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Matthew Dellavedova and the importance of reputation

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford (15) appears to elbow Cleveland Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova during a scramble fpr a loose rebound during the second quarter of game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals of the NBA basketball playoffs, Sunday, May 24, 2015, in Cleveland (Credit: NBA/TNT)

{source}<iframe style=”float: left; border: 1px solid #000000; background-color: #C0C0C0; padding: 2px; margin: 10px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; -khtml-border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; border-radius: 3px;” width=”400″ height=”225″ src=”http://bleacherreport.com/video_embed?id=phOW45dTo6iR6cuzfcfWw4F4Gh997uJJ” frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no” seamless></iframe>{/source}Sunday night’s game between the Hawks and Cavs was a hotly contested affair, with Cleveland winning in overtime by a mere three points. However, much of the news coverage has not been on the 3-0 series lead that Lebron James and company took with the win, they would go on to finish the sweep Tuesday night in dominant fashion, but rather on Al Horford’s ejection near the end of the second quarter. As Atlanta’s best player, Horford’s ejection likely would have been the difference between a much needed victory and the team’s eventual defeat.

While going for a rebound, the Hawk’s center got tangled up with Cleveland guard Matthew Dellavedova with the latter falling into Horford’s knee as they went to the ground. Horford responded by elbowing Dellavedova and was ejected when officials reviewed the incident.

Normally, Horford’s response would seem like an over-reaction to what was most likely an accident. After all, Dellavedova collided with Horford in large part because he tripped over another Atlanta player while going for the rebound. However, the Cleveland guard has gained a bit of a reputation as a dirty player over the course of this year’s playoffs and there are some who believe Sunday night’s collision was intentional and malicious.

While teammates insist Dellavedova simply plays hard, others around the league are beginning to come to a different conclusion. Incidents with Bull’s guard Taj Gibson in the second round and a similar collision with Hawk’s forward Kyle Korver, one in which Korver’s ankle was injured so severely that he is now out for the rest of the postseason, have some questioning Dellavedova’s intent. After Sunday’s game, Horford said “if it was on purpose, we don’t know. Maybe it wasn’t on purpose but with just his track record, I just felt like it was.”

As Dellavedova is beginning to find out, reputations are easy to form and difficult to change. Three incidents, two of which might have truly been accidents, have taken him from someone who simply plays hard to someone who plays dirty. There is a fine line between those two images but while the first is respected, the latter is one of the worst things that can be said about an athlete.

It is much the same with our reputation as Christians. For better or worse, how people see us is often defined by a relatively small sample size from our lives. Moreover, once our reputation has been established, it can be difficult to change. That is why it is so important that we “behave as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27).

The church in Philippi to whom Paul wrote that description was one of the relatively few Roman colonies that could offer citizenship in the empire to its residents. As a result, the people there took great pride in their status as Roman citizens. Paul wanted to remind them to take even greater pride in their status as citizens of God’s kingdom. He encouraged them to live in such a way that that status was abundantly clear to all others and to be so righteous that their Christ-like reputation was strong enough to reach his ears all the way in Rome.   

Notice though that Paul wasn’t looking for word that they were getting along well with the culture around them or playing nice with those who wanted them to act in ways counter to God’s will. What he wanted to hear was that they were “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” His concern was that their reputation honored God.

In a time where holding to the truth of scripture is not necessarily the best way to garner a good reputation in the culture around us, two things are important to remember. The first is that we need to stand, as Paul counseled, in one spirit and with one mind for the faith of the gospel. That means that the Church must focus on what unites us rather than what divides us. It means remembering that our common bond in Jesus Christ is stronger than issues of denomination and non-essential doctrine. And ultimately it means recognizing our place as one infinitesimally small yet fundamentally indispensable part of God’s kingdom, embracing all that means for our lives as believers.

The second is that how we live out that gospel message matters now more than it did when God’s truth was more culturally acceptable. Live with courage and conviction but also with love and grace. Never back down from what God has shown to be right but do not condemn those that have not yet come to recognize him as Lord. Have patience with those who have not yet been transformed from their conformity to this world (Romans 12:2) and never stop praying and working to help lead them to Christ.

God’s word calls each of us to live out our faith by keeping our fidelity to his truth and our patience with those who do not yet recognize it in balance. Our reputation as citizens of his kingdom will be determined, in large part, by how effectively we can accomplish that.

So with which side of that balance do you need the most help? Most of us tend to lean in one direction or the other but God stands ready to help you walk that fine line if you’ll let him. Our reputation as believers is one of the most important aspects of our witness. What will define yours today?