Connie W. Adams
"A good name is better than precious ointment" (Eccl. 7:1) "Only let not your good be evil spoken of" (Rom. 14:16). Timothy was "well reported of by the brethren" (Acts 16:2). Surely, we would rather be held in respect than despised.
But sometimes perceptions are unjust. Ahab’s perception of Elijah was that he was the one who "troubleth Israel" (1 Kings 18:17). It was really the other way around.
Jesus was perceived by the Jewish rulers as a "blasphemer" who had to be stopped at all cost. For that reason they "took counsel together to put him to death" (John 11:53). Yet Peter said that he "left us an example that we should walk in his steps; who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth" (1Pet. 2:21-22).
Paul said, "But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness" (1 Cor. 1:23). The perception of both unbelieving Jews and Greeks was wrong. The truth? "But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God—is stronger than men" (v. 25).
Unbelieving Jews created a false impression about Paul and his companions at Thessalonica. They dragged “certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, “these that have turned the world upside down are come hither also"(Acts 17:6). The perception spread. "And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things" (v. 8). But it was all based on false information. But still, that was the perception.
Let’s face it, Jesus, the apostles and the early church suffered from an image problem. I guess Demas succumbed to it for he "forsook . . . having loved this present world" (2 Tim. 4:10). The church of our Lord has often suffered from an image problem. That’s the little bunch who thinks they are the only ones who are right." "Oh, they are the ones who don’t believe in music." The perception of many younger people now is that organized religion is hypocritical, repressive, and out of touch with life in the real world. On top of that they are judged to be too judgmental and bigoted.
Solving the Image Problem
I don’t know that we always can solve it. We cannot compromise the truth because some who stand for it have been slandered and false perceptions have been created. All of us need to keep on preaching what we know to be the truth, doing what we know to be right ,and living uprightly before God and the world, whether or not the perceptions are changed. In the final analysis, does it really matter what people think of us? No, it does not. What matters is what God thinks about us. If my action is right before God, then whatever contrary perceptions may prevail are of no importance. When we begin to sample perceptions, brotherhood or otherwise, and decide our actions and associations accordingly, then we have sold out our principles for the pottage of human approval and opinion. Is there a price to pay sometimes for acting contrary to the "perception which is out there"? Absolutely. You may have a meeting or two cancelled without any explanation. That happen to me twice this year. One was cancelled with no other explanation than "for the health of the church." I don’t know if that meant the church was all too sick to attend a meeting or they thought my preaching would make them all sick. Another was cancelled with the explanation "due to circumstances." When I inquired what those "circumstances" were, I received no answer. Do churches have the same right to cancel meetings as to schedule them? Of course they do. But there is such a thing as honorable treatment which even people in the world recognize in the realm of business dealings.
Am I going to cut off associations with brethren I know to be honorable and who are engaged in activities which are just and right because of some "perception out there"? No sir, I am not. Others may choose whatever course they desire, but it appears to this old country boy that principle and perception are not always on the same page. The measure of a man’s character and caliber may well be decided by which one he chooses. "Buy the truth and sell it not" (Prov. 23:23).
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Scheduled to appear Truth Magazine December 2008