Character - Good Reputation

Your character consists of many elements such as integrity, courage, discipline, vision, endurance, and compassion. One important aspect of character is a good reputation. It is often said that your reputation goes before you. Notable success often results in a noteworthy reputation but the opposite is also true.

Think of some examples of people with a good reputation and some with a bad reputation and discuss why their reputations are what they are. (Some suggestions: Sam Walton, Ted Turner, Michael Jackson, Bill Gates, Jon Corzine, Jane Fonda, Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton.)

Some examples: Sam Walton's reputation is based on Wal-Mart stores and his passion to bring everyday low prices and good customer service to the consumer. He was true to this vision for his entire career and Wal-Mart stores today carry on his philosophy. In contrast, Jane Fonda had a good reputation for her excellent acting, but she lost it completely when she went to Hanoi and spoke out against the United States, causing many American POWs to suffer horrible torture. She now says that she has become a Christian, but most people don't believe her or forgive her for the horrendous pain she caused. One's reputation is sometimes based on a single incident, but more often evolves over time from a pattern of behavior. A reputation is generally based on what you do and not what you say.

Do you believe that the world needs men:
...who cannot be bought?
...whose word is their bond?
...who put character above wealth?

Do you think that others in the world believe this?

There are very few people in the world that would disagree with the first three statements. On the other hand, many people's actions show that they can, in fact, be bought, that their word cannot be trusted, and that they put wealth above everything else. So again, we see that reputation is based more on what you do than what you say. If a doctor tells you, "don't smoke. It's bad for you," and you see him later lighting up a cigarette, which speaks louder, what he says or what he does?

Read Philemon 1-25. In 60 A.D., during his first imprisonment in Rome, Paul wrote this private, personal letter to a friend, Philemon, a wealthy member of the Colossian church. Its purpose was to convince Philemon to forgive his runaway slave, Onesimus, and to accept him as a brother in the faith. (Note that Paul does not condemn slavery, which was common in the Roman empire, but he does make a radical statement by calling this slave Philemon's brother in Christ.)

What kind of reputation did Onesimus have with Philemon, his employer, when he ran away?

From the Bible passage, we don't really know. He may have been the head chef or a skilled craftsman and had a fine reputation. However, his running away certainly ruined, or badly tainted, whatever prior reputation he had. Say you're on a three-man roofing crew and you've been working together for several months. You're working on a big job and one day, one of the crew members doesn't show up - no call, no nothing. And then someone reports seeing him off fishing. What happens to his reputation as a hard worker, a good crew member?

Onesimus was not only a runaway employee but probably stole money from Philemon as well (suggested in vs 18). Why do you think that Paul would associate with such a disreputable person?

There are many possible reasons. First of all, Onesimus made a long and ardurous journey involving at least two long passages by ship, from Colossae to Rome. Paul could not help but be moved by someone who would come this far to see him. Second, we do not know why Onesimus left. Was he being mistreated? Did he have some sort of breakdown? Did he go to Paul because he thought that Paul needed him? Third, and perhaps most important, it was in Paul's loving nature to accept and welcome anyone, whatever their reason for coming to him. In a sense, Paul was like a rescue mission today with its doors open to people who are homeless, addicted, hungry, and hurting. The mission takes them in and tends to their immediate needs, after which their crimes or other issues can be dealt with, just as Paul did with Onesimus.

How do you think that Onesimus must have changed so that he moved from being "useless" to "useful" (vs 11) to both Paul and Philemon? (Colossians 4:9)

We don't know enough to answer this definitively. Perhaps Onesimus had a special talent or was a skilled chef. One commentator suggests that this is a play on words, as the name Onesimus means "useful." However, what we do know is that Onesimus came to be a Christian believer (vs. 10 and Colossians 4:9) while he was with Paul and Paul suggests to Philemon that Onesimus, as a believer, a brother in Christ, a member of God's family, should be forgiven and welcomed back.

Why do we, along with Philemon, have a very difficult time changing our minds about the previous poor reputation of someone, a boss, employee, fellow worker, or classmate?

"A reputation is like fine China - easily chipped and difficult to repair." Our pastor recently commented that he can get 30 positive comments about a sermon and one negative one, and he'll lose sleep thinking the sermon was lousy because of the one negative comment. When I used to live in a small town, ten years without a single homicide did not make the news, but one murder made the headlines for weeks. Reputations are like that: you can build it up for years and destroy it with one stupid action.

The passage doesn't say whether Philemon rehired Onesimus or not. Pretend to be a member of Philemon's employee review committee. Would you rehire this former employee?

Put yourself in Philemon's position and imagine yourself as the manager of a department or small company of 15 or 20 employees. Let's say that they have the same makeup as the general population so that 2 or 3 are born-again Christians and the rest are occasional churchgoers, Jews, Muslums, aethists, agnostics. One of these non-Christians leaves under dubious circumstances. You then receive a letter from Billy Graham saying he spent some time with this man, he became a Christian, and how would you like to rehire him? Is this a no-brainer?

Why do you think that this unusual letter was included in the New Testament?

The easy answer, of course, is that the Bible is the inspired word of God and God wanted this letter included. But also, this small book is a masterpiece of grace and tact and a profound demonstration of the power of Christ and of true Christian fellowship in action. Think about what separates you from fellow believers - race? status? wealth? education? personality? As with Philemon, God calls you to seek unity, breaking down those walls and embracing your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Action steps:
1. Think of someone you personally know that has a bad reputation (which may or may not be deserved). Pray for that person.

2. Get together with a close friend in confidence and ask him to help evaluate your reputation as seen by others.

Bible study courtesy of www.SwapMeetDave.com

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