11 May 2008

What's a Reputation?

Yesterday was Ladies' Bible Study at church - and although it was quite hot, we had a good turnout of 7 ladies! We continued working our way through the book of John, starting with this reminder of why the book of John was written:

"and many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." (John 20:30-31, KJV)

Yesterday, we looked at two of Jesus' encounters, first with Nicodemus and second, with the Samaritan woman at the well - but we looked at those two events from the perspective of what we could learn about presenting the Gospel message to those around us. It was quite encouraging as we read through the two passages and the ladies commented on what the Holy Spirit was showing them individually as far as things to do or not to do as they shared God's message and the plan of salvation with their friends, neighbors and acquaintances. Several points were mentioned (some of these were brought out by the ladies and others were principles I'd seen in the two passages and prepared ahead of time).

1) There is not a single formula or method we can follow to present the Gospel message that is guaranteed to be effective every time we use it. We are responsible t.o share the message, but it is the Holy Spirit who changes hearts. We can see in these to instances that Jesus uses different methods to speak to each individual.

2) When we share the Good News, we must make sure we get beyond telling our own personal story to sharing the story of Jesus. In other words, testimonies can be effective tools, but it is Jesus who is the only Way, the Truth and the Light. Another application, particularly true in the culture here - it is not polite to directly approach people, but rather to talk around the issue for awhile before gently approaching the main point. However, we can't wander all around the outside of the Gospel message without ever confronting people with what the Bible says about salvation and the Kingdom of God.

3) We have to enter situations where we meet and interact with people who don't already know Jesus - and then be bold enough to share the message of God's love.

4) We need to keep in mind the purpose of our conversation and not get sidetracked by debates, arguments, or questions that lead away from that goal.

5) We need to meet people where they are. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus was concerned about the coming Kingdom and truth, so Jesus referred to both repeatedly. The Samaritan woman came to the well looking for water, so Jesus used the image of water that would quench thirst permanently to capture the woman's attention.

6) People need to see their sin, their inability to fix things in their own power and strength, and thus their need for Jesus. Jesus told Nicodemus of his need to be born again - a physical impossibility. Water that would lead us to never thirst again, in the case of the Samaritan woman, is also an impossiblity, humanly speaking.

7) People must decide what they are going to do with Jesus; thus we must prayerfully confront with that, or a similar question. But at the same time, we cannot force someone to place their faith and trust in the Lord.

As we finished up this part of the Bible study, it was neat to hear them share that they felt God had a particular message for them about the importance of evangelization and their role - that was the second study on sharing the Gospel they'd had that week, as Pastor had spoken on the same topic earlier. None of these woman believed that this was a chance coincidence. Please join me in praying that these ladies are encouraged and continue to be challenged to share their faith and the message of salvation with those around them.

However, as we were closing, I mentioned that I had one more thing I'd like to share with them, something that I had prayed much about over the course of the week, because I had been so personally convicted about it. These principles about sharing God's plan of salvation, while both good and timely reminders for me, were not something "new" - and so I started praying that God would show me something personal to take from studying these two passages of Scripture. And the Holy Spirit very clearly drew my eyes to the following~

Nicodemus came to Jesus in the night, probably because as a Pharisee, he was concerned about what others would think - his reputation. The Samaritan women came to the well at midday, the hottest time of the day when very few others would be out, because of her reputation. She didn't want to hear the whispers and see the glances that reminded her of what others thought of her. But the Bible also speaks to us about Jesus' reputation.

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who... made himself of no reputation... (Phil 2:5-7, KJV)

If you analyze the word "reputation," it comes from the Latin prefix "re" which means to do over and over and over again, one time after the other and the Latin verb "putare" which means to call to account or to consider carefully.

So, what is a reputation? It is what the public, in general, thinks of someone. It is notoriety for a particular trait or aspect (here, part of my "reputation" is that I'm the white lady with 7 blonde haired, blue-eyed kids). It is a good name or honor brought to the family because of specific behaviors and attitudes. It is a value or honor placed on or given to one by another - due to position, wealth, intelligence, etc. In our legal system, a person's reputation can be admitted as evidence in a court of law.

Yet if I want to have the same mind as Christ, I'm to make myself of no reputation. My actions and my behavior are not to be based on or determined by what I think others expect, on making others happy, or pleasing and feeding my ego as a result of others' responses. What I do, what I think, who I am should be determined by the character of the One I seek to imitate and follow.

There is a huge difference between my reputation (what others think) and my character (the person God is making me to be). The word character comes originally from a word meaning an instrument used for marking by making sharp cuts, engraving. God is in the process of engraving on my often hard and stubborn heart the image of His Son and His character. Thus, I'm to make myself of no reputation as I allow God to develop my character into one that pleases Him and brings honor and glory to His name, as He engraves His laws and the character of His Son on my heart.

Picture of Jesus and Nicodemus came from Christian Cameos. The painting is entitled "Jesus and the Woman and the Well," 1536 by Garafalo Benvenuto Tisi.

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