Everybody likes to have nice things said about them, in fact some people will go to nearly any length to obtain a favorable review by others. There's nothing wrong with someone having a good opinion of you, but the moment you switch from earning a good reputation to courting a good reputation, the reputation you seek becomes all but worthless. And worse than that, it just might lead to destruction – or worse than that, being trapped into following the devil.
Please open your Bibles to 1 Timothy 3:7. Finally we come to the end of this section on the requirements for an Overseer. This last requirement is just as important as the first for while all of the other requirements have focused both upon Character and Personal Maturity, this final requirement centers in on how a prospective overseer is perceived in the unbelieving community.
He must have a good reputation with those outside the church…
I can remember multiple times hearing that "it doesn't matter what other people think!" When it comes to raising children or walking in obedience to Jesus, that's appropriate but when it comes to picking a pastor – it matters indeed what people think. Note that it doesn't demand that people agree with him, as the world itself in general will not agree with the doctrines of the Bible as an Overseer must. But in terms of the man himself it is required that he have a good reputation with outsiders.
The word "Reputation" (μαρτυρίαν) comes from the Greek word from which we get the idea of "witness". It is a courtroom term describing someone who gives legal testimony. Given the context here, the life conduct of the prospective overseer results in what others say about him.1 Taken this way it means far more than merely what others would say about him. This is especially true because rumor mills don't normally reflect truth; and antagonists will be happy to spread false reports about you. The focus here is "what kind of feedback does this person actually generate?"
It's actually an ingenious gage of character. Much as the home is the place where you most often let your guard down so that your true character shows – so also your reputation among outsiders, while open to interpretation does in fact often reflect directly upon your behavior which others observe – even when you think nobody is looking. It is indeed important what other people think.
The problem is that as soon as you begin seeking after the approval of others, they can smell the fraud from a mile away. It's not long after that first whiff of insincerity before the positive opinion you seek becomes a negative railing accusation. I would call this the "politician syndrome". Only in Washington D.C. it seems is the word "politician" spoken with any kind of reverence. There's no doubt we desperately need some good Christians in political offices in this country – but the plain fact is that most politicians have a reputation for licking their fingers and sticking them in the air to see which way the wind is blowing so they can follow it. The stereotypical politician goes after a positive opinion and in the process earns a reputation as an opportunistic fountain of insincerity.
Now think about this for a moment, why is it so vital that he have a good reputation with the non-churched? First off he's going to represent Christianity to the masses – if they don't respect him from the beginning he'll have a difficulty getting his voice heard. Second of all it is Christ whom he represents and people expect a certain caliber of individual to be a representative of God. If he fails that he will come under reproach.
That means that people outside of the church will begin to look down upon and openly insult and disgrace the overseer. It also means " to speak disparagingly of a person in a manner which is not justified".2
That of course is negative not because the overseer's feelings might get hurt but rather because the Overseer represents Christ to the community. To have the visible representatives of Christ shamed among the community is equivalent to Christ being shamed amid the community. Do not forget Jesus' words to Paul on the road to Damascus, "…why do you persecute me…". Not to mention Romans 15:3. Jesus is personally affronted and attacked when his servants are personally affronted and attacked.
It would be guilt on our part to establish as a leader over the church someone who would – by their public behavior and resulting reputation even before they took office – bring reproach upon Christ and his church. Just imagine installing Jesse Jackson as a pastor here. Seldom in my experience has a man bearing the title "reverend" brought greater shame upon the church and has caused an enormous amount of aspersion to be cast upon Jesus as a result. He has demonstrated by his behavior3 that he is unfit for office as a pastor. Imagine taking that negative public image into the pulpit.
Caught In The Trap
A Snare can take many forms but at it's simplest you can take a piece of wire or string looped around itself in such a way that it virtually disappears against the backdrop. A passing animal unwittingly walking by may place a foot or even it's head through the loop without realizing it. But as it moves forward the loop closes around whatever is caught until it cinches tight. At that moment as panic sets in, every movement of the victim will serve only to cause the snare to tighten and stay tight. Any movement, forward, backward or side to side will result in the snare tightening around it's victim. The likely end is death because apart from outside assistance there is no deliverance.
One of the classic books I remember reading or hearing read (or perhaps watching on tv) was Watership Down. On particularly graphic scene still rises to the surface in my memory. In it a rabbit is snared to death. As a very young child that scene stuck with me, and now I think that I am glad for it – because nothing else would demonstrate so completely to my heart the horror of falling prey to the devil's snare.
But what exactly does it mean to fall into the devil's snare? To a certain extent we immediately understand that it means trouble. But turn over to 2 Timothy 2:26 where we gain the explanation. In the last portion of the verse we see that they who are in the devil's snare have been, "… held captive by him to do his will."
How then does having a bad reputation cause one to fall into the snare of the devil? Either because his doctrine will be watered down as he seeks to please the world, or perhaps because his well deserved reputation points to sin which is firmly entrenched in his life and which will bring Christ to public shame.
Escaping the Snare
2 Timothy 2:25-26 indicates that to fall into the snare of the devil means to become captive to doing his will. It also indicates the way out: "repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth."
These last two verses are given to protect the prospective overseer himself from the double edged sword of "self-righteous pride and cowardly disobedience."4 They are also given for you.
If, this morning you reflect upon your own life and find that you have been captured by the devil's snare this is your answer. You must realize that you have been following Satan's lead rather than the Lord Jesus. And you must repent, which is to say that you have to have more than sorrow over it, you have to turn away from the obedience to the enemy of your soul.
And when you have repented of sin, the next goal is in gaining the knowledge of the truth. Which means absorbing the word of God and it's resulting doctrine.
And for all of us, this verse stands as a warning against seeking to please people as an end in itself. Our first and foremost goal must be always and only to please Christ. As we are told by Jesus in Matthew 5:16, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."
It is in pleasing God and living for Him alone that we will find the right path to gaining the right reputation. And it is in seeking after our Father with passion that we will stay out of the Devil's snare.
1Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York: United Bible societies, 1996, c1989), 1:417.
2Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York: United Bible societies, 1996, c1989), 1:432.
4George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles : A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1992), 166.