If you’ve spent any time around Christians, then you’ll realize testimonies are both something Christians like to give and to keep. Have you ever heard a Christian say, “I’ve ruined my testimony,” or, “Now, don’t do that; you’ll ruin your Christian testimony.” What in the world is that supposed to mean? It means just this: Christians often confuse their reputations for their testimony. Everyone knows what is a reputation–it’s how good you look in other people’s eyes. However, a testimony is the story of how good and merciful God has been to you, despite your falling short. A reputation keeps you looking good. A testimony makes God look good and you look humble. Whenever a Christian confuses reputation with testimony, it is a huge turn-off to God and Christianity. If you are a non-Christian and have come up against this fault of Christians, please excuse them; they are not very like Jesus in that moment and rather more like the Pharisees (at least the self-righteous ones).
Matthew 9:9-13 (NASB)
9 As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He *said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.
10 Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when Jesus heard this, He said,“It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
“What is He doing hanging around people like that?” So said the Pharisees to the disciples of Jesus, if we may put it in modern terms. They could not figure Him out. We learn from other passages similar to the one at hand that the Pharisees feared the Lord Jesus’ popularity with the people. They were obviously jealous. But, here we see another aspect to the Pharisees thoughts concerning Him.
If one pays close attention to the narrative, he can witness something else obvious about the Pharisees – that they truly did not understand His actions. Christ’s main audience that day was not pure infidels or non-Israelites, according to the lineage of Israel. Those with whom the Lord ate knew the Levitical system and most of them probably practiced it, awaiting the Messiah to some degree or other (though he was before their very eyes). Clearly, though, they were the fringe, outcast group of Israel.
If the Pharisee’s question had been one of pure skepticism, The Son Who knows the hearts of men might have rebuked them for unbelief or pride, as is recorded in yet other passages of the gospels. Here, He simply answers their question, and the answer (because it is the simple truth) reveals their ignorance. Furthermore, The Lord tells them, “Go and learn what that means.“ So, it is more than safe to say the Master was revealing their lack of understanding, not their motives. They did not have a clue.
If any of those Pharisees did take the Christ’s admonition, he should have focused on the fact that His follow-up statement was, “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.” At that point, Jesus made the dichotomy between one’s reputation and his testimony. How so? Consider the circumstance of the narrative again. Jesus was eating with publicans and sinners. The Pharisees were nearby the disciples but most certainly not within the crowd of publicans and sinners. To enter a publican’s house such as Matthew’s or to sit at dinner with a person of ill repute in the community would have been defilement of any good Pharisee or upstanding Jew’s reputation. There was no law against it. It was just the mode of the day, a social pressure promoted by pious platitudes and uber-religiosity.
If there was anything for which the Lord Jesus rebuked the Pharisees that day, it was their blindness to the heart of the Father revealed in His Son. Was it God’s delivering mercy upon the wayward that the Pharisees were thinking of? No. They were thinking about their own reputations in light of what they saw as Christ’s reputation being tarnished. And, it caused them to grow insecure. Their reputation was built upon having all their Levitical “T”’s crossed and “I”’s dotted and upon depths of knowledge and “intricate wisdom” that it took them years and generations to “discover” or “refine.”
For many years before Christ’s advent, Jewish religious tradition was not making things easy for people to believe in the coming Messiah. Pharisees and Scribes placed heavy burdens upon folks (Matthew 23:4): burdens of inferiority and control… in criticism of failures of past generations (Matt. 23:31; Luke 11:47), in matters of righteousness (Matt. 5:20), in lineage (Phil. 3:5; Acts 23:5), by touting minute detail of doctrine and practice/lifestyle (Luke 20:33; Mark 7:5), and even in finances (Luke. 18:11, 12; Mark 7:11-13). All of these tools of leverage and domineering influence communicated that God would never accept the common man or use his life for the greatest glories of God. While the Pharisees thought they were breaking chains of unholy living, they were actually creating them for themselves and others. Consequently, they contradicted the very cause and Covenant for which they claimed to stand as champions. Sadly, they thought they were doing God a service.
