It’s not about who you know

(And in case any of the grammar police are reading this, I realize that it should be “whom” instead of “who” in that title. But hey, I don’t create the idioms, I just use them.)

Illustration by bplanet. Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Illustration by bplanet. Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Name droppers. Are we among them? Have we ever slipped a casual reference to someone important into a conversation just to bask a little in the reflected glow? You know: instead of just giving your thoughts on a subject, you say, “As I was saying to (insert impressive name here) the other day…”

Why do we do that?

The less certain we are of ourselves, the more we are tempted to find ways to bolster our esteem in the eyes of others. Hinting that we’re intimate in some way with important people is one way to do this: I don’t mean to brag, but I know so-and-so personally…

Something like this may have been part of the culture of the church in Corinth (not to mention many churches today). The people were divided over their allegiance to a particular teacher (Paul? Apollos?), and seemed to question Paul’s legitimacy because he didn’t carry impressive letters of reference.

But Paul insists that it’s not about who you know.  It’s about who knows you:

So we try to persuade people, since we know what it means to fear the Lord. We are well known by God, and I hope that in your heart we are well known by you as well. We aren’t trying to commend ourselves to you again. Instead, we are giving you an opportunity to be proud of us so that you could answer those who take pride in superficial appearance, and not in what is in the heart. (2 Cor 5:11-12, CEB)

Paul takes on his critics: They like to boast about superficial things, and you’re tempted to go along with it. Moreover, I suspect they’ll hear what I’ve written and accuse me of hollow boasting. But I’m not. I don’t have to. What matters is that God knows my heart. Remember what God said to the prophet Samuel: human beings pay attention to outward appearances, but God looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7). Listen, people. You know me: you know what kind of person I am, how I live. If only you would listen to your consciences instead of these hucksters, you’d stand up for the truth and learn to take pride in the things that matter to God.

Jesus himself taught a similar lesson. It’s not enough to drop his name:

Not everybody who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will get into the kingdom of heaven. Only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter. On the Judgment Day, many people will say to me, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name and expel demons in your name and do lots of miracles in your name?” Then I’ll tell them, “I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you people who do wrong.” (Matt 7:21-23, CEB)

When the Day comes, will Jesus greet us as people with whom he’s had a long and intimate friendship?

Or will he judge us as those who have merely traded on his name and reputation?