Will Rogers, the famous entertainer, humorist, and social commentator of the first half of the twentieth century, once said, “It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute.” All it takes is one slip of the tongue, one rogue action, or one failure to act, and that which a person has spent years building comes unraveled in an instant. I suspect that many of us have seen up close a reputation destroyed on the rocks of a bad decision, whether it be our own or someone close to us. Of course, all of us have witnessed such a thing from a distance; history is replete with examples of men and women who epitomize what Shakespeare wrote in his play Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.”
One such example comes to us in Nero, the Roman emperor of the middle of the first century AD. When we think of Nero today, many things come to mind, none of which are very flattering. Some think of him fiddling while Rome burned (thanks again to Shakespeare, although there was a rumor during that great fire of Rome that Nero had set it in order to inspire himself to write an epic poem and strummed the lyre while he watched the flames). Others remember his unconscionable cruelty (such as how he would have Christians dipped in oil, impaled on stakes, and then set on fire in order to provide light for his nighttime garden parties). Still others remember his insanity (see previous example, as well as the fact that he named his horse a consul of Rome). What is not remembered about Nero is that during the first years of his reign, he was considered to be a good emperor and was quite loved by the people of Rome. He enacted much legislation geared toward helping those in the lower classes of Roman society. “The evil that men do lives after them…”
Our current culture provides us with many such examples, as well. Bill Cosby, once seen as a paragon of virtue, had carefully crafted a self-image of wholesomeness that made him welcome in many people’s homes through his comedy, kids programs and cartoons, and popular primetime TV show. Over the past few years, however, a very different picture has emerged of Cosby, one that has eclipsed all of his previous work and will tarnish his legacy.
As unfair as it may seem, even the accusation of wrongdoing can be enough to destroy a reputation. Living in the #MeToo era means that an accusation of sexual harassment or assault need only be the least bit credible (that is, it comes down to a “she said, he said” scenario) to wreak havoc in a person’s life. Our culture once mocked Billy Graham and Vice-President Mike Pence for their strict personal rules about their interactions with people of the opposite sex who were not their spouses; now, that rule looks incredibly wise by even those who champion the loosest of morals.
“If I take care of my character, my reputation will take care of itself,” D.L. Moody once said. Brothers and sisters, this is precisely the advice we need to hear today. The world has always thrown about false accusations against believers, and it will continue to do so until Christ returns. Therefore, let’s be careful not to provide the world with true accusations of immoral words and actions, to the detriment of our witness. Remember, maintaining a good reputation is not about ourselves, it’s so that when people see our good works, they will glorify our Father in heaven. Just something to think about…