My…this is a tricky one. Too often these three terms are used interchangeably, and that is wrong. These three words are independent of each other and cannot be used synonymously. They certainly compliment each other and each term relies on the other for meaning and substance, but I’ll get into that in a moment. In general, for right now, character is what we are on the inside, testimony is what we show others, and reputation is what others will label us based on our testimony. If that testimony coincides with your character, you’ll have a good reputation, but if your testimony contradicts your character, you’ll be labeled as having a bad reputation.
Let’s take time to develop each of the three components to this week’s article. We’ll start with defining what character is. Character has to do with what you are made of on the inside. It’s what motivates you to make the decisions you make down deep in the inner man. It’s basically your moral fiber. Now, to make it even harder to define character, the word does not appear in the King James Bible…according to Strong’s Concordance (I didn’t scour every verse, I’m taking the word of the Concordance). However, I have a strong feeling that we can find a Bible fellow or two that can speak to what character is.
But instead of doing that now, I’m going to list 20 character traits that appear in many biblical stories, parables, and teachings. They are: Courage, Honesty, Reliability, Discipline, Responsibility, Tolerance, Vision, Integrity, Respect, Endurance, Generosity, Perseverance, Compassion, Commitment, Enthusiasm, Self-Sacrificing, Humility, Patience, Loyalty, Forgiving, and Passion. Now, keep in mind as you read these, that character is what you are in the inner man. These character traits are not visible in this form. They are inward aspects of our being. But what happens when we act? Then these character traits are revealed. This then becomes our testimony…
Enoch probably had many of the aforementioned character traits, and his actions illuminated what was inside his heart. Hebrews 11:5 says this about Enoch, “…for before his translation he had this TESTIMONY, that he pleased God.” See, Enoch had a character that caused him to do certain things. What he did was seen by others. What was put forth before his peers was his testimony. That he pleased God was his testimony before others. What was it that caused him to please God? It was his character filled with such traits as honesty, reliability, discipline, respect, etc.
Now here comes the catch. We can profess to others what we harbor inside ourselves as it relates to our character, but if we do that, our testimony better be congruent and in line with what we claim to be on the inside. If not, our testimony (what others see) will be an incongruent testimony and out of line with what we profess, and it just may cause us to be given a reputation for being a hypocrite. Understand this, that your reputation is the label your peers give you as you display your testimony before others. Your testimony, therefore, should be in line with your character…got it?
Reputation then, as I explained, is what we become labeled with…what we come to be known as. The words people use should refer to your character traits. Ideally these character traits should be recognized through your testimony without you even needing to profess your character to anyone else. Remember the twenty character traits I listed? Well, there’s a label (reputation) that goes along with each: Courageous, Honest, Reliable, Disciplined, Responsible, Tolerant, Visionary, Full of Integrity, Respectful, Enduring, Generous, Persevering, Compassionate, Committed, Enthusiastic, Self-Sacrificial, Humble, Patient, Loyal, Forgiving, and Passionate.
This is why it is so important to walk the talk so to speak and guard yourself against doing something stupid in a moment of weakness, lest anyone discover your momentary loss of discretion. Warren Buffet warns of this very thing in this way: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” In other words, we may act on our character and have others develop our reputation, but one little mistake will put into question everything you stood for over the course of many years.
For instance, let’s say you’re against gambling for moral reasons based on your belief of what the Bible says about the principles behind gambling. Year after year you teach and preach against gambling, never even entertaining the thought of buying a simple scratch ticket at the local convenience store. Then one day, the state lottery is up to 750-million dollars and you, in a moment of weakness, void of thoughts of any possible consequences, buy one lottery ticket…and you win. You are now everywhere in the news and the whole state knows you played the lottery. What they don’t know is that this in the ONLY ticket you ever bought in your life! That one act will put into doubt the previous years of speaking out against gambling. You will only be able to convince a handful of people that the lottery ticket you bought was the first and only one you ever bought. The rest of the people will believe you have been doing that your whole life, while speaking out against it, and you’ll be labeled as deceitful, hypocritical, and one living a double life. Of course that would be a shame, and it may not be fair or just, but that’s the way it is. Benjamin Franklin knew this when he said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” Buying that one and ONLY lottery ticket was the bad deed that caused you to lose that good reputation you had. Again, that’s a shame, but that’s the way it works.