Essentially, the values of the Pharisees were not God’s values. The Pharisee said, “God is best glorified when I keep the ritual system of sacrifice and tradition and demand others to do so; and, my doing so makes Him pleased with me.” They were blinded by that self-righteousness and pride. When boiled down to its jelly, their whole concept of what pleased God was misplaced upon “me, myself, and I.” They thought they had the mind and heart of God, but nothing could have been farther from the truth. In opposition to “their sacrifice,” the Savior required a heart of mercy of them. Jesus said, “I will have mercy.”
The lives of the Pharisees could moreover be summarized by fruitlessness. For all the proselytizing they did and the few they actually won, the Lord Jesus rebuked them sternly when He said in Matthew 23:15,
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
…Strong language indeed from our Lord. Yet, He knew it was fitting for those to whom He spoke. By “child of hell” the Lord Jesus either meant “child destined for hell” or “hellish child.” I consider it to be the latter of the two, because the character of Hell’s designated residents is to make it hard for people to believe in the mercy and love of God. In this way, the Pharisees and their disciples were Hellish.
The difference between reputation and testimony is clear when you consider that Jesus will have mercy rather than sacrifice. Anything that leads you to think of how people might view you is reputation. Your Testimony is anything you might do or say under the influence of the Spirit which leads people to understand how merciful and good and loving God is to you. A clean, well decorated church building is nice but it is not about testimony. It is about reputation. A nice, clean, orderly car is pretty to look at but it is not about testimony. It is about pride and reputation – how others see you, not God. Being scheduled and disciplined to the polished brass tacks is a good reputation but it may not be a good testimony if you deny people love and concern and care as a result. I fear that much of God’s time, our efforts, and God’s monies are spent on reputation instead of testimony.
Below is a self-diagnostic of the tendency to desire sacrifice instead of mercy:
Diagnostics: (taken straight from the actions and attitudes of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, or a parallel in our day)
- The pushing off of a new believer’s baptism because that “weak believer” might ruin the reputation of the church in the community if he does not get all of his sin issues strait immediately after baptism /membership.
- Separating from brethren for the company they keep or the methods they use, when you have not heard the facts from their lips and meditated on their reasons.
- The desire to be seen as intellectually brilliant or doctrinally sound instead of being consumed with the desire to fulfill the Great Commission personally.
- Either self comparison or exaltation of one another in carnal “fellowship,” “camp” or “circle” mentality.
- An unwillingness to go to common public places or be with certain people for fear of your own defilement and all at the cost of no Christian contact for those who need your witness.
- The inordinate desire to make movements and leaders of movements.
- In a reluctance to fully and transparently humble one’s self, even though he might be in a place of leadership or influence religiously.
- The revelation of your mistaking reputation for testimony by not having any lost friends or contacts or otherwise welcoming the sinner into one’s home, congregation, etc.
- Questioning the spirituality of someone who is obviously working in the power of the Holy Spirit (i.e. instilling faith, hope, love for the biblical Jesus Christ).
- A critical attitude of others who do not line up in slightest of detail in minor doctrine or in practice / lifestyle.
- Finding yourself giving testimony of how you thank God that you have never done [fill in the blank].
- Thinking that lineage offers its privileges and honors toward God’s service.
- Being critical of past generations while repeating their very sins.
- Thinking the mysterious answer to the lack of power from God lies in living increasingly (externally) “holier” lives or in the unwillingness of God’s people to follow His leaders exactingly.
- In an irreverent view by leaders of the individual believer’s ability to both discern the will of God and do it with His power.
- In leadership’s misunderstanding, when they think that God’s means for accomplishing the Great Commission is revealed to leadership only instead of the body equally (i.e. control and lack of trust/recognition in the Holy Spirit in each believer – Priesthood of the believer/Soul Liberty).
- In a retention/redirection of the future lives and ministries of those in your care because it might serve your purposes better, reflect better on your reputation personally or organizationally, or increase your realm of influence. (i.e. Lording over the flock)
- An inordinate fear of the failure of others and its repercussions on you, and all that as a result of a low view of the Spirit in a believer or a lack of love for them (Phil. 1:6, 7)