Imagine you get an email in your inbox on LinkedIn (or another social network) asking you to provide a recommendation or introduce the sender to someone in your circle of friends. This someone is an important person. Your contact. Meanwhile the sender is a person you don’t know that well or, more likely, is someone you do know well who has fallen on hard times. Perhaps she had a fairly successful career until the recession, and after being laid off has had a pretty rough time. Freelance here and there, but just scratching by. Lately, she’s been, frankly, a bit of a mess. She says this contact could really help her.
Do you connect, recommend, introduce… or not? And what does generosity have to do with this?
When our name and reputation are at stake, we often become extra cautious, because unlike time or money, our reputations are "assets" that if used indiscriminately can either help or hurt us… exponentially. Our name is highly leveraged—indebted to and built on the names of other people or things (our parents, our employers, our universities, our accomplishments)—and highly volatile. They increase in value when used well, and the reverse is also true. Proverbs 22:1 tells us, "A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold." This statement describes the importance of name and reputation for the body of believers and for those who are outside the Church as well. Wouldn’t you rather pay your friend’s utility bills than introduce her to your high-powered contact? Who in their right mind would risk their name?
Jesus Christ would, and did.
For it’s one thing when Roman soldiers mock Jesus and scorn his name and reputation in Luke 22, but it's another matter entirely when Peter himself spurns his friendship with Jesus and denies him three times in that same passage (vv. 54-62). Later, Paul tells the church at Corinth that Jesus' "name" (or reputation) in their day was not safe: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18). The scandal of the Cross is that the Lord God Almighty saw in his mercy to come and die for us. To those who are perishing, this scandal is enough to tarnish the name of Jesus and assign weakness to those who have called themselves Christians.
How shall we apply this?
First, we must become grafted to the Body of Christ and assume his name as our own, calling ourselves Christians without blushing or apologizing. We must build our reputation on Christ's and not on our family's, our school's, or on our own blood, sweat and tears.
Second, we must become active members of a community of the kind we see in Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-35. We see here an image of a people who have their own "assets” (they had private property) but who shared them with others as needed. Most importantly, we see what was operating in Acts 4:33-34 that animated them as individuals and as a community: "And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them."
So what to do? What is wise and good stewardship with your friend who wants the connection?
You might decide to connect them without a second thought; it’s easier and requires about 30 seconds of clicking. You might decide to do nothing, and just delete her message. Or you might decide to get a cup of coffee with her, taking an hour from your schedule that you "didn’t really have," to learn more about her situation and decide from there if the connection is something that will really help her. Perhaps that coffee may be all the connection—someone willing to listen and help—that she needs. And that might be enough.
Or not. She might need more.