Word of mouth. According to most people, that’s the best advertising there is. If a friend recommends a movie, a book, or a restaurant, you’re probably more likely to go to that movie, buy that book, or eat at that restaurant. If you are in a new town, you may check online review sites to make sure that the place you are interested in patronizing has good service and good products. Sometimes though, a place may have great reviews, and the owner does something outrageous. The result is that people then go to these review sites and destroy the reputation of that company. It doesn’t take much for years of good work and a wonderful reputation to be ruined.
It works the same way for individuals. Say one stupid thing, make one spiteful comment, and years of a fine reputation can be destroyed. Now that we have the internet, it doesn’t take long to destroy yourself by doing something stupid. I’m sure that you can think of many recent examples. Solomon reminded people of this truth long ago. While people didn’t have the internet to destroy themselves, word of mouth was important back in his day also. “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” (Proverbs 22:1)
One of the great things about Proverbs is that the teachings make sense. Solomon sets up a dichotomy: should a person focus on gaining great wealth or should they worry about their reputation? There are many people who, by their actions, would disagree with Solomon here. Gold and silver have become their gods. They cut financial and ethical corners. They bend the rules. They use people in horrible ways. All of this is done in the pursuit of wealth. If wealth is the end result of our desires, anything we do to acquire it becomes reasonable. We have seen people who have engaged in all kinds of horrible practices just to gain wealth. These people become ugly people sitting on the throne of a kingdom of one because no one wants to be around them. If anyone does choose to be around them, it is because they are as conniving as all the others in the kingdom. No one around them is pleasant or enjoyable company. The watchword in that type of society is to watch your back.
The person who develops a reputation for doing the right thing gets a good name. The other result of that is that other people who have that same concern gather around that person. The old saying “birds of a feather, flock together” usually is meant as a warning. We remind our children of that when they begin hanging around kids who have a bad reputation. At the same time, it’s an observation that reminds us that when we have a good reputation, others like that will want to be around us. There is no shortcut for gaining a good reputation. You build a good reputation by doing the right thing all the time. When you mess up, as you will, you apologize and find a way to make it right. You do that, rather than offer excuses and explanations, because your reputation is more important sometimes than being right, or being understood. For the follower of Christ, it may be harder to maintain a good reputation. When we measure ourselves against the perfection of Jesus, we recognize our shortcomings. It’s human to seek to hide those shortcomings. When we fully understand the mercy and grace of God through Jesus, though, we know that we can confess those sins and failures, become the people God wants us to become and show the world the greatness of God through our lives. It’s a sobering reality that when we follow Christ, our reputation affects the way people in the world see God.
Oh Lord, let my reputation always be one of a person who follows You no matter what the cost. When I fail, let me be quick to apologize and do what I need to so that I can make things right with others.