruits of your labor begin to grow.
Ultimately, the exhibition of this kind of strength and perseverance eventually leads to…..joy. Joy because you have fulfilled God’s will. Joy because you realize that God is the one who is responsible for you being able to endure in the first place. Joy because as they exhibit the particular qualities that Paul described (a steady faith, continuous love for others, regular actions that verify that love, a hope that was built upon their reception of the gospel which led to an inner change and transformation, and steadfast determination in the face of struggle), they would prove to be faithful servants of God in whom God would be well pleased.
I don’t think that the church at Colossae did what they did in order to get fans, followers, or accolades from people like Paul. I think they did what they did based on genuine faith in and love for God. But there is no denying that people learned about them and they eventually became an example for others because they lived out their faith consistently.
So what, Terrell? Why are we talking about this today?
I began this message by talking about the importance of a person’s reputation and the intricacies of maintaining it. Paul began his letter to the Colossians recognizing and affirming their reputation. They did not ask Paul to write them. Scholars tell us that it was very unlikely that Paul had anything to do with introducing this group to the gospel of Jesus Christ. But, after learning about them and the consistency of how they lived out their faith, Paul was compelled to contact them and start a relationship with them.
The question that I would like to ask all of you on a personal level is what have people heard about you? What is your reputation before the community that you live and operate in? Have people heard about your faith and how it is exhibited in your life on a daily basis? Does anyone even know that you are a Christian? Can people verify that you exhibit the fruits of the Spirit on a regular basis?
They may not call it the fruits of the Spirit. Instead, they may call it generosity. They may call it kindness. They may call it lending a helping hand. They may call it being dependable. They may call it not being judgmental. They may say that it’s having a sweet disposition. They may say that it’s lending a listening ear on a regular basis. They may say that it’s being there when a crisis or emergency arises. They may say that it’s listening and helping me through my problems.
They may not use biblical language to describe what God wants us to be to our community, but they can recognize that the person who exhibits those qualities operates on a different level with a different purpose. Your community may not talk about God, but they can talk about themselves and what love looks like to them. It may not look or sound like what we are used to, but whatever way they express it, it’s legitimate and important to them.
Okay, Terrell. What does this mean to WGBC? As you can imagine, I will ask the same types of questions. What is our reputation in this community? Does anyone really even know that we exist and what happens around here? If not, why don’t they? What will it take for us to be able to enter into relationship with our neighbors in this community?
It may take us getting out of our comfort zones and inviting parents with children to come to the Friday morning play dates. It may take us gathering school supplies for the coming school year for needy children. It may take us handing out water bottles at the 4th of July picnic. It may take us getting out of these four walls and walking among our neighbors and greeting them where they are instead of asking them to come to us and be conformed to our expectations.
It may take us collectively learning how to exhibit a steady faith, continuous love for others, initiating regular actions that verify our love for God and our community, professing and living by a hope that was built upon our belief in the gospel which should lead to an inner change and a corporate transformation, and exhibit a steadfast determination in the face of struggle and opposition and uncertainty.
If we can do the things that the church at Colossae did, I believe that the community will not only have something to say about us, but that they will also want to have a relationship with us and the God that we serve. If we can do those things, then we can become more than just another church that people drive by and wonder what’s going on there. If we can do these types of things, we can make the kind of difference that brings God glory and builds the reputation that we seek to have.
Will you pray with me?