I want people to see me the way I see myself – wise, intelligent, strong, steady, diligent, faithful and, oh yes, modest. And when they don’t, I have a tendency to feel offended, as if they have wronged me in some way. I have often tried to change someone’s view of me by tartly informing them that they have gotten me all wrong, and here is the way I really am. But somehow, they never seem to abandon their old perceptions in favor of the new ones I try so persuasively to talk them into.
Well, after years of being frustrated by the unaccountable intransigence of friends, relatives and coworkers, who maintained their own peculiar perceptions of me in the face of my brilliant explanations of why they should see me differently, I have finally begun to learn a better way. The things the apostle Paul had to say in Philippians chapter 2 about his son in the faith, Timothy, have given me new insight (new to me, at least) into what it takes to change the way people see me.
Phil 2:19-22 But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. 20 For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel.
When the imprisoned apostle needed someone he could send to the church at Philippi in his place, he chose Timothy. In commending his protege to the Philippian believers, Paul listed several reasons why he had confidence that the young man could fully be trusted with such an important assignment. Paul had personally discipled Timothy, and knew that through that process, Timothy had become like-minded with his leader. He could be counted on to have the same care Paul had for the church, and to think pretty much the way Paul would think about any issues he might face. Timothy had been following Paul as Paul followed Christ, and in doing so, had become like his mentor. Paul knew he could be confident that Timothy would not be looking out just for himself. Rather, the things of Christ were his priority in life – he was fully dedicated to the gospel.
The most important reason for Paul’s confidence in Timothy is given, I believe, in verse 22. In that verse, Paul assured the Philippians that Timothy was a young man of proven character. He had been tested and approved in terms of his faithfulness to his leader and to the work of the ministry. In fact, his faithfulness was so evident that Paul saw it as like that of a son toward his own father. Faithfulness, teachableness, hard work, reliability – all these are implied in Paul’s commendation of Timothy.
The key word to me is proven. Timothy had shown himself faithful on a continuing basis, so that faithfulness was now an ingrained aspect of his character. There was no inconsistency, no up and down, no days off. Because Timothy’s character had been proven, Paul was confident he could fully trust the young man to represent him among the Philippian believers. He knew from experience that whatever responsibilities he entrusted to Timothy would be faithfully carried out. He didn’t have to be concerned about dropped balls or incomplete efforts. Paul knew that he could trust Timothy because of his proven, faithful track record.
The proving of character is an every day process. In a real sense, it is a “what have you done for me lately” proposition. Having some good stretches here and there, interspersed with lapses, does not lead to proven character. Note that it is not only about being proven, it is about proven character – what kind of person you are from the inside out. That is why inconsistency is such a character killer. You are what you are all the time. If there is inconsistency in your behavior, it is because there is inconsistency in your character. That’s why we have to get God’s ways concerning the issues of life deep down into our being so that they become embedded in our character. Then we won’t have to worry about consistency because we can simply be what we are, and what we are will come out in our behavior.
What I have learned from Paul and Timothy is that character is proven. People’s view of me is shaped not so much by what I try to tell them about myself, as by what they actually see in my behavior over time. In other words, I reap what I have sown. So, when I receive feedback from someone that doesn’t fit my image of myself, I shouldn’t blame the person! They are simply responding to what they have actually seen me do. People view me in the light of my proven character.
I remember a pick-up basketball game I was in. It was a shirts vs skins kind of thing, and the first couple of times I got the ball I made some really good shots. The opposing team started treating me with great respect as a dangerous shooter. But then my real basketball character asserted itself in miss after miss. Pretty quickly, the opposing team started treating my shooting with disrespect. They adjusted their view of me based on my proven basketball character.
So, anytime I don’t the get response from people that I want to get, I need to see it as them telling me something about what I have proven to them by my behavior. The way to change their perceptions is to prove something different. And that takes time and consistency. I have to actually become what I want people to see.
What Paul’s description of Timothy has taught me is that getting on people about the way they see me is totally ineffective. Trying to talk or argue or browbeat people into seeing me as I wish to be seen just doesn’t work. People will respond to me based on my proven character. The only real way to change the way they see me is to consistently show them a different character over time.