Even if you are not a football fan, it has been difficult to avoid the news coming out of the National Football League over the last few weeks. Most have seen some of the video or have at least been made aware of what it contains. The first video was released several weeks ago, showing NFL star Ray Rice dragging his unconscious fiancé out of an elevator, dropping her on the floor, and then dragging her off. There were reports that the two of them had been arguing that evening.
After what now appears to be a scant investigation, the league suspended the player for two games. Only after public outcry was the penalty stiffened. Then, when a second video, taken inside the elevator, showing the actual punch that resulted in the woman being knocked out, was made public, Rice was released from his team and indefinitely suspended from the league.
As is usually the case, now we are hearing – in slow bits and pieces – the rest of the story. It is being reported that the team had been made aware of the contents of that second video the very morning of the incident. Apparently, the coach of the team, John Harbaugh, wanted to see his star player released immediately as a result of his actions. His bosses chose to otherwise, according to the report. Then they sent that very coach to face the media and defend their position.
Harbaugh said, “There are a lot of question marks. But Ray’s character — you guys know his character — so you start with that.” Indeed, you do. But the point that Mr. Harbaugh failed to see is that, in fact, no one did know his character. They knew his reputation. Apparently Mr. Rice had been a wonderful ambassador for football, the city of Baltimore and a number of charities. His public works were commendable. Everything that everyone knew about him was positive.
It was D.L. Moody who observed that “character is what you do in the dark”. It is that part of us which is truly known only to ourselves and to God. There are many with stellar reputations and admirable histories who are, in reality, living a lie. Their character is another matter altogether.
While the NFL wrestles with the allegations that its own character is questionable, even as they have worked so diligently to build their reputation, there is a warning here for all of us. In fact, there are several important lessons to learn.
First, and perhaps most obviously, character is more important than reputation. That’s true in the eyes of God (I Sam. 16:7) and, as these recent events point out, it’s also true in the eyes of society at large. Try as we might, there are times when we cannot overlook who you “are”, regardless of what you “do”. Sadly, as fundamentalists (and I am one), we often place such a premium on externals – appearance, companions, activities, habits, etc. – that we forget the importance of a right heart attitude. If our heart is right, our actions will get in line. Focusing on the externals does nothing to correct our heart.
Second, we are defined by what we are, not just what we do. Proverbs 23:7 says, “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” We may have everyone else fooled, we may even have ourselves convinced that we really aren’t all that bad. By careful discipline and discretion we may keep our real selves hidden from nearly everyone. If we are consistent enough at it, we can build a reputation of good works, civic mindedness, and humanitarianism. But that doesn’t change what we really are, at the core of things.
Finally, the only way to ensure genuine character is to have a genuine change of heart. The Bible says that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). Further, we are told that we are incapable of doing anything of substance about it. We are born into this world spiritually dead and having no hope (Eph. 2:1, 12). That is to say, no hope in our own abilities, because God, who is rich in mercy provided all that is necessary to save us from our sin and to give us new life, eternal life (Eph. 2:4-5). Most of you reading this page are keenly aware of that, and have received God’s free gift of salvation.
But that doesn’t mean that we don’t need a character examination from time to time; a heart check, if you will. David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me” (Psalm 139:23-24). Don’t trust the opinions of others. They can only report on your reputation. Don’t rely on your own analysis. Remember your heart is deceitful. Allow the Holy Spirit to show you those hidden areas of the heart, then allow Him to do His work, so that your character will be pleasing in His sight. Then you will find that your reputation takes care of itself.