Letters of Reference
by Charles R. Swindoll
September 12, AD 61
We are considering a man to serve as a manager in the copper plant of our growing company, Corinthian Chariots, Inc. We are an aggressive, innovative firm with plans for expansion into major metropolitan regions like Rome, Athens, Antioch, and Jerusalem. We are looking for future employees who would fit into a visionary business like ours. Because you have worked with him for several years, I have chosen to write you and ask if you would be so kind as to send us a letter of recommendation regarding this individual. He comes highly recommended to us by others, but none have worked as closely or known him as well as you. Your opinion would be greatly appreciated. His name is Alexander, the coppersmith.
It would be interesting to discover how the apostle would have answered such a query. Knowing what he knew about Alexander (1 Timothy 1:18–20; 2 Timothy 4:14–15), I wonder if he would've said the hard thing.
Probably so. Even though he was "the apostle of grace," Paul would have done the company no favor by fudging with the facts. Being committed to grace in no way suggests turning a deaf ear to reality.
Your nephew Lot has applied for a rather large loan with our agency. His plans are to develop a full-scale cattle ranch on property he inherited from you in the Jordan Valley near Sodom. It is our custom before making our final decision to pursue an investigation of the potential borrower's background to determine the advisability of granting a loan. What we are asking for is a character reference from you regarding Lot. He has given us your name. An immediate reply would be most appreciated.
Very truly yours,
Oaks of Mamre Savings and Loan Agency, Gomorrah
Another intriguing situation. Abraham would be faced with additional pressure in that it was a family member who was in question. What would the Patriarch have done? Would he have hedged . . . said only nice things . . . all the while being fully aware of Lot's irresponsible and short-sighted lifestyle (Genesis 13:11–13)? No, I doubt it. Even though a much-respected friend of God, Abraham would be required by the sheer facts of his firsthand observations to say it straight, regardless.
How about this one?
3 February AD 97
Our church is giving serious consideration to asking a successful layman in our congregation if he is willing to be a candidate for our board of elders. He has recently moved from Ephesus to our new community here in Perga Estates along the Pamphylian coastline. We understand that you have worked alongside Mr. Diotrephes for several years, thus qualifying you to inform us of your opinion of him. We as a young church are in great need of strong, mature leadership, and he seems perfectly fitted for the role. All of us have been quite impressed with his knowledge of the Scriptures and his prior years of leadership in the Ephesian Evangelical Bible Assembly. Would you please respond and hopefully confirm our decision to pursue Mr. Diotrephes? Your reply will be held in strictest confidence. Thank you.
Shalom en Christos,
Chairman, Board of Elders
Once again, honesty is on the line. From John's former experience with Diotrephes, he was only too aware of the man's savage style. Check out 3 John 1:9–10 if that sounds too strong. But time had passed. Would "the beloved apostle" simply let bygones be bygones or would he honestly mention the trail of grief that man had left in his wake? I suggest that John would have reported the inescapable and undeniable facts.
The next time you are asked to complete a letter of recommendation, a character reference, or simply answer a few pointed questions about someone, remember these imaginary cases. There's no need to dig up and parade every mistake from someone's past, but neither do we help a company or a church by ignoring character weaknesses or a faulty track record. Not idle gossip, mind you, but facts you are able to verify and document, if necessary.
Being a loving Christian doesn't excuse us from reporting the hard thing. The river of love must be kept within its banks. Truth on one side, discernment on the other.
Being committed to grace in no way suggests turning a deaf ear to reality. —Chuck Swindoll Tweet This
Excerpted from Come Before Winter and Share My Hope, Copyright © 1985, 1988, 1994 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission.
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