Before I go on, let me say this about that. Believing in your heart and acting contrary in your life is not always about being a hypocrite. People may have been engaging in very sinful or destructive behaviors, but once God gets a hold of their hearts, they begin to appreciate that they need to change their lifestyles (include anything you can name here). The problem is that there may be physical, emotional, or psychological factors playing into the continuance of said behaviors, but because the belief that these are wrong is a belief that is only in its infancy in your heart, and is very weak and malnourished, you continue in your lifestyle despite believing in your heart to the contrary. This is not hypocrisy! Hypocrisy is a WILLFUL engaging in behaviors that you speak out against. But, only in the most obvious of cases can we make the safe assumption about a person being a hypocrite. But there truly is a difference between a true hypocrite and one who is truly struggling to act according to their inner beliefs while they grow spiritually.
This is why nourishing your heart and soul with the Scriptures is so important, and it’s where stewardship comes into play. I firmly believe God created us with a capacity to develop godly characteristics…like Enoch. As God uses the Bible to teach and change us in our inner man, we must remain in His Word daily, at the very least. So whatever character God develops within us, it’s ours to use in the service of others. How? By “letting our light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Those good works are our testimony from which others will give us a reputation. These good works should flow from the changed inner man (2nd Corinthians 5:17).
Two people from Scripture come to mind that display this very thing. The Gadarene Demoniac in Mark 5 is the first that comes to mind. Jesus touched this man’s heart and there was such a 180-degree change in him, that it was noticeable to everyone in the town. His changed life shone forth to the other townsfolk, but instead of glorifying God, they became fearful. What’s important to note though is that they did recognize that the change came from a heart that had undergone an intimate transformation at the hand of God. It was so evident that the townspeople immediately recognized Jesus as having done this and drove Him out of their town…for fear that they themselves would be changed…and begin acting differently.
The other person in the Bible that underwent a total transformation immediately was the tax collector, Zaccheus who climbed down from the tree and spent the evening with Jesus at his home. Once he was converted, his heart changed and this former cheat who unscrupulously took extra taxes from his own countrymen, told Jesus, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold” (Luke 19:8). A changed man after an intimate spiritual and literal visit with Christ began acting on his new character. But here again, instead of the people witnessing this transformation and glorifying God, they were suspicious and cautious.
But do you see what’s interesting in these two stories? Here the change went from bad to good and the reputations of Zaccheus and the Gadarene Demoniac were not changed as quickly as the preacher who lost his reputation immediately after buying the ONLY lottery ticket in his life. So, the two things to take away from this are: First, if you have a godly character…guard it with all you have and be consistent!!! Second, if you have changed and God has begun working in you, and people don’t take too kindly to the changes in your life…don’t give up!!! Consistency will be the key to eventually obtaining a reputation that will match your character. Zaccheus was a cheat, but perhaps eventually, over the course of many years, he became known as honest and a man of integrity…because God had instilled in him the character traits of honesty and integrity after he was converted.
So, stewardship of our character, testimony, and reputation comes down to this. They are the tools God will use to draw others to us and ultimately to Him. Godly people should believe in their hearts differently than the world. Godly people should act differently than those in the world. Godly people should have reputations that differ greatly than those in the world. That’s letting our light shine before men. In a dark night, no moths will be attracted to a dark lamppost. But if the lamppost is turned on, then all of a sudden you will find many moths coming out of the darkness being attracted to the light. Our testimony (actions based on our character) should be the light that attracts others in this darkened world. So, once the light’s turned on…don’t let it go out…even for the briefest of moments – for it may be momentarily dimmed for years…