Read Acts 21:15-25.
Have you ever been the victim of a false rumor? Even the thought of others spreading something false about us can cause our anxiety to rise. We don’t want people to believe something bad about us! Especially if it isn’t true. We care what others think about us, and that is not necessarily wrong. What matters in that is why we care.
Do we care because we are drowning in insecurities and trying to maintain an image we want others to see and know us as? Do we care because we are in some way aiming to selfishly gain from a carefully curated projection of who we wish we were? I hope not. And I hope not because I have lived through attempts at such hopeless endeavors. They only leave us exhausted, unknown, and lacking. But there is a healthy way to be concerned about what others think of us.
Paul arrived in Jerusalem largely knowing what he was to expect there. The Spirit had forewarned him and then on his journey there he kept being warned by others in the Spirit that suffering and chains were awaiting him. We have to imagine his anticipation. Wouldn’t you be on edge coming into a city knowing that kind of calamity was coming your way? Upon arriving, all seemed well as the brothers and sisters in Christ welcomed him in. James and the elders of the church in Jerusalem came and Paul gave a report of all that God had done amongst the Gentiles through his ministry — churches were planted and the gospel was spreading!
The gathered leaders heard it and were ecstatic! I imagine high-fives, clapping, shouts of joy (or awkward groans from the less emotionally-expressive bearded men in the room if that was a thing back then like now) all around like a party. But Paul was probably still not quite able to let a full breath out. When was the hammer going to fall? What would be the turning point?
And then the first sign of something not being right come to light. The happy banter turned to a quiet seriousness. They had a concern they needed to share with Paul. Many Jews in Jerusalem had heard of Paul, but not only that he was advancing the gospel amongst the Gentiles. No, they were also hearing rumor that Paul was teaching Jews to forsake the law Moses gave them, to not circumcise their kids, and not to follow the Jewish customs they’d inherited (vs. 21). This is a serious offense and Paul would surely have been thinking that this is the start of what was prophesied and he had been readying himself to face.
The gathered elders presented a plan to Paul that they had devised in order to address the false rumors and prove Paul to be respectful and observant of the law himself. They saw a need to correct the way others were thinking of Paul. Spoiler alert in case you haven’t read ahead— Paul agrees. He saw a need to correct the false view of him and he agreed to their plan. Why did Paul care about the way the Jews saw him? We see why in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth:
Although I am free from all and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win those under the law. To those who are without the law, like one without the law—though I am not without God’s law but under the law of Christ—to win those without the law. To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some. Now I do all this because of the gospel, so that I may share in the blessings.– 1 Corinthians 9:20-23
Why did Paul care about what others thought of him? Because of the gospel? When did Paul know it was time to take action when others believed something false about him? When it affected the gospel.
This should be our filter too! We cannot afford to be caught up in the endless game of managing our image to the world. Don’t let unnecessary fears and selfish desires drown you as you fret over what others think of you. If we have done something wrong resulting in a negative view toward us, let’s confess it and repent, placing our hope in Jesus and pointing to Him. There is a mission we are to be about and that is to be Jesus’ witnesses. But when what others think about us affects that mission, meaning it has an impact on the gospel, that’s when we know we need to take action to correct that view of us.
May God grant us wisdom to know how to live above reproach, following the example of Christ, and know when to take action to correct false views toward us for the sake “…of the gospel, so that [we] may share in the blessings.”