A One-Hundred Day Journey to Freedom: Meditation #28
Philippians 2: 5-8 (NKJ) Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
I love the New King James version of Philippians chapter two, especially the phrase, “made himself of no reputation.” Now it doesn’t say that Jesus made himself a bad reputation or a questionable reputation, but simply “no reputation.” That is, reputation, image, prestige, prominence, power, and other trappings of leadership were not only devalued, they were purposefully dismissed. In other words, reputation, it’s cultivation elevation and protection, were of no importance to Jesus in his or ministry. Jesus became such a man. Not by default or accident, but by intention and design. And it was only in this form that he could serve, love, give, teach, and yes, lead.
This may be a challenge for us, for we have come to believe that the development of a good reputation is part and parcel of living a holy and ethical life. But in that lies an insidious temptation. Reputation and pride are so closely linked that it is difficult for us to consider one without the other. When we are concerned about our reputation, we cannot help but be attentive to what people think of us, sensitive to criticism, and always on guard to protect a wrong notion or unfair judgment of our work and character. Here is a rather harsh conclusion I’ve come to, caring too much about our reputation is absolute bondage. We can spend the rest of our lives running around propping up our reputations, making sure nobody feels ill toward us, and trying to squash any rumor or bad report. And we can do this all the time believing this has nothing to do with our pride. Such is the deception that underlies this idea of reputation.
In reflecting on my life, I have come to believe that following Jesus is an ongoing, disciplined practice of becoming a person of no reputation, and thus, becoming more like Christ in this unique way. In his reflections on Christian leadership, Henri Nouwen refers to this as resisting the temptation to be relevant. He says, “I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.”
There was a time in my life when I would’ve rejected this idea outright. Now I believe it is the fundamental position of a disciple of Jesus Christ. So here is my bottom-line take away from this meditation, “you are not the caretaker of your own reputation.” When I was told that a number of years ago it was like heavy chains fell from my shoulders. We are called to be obedient disciples of Jesus Christ, period. That may bring us a good reputation, a bad reputation or no reputation at all. That is up to God. If we obediently follow him, love our neighbors a we love our self, speak the truth in love and proclaim the coming kingdom of God, then our reputation should be of little consequence to us. When it becomes the focus of our life, it will dominate everything else.
Are you living your life as a caretaker of your own reputation? Are you willing to give it up completely in order to follow Jesus regardless of the cost?
Think back to a time when an unjust rumor or skewed perspective threatened your reputation. How much effort and energy did you employ in trying to “set things straight?” If your reputation was simply this, “a person who would go wherever God directs and do whatever God asks,” would that be enough for you? Right now, what would it take for you to turn your reputation back over to God, place it in his hands with confidence that if you will obey him he will be the caretaker of your reputation? Name that step and to commit yourself today to take it at any cost.
Gracious Lord, I struggle so much with my reputation. I confess that I want people to think well of me and it hurts when something damages how others think of me. I don’t understand how you could stand to listen to the insults and lies that were hurled at you before you went to the cross and remain silent. Sometimes I wonder why you didn’t defend yourself, yell out the truth and hold people accountable who slandered your name. But I understand that sometimes following you requires us to do what is right, and let people think of us what they may. Lord, I can’t do this on my own. I need the power of the Holy Spirit to calm my spirit so that I may rest in you. I give you back my reputation, and today I will walk away from my frantic work of constantly protecting it and propping it up. My only desire is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, a faithful follower of you, and someone who boldly and confidently speaks the truth in love into this hurting and broken world. Help me to focus solely on that, and set aside my claim on my reputation. I give it back to you willingly and completely today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus (Crossroads: New York, 1996), p. 17.