During an online interview I recently watched, the interviewer asked, “If you were to leave this earth tomorrow, what would you want the people who know you to say about you after you’re gone.”
It’s a sobering question. As Christians we don’t want to live in service of other people’s opinions. We aren’t trying to build up our reputations for posterity. Yet, we do want our lives to reflect our relationship with Christ. Wouldn’t it be lovely if the ways people described us were also descriptions that could be applied to Jesus? Not for our sake, but for his. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, we want to let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
As we look again at Jesus’ conversation with the Pharisees, we’ll see that Jesus had quite a reputation among the religious leaders. Although they opposed him, they couldn’t deny his character.
15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
What was Jesus’ reputation, even among the Pharisees?
Do you detect any irony or bitterness in their words?
First of all, I think it says a lot about the Pharisees that they concocted this plot and then sent others to do their dirty work! Perhaps they were hoping to catch Jesus off guard, or disguise the real motive behind their question by sending their disciples and the Herodians. But really, shouldn’t they have learned from previous interactions with Jesus? He couldn’t be fooled or trapped.
Commentators point out that we are likely seeing two different viewpoints represented by the groups who come to Jesus (verse 16). The disciples of the Pharisees would have found the image of Caesar and the inscription of “son of god” on the coin deeply offensive. The imperial tax was “the primary mark of their political subjection to a foreign power.” The Herodians, on the other hand, were likely partisans tied to the Herodian dynasty, the family who had been hand-picked by Rome to oversee the country. Presumably, they would have been “pro-Rome” and “pro-tax.”
The flattery they used to bait their unsuccessful trap still reflected Jesus’ actual reputation. He was seen as a man of integrity, meaning that his actions and character lined up. Jesus was someone who meant what he said and said what he meant. There was no duplicity that could be found in Jesus. He taught God’s truth, which meant he taught the truth, no matter what other people thought about it. For Jesus, the ends never justified the means. We could never imagine him lying to achieve even a righteous outcome. Jesus was honorable and trustworthy — a man of his word. Even those who opposed him acknowledged it.
Integrity is just as important for the followers of Jesus 2000 years later. In the American political sphere, lying has become routine. News organizations from all sides employ “fact checkers,” because many candidates and their surrogates can’t be trusted to tell the truth. Now some may excuse this by saying “it’s just politics” and “everyone does it.” They can call it “shading the truth” or say it’s just exaggerating for effect. They may label it “spin,” or claim that “omitting facts is not the same as lying.” But let’s be honest — it’s all lying. And its prevalence has left many of us cynical and bewildered.
While we may not be able to change our political culture, we can strive to reflect Jesus’ integrity as his representatives when we engage in it. Christians must be honest and speak only what we know to be true, even if it’s difficult or inconvenient. And that includes our digital speech. We should think carefully about what we share online. Even if it supports our views, if we have any reason to doubt the truthfulness of a claim or a source, we shouldn’t promote it. Better to say nothing than to spread a lie.
Of all people, those who follow Christ should be known as truthful people. Our witness to those we want to reach with the love of Christ might depend on it. Why would people trust us to help them answer life’s most important questions if we “shade the truth” when it comes to politics? Why would they believe what we say about the saving love of Jesus if we are sharing hateful speech, crazy conspiracy theories, or outright lies in support of our preferred candidate?
Like with Jesus, those who oppose God’s will may not like what we have to say, but we shouldn’t give them legitimate reasons to attack our integrity. By the power of the Spirit, we should speak the truth with the same love, mercy, and integrity that Jesus showed.
 France, 318.
What does it mean to you that Jesus is always trustworthy and truthful? Praise him for his integrity!
Are you ever tempted to shade the truth or exaggerate to promote a cause or candidate that you believe in? Do you ever promote sources that use over-the-top or inflammatory language to make a point? What could be the negative consequences, even if you believe your cause is righteous?