In 2015, the Ashley Madison scandal broke wide open and reputations of people at nearly every level of society were brought into question. Ashley Madison was called a “dating platform” that was marketed to married people. It was a horrific service.
A group known as the The Impact Team made a huge impact after hacking into the website and releasing details on over 33 million members, some of which were church leaders. One of those exposed was a well-known theologian with decades invested in ministry and publications too numerous to count. But, in a click of a button, his name was listed and his reputation was ruined. And, with his reputation went his ministry, his teachings, and his testimony.
In our series on building godly character, we are working through 1 Timothy 3:1-17 which contains a list of qualifications for church leaders. This list provides us with a number of specific qualities that ought to characterize a godly man.
“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”1 Timothy 3:1-7
What is a Blameless Reputation?
The phrase “above reproach” is a forensic term in the original language. It indicates an innocence in the eyes of the law. Literally, it means, “not to be taken hold of” or “not apprehended,” which provides a clearer picture as to its meaning that we will explore in a moment. For now, we might simply think in terms of more contemporary words like “not guilty” when framing this word in our mind.
It is appropriate to use this word to refer to someone who cannot be legally arrested or reasonably charged for an accusation. So, it describes someone who is innocent of a crime. At other times, it has been used to refer to someone who cannot be controlled due to insufficient evidence.
This is the idea. When someone knows of a crime you have committed, they can exploit you for that crime. Therefore, they lay hold of your reputation, and you are entrapped by their knowledge. Being “above reproach” means that you have no legitimate blithe in your life that someone can exploit. In other words, there is nothing hidden in your life that someone can lay hold of.
When I was young, I played the game, “King of the Hill.” A number of my friends would join me on a massive sand pile and fight for the top. The object of the game was to remain at the top of the pile while others tried to bring you down.
Some of us realized the key to success. It was not in pushing the “king” up and over the other side, but waiting for the opportunity for him to expose his ankle in order to lay hold of it and fall backward allowing gravity to do the work for you. It was much easier to fall, then it was to stand.
Being above reproach is living in a way that you never expose an ankle for someone to lay hold of and exploit. By this, I don’t mean that you keep your sin hidden, but that you strive to remain blameless by dealing with sin directly and pursuing righteousness daily. It is working toward a reputation that does not invite suspicion of wrongdoing, suggest scandal, nor hint at harboring sin.
One pastor described a blameless reputation as a life of Teflon, which is a synthetic compound known for its ability to withstand foreign objects. Another pastor suggested that it is like having a life that is bullet-proof. In both metaphors, the idea of a life that repels accusation is the common thread. A blameless life repels accusations of sin.
To be clear, having a blameless life is not the same as having a sinless life. In fact, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1 Jn. 1:8). We will continue to sin in this life. This is not a matter of being sinless, but a matter of not being characterized by any sin. Rather, sin is something that the blameless man deals with swiftly and rightly. To be a godly man, you must relate to sin biblically. A blameless reputation is a reputation of hating sin, nor harboring sin. It is not a reputation of perfection, but of repentance.
How to Build a Blameless Reputation
Building a blameless reputation requires an ongoing pursuit of righteousness as well as patience. It will not come overnight nor without challenges. But, be encouraged that even the apostle Paul struggled to live godly. He wrote about how he was building a blameless reputation in Philippians:
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”Philippians 3:12-14
The attitude of a godly man is devoted to the effort of walking blamelessly by straining toward righteousness and leaving behind wickedness and sin in all aspects of his life. He recognizes that it is a daily walk forward, not backward, in the faith that God has granted him.
Here are three steps to help you build a blameless reputation in your life. I encourage you to repeat these steps each day improving your reputation one moment at a time.
First, Evaluate Yourself
In order to improve your reputation, you need to know where you currently struggle with sin. So, give yourself some private time to pray and consider your life as a whole. Be attentive to what areas of your life might be brought to your mind. Ask yourself if there is something that would ruin your reputation if it was made public.
Is there some sin that might disqualify you from a future responsibility or relationship? What about your social media engagements and your work life? Are you exposing an ankle that someone might lay hold of to bring your reputation down? If so, write these things in a journal in order to revisit them later as you work to reconcile them with the Lord and others and evaluate your improvements.
Second, Consult Others
We are often blinded to our habits which can easily cause loose ends to form, but those who are close to us can see them more clearly. So, I suggest you find some trustworthy people who can observe you and give you some honest feedback, be it good or bad. You can also ask these friends to pray for you and hold you accountable to the areas in your life you seek to improve.
Third, Trust God
No one wants you to have a blameless reputation more than God. A blameless reputation puts the transformative power of the gospel on display and encourages other believers to pursue godliness by showing them that it is possible. So, take your concerns to the Lord, trust what he says through his Word, and obey. You may not like his process, but it is right and good. You may not like his timing, but it is right and good. Confess your sin. Repent. And, lay hold of the forgiveness that he made available to you through Jesus Christ.
Now, rinse and repeat. When you pursue godliness, God will help you put it on and build a blameless reputation for his glory and your good.