When I was in the Army, they sent me to seminary for a year. It was a conservative Christian school. To be accepted, I had to get letters of recommendation, and one had to be from someone who knew me well and was in Christian ministry. I asked a fellow chaplain and friend of mine if he would do it. He agreed.
My friend was very liberal theologically. He did not believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures. He did not believe in the account of Jonah, most of the miracles in the Bible, or that Jesus had been born of a virgin. He used to tease me, in a friendly way, because I believed all these things. Theologically, we were worlds apart. Our friendship revolved around Army activities and sports.
He wanted me to get into the school, so he wrote glowing things about me. However, there was one part that he found difficult. He was asked to write something negative about me. The question was designed to keep a recommender from simply spouting platitudes about the person he was recommending. Everybody has faults, and they asked him to list something wrong with me. Perhaps this would give the school insight into why they might reject me as a student.
My friend did not want to write anything that would get me rejected, but he had to tell them something negative. He showed me what he wrote. In the space provided, he said, “Ken is too conservative.”
We both laughed at that. For him, it was indeed a negative statement. He thought I was theologically insane. But he also knew that the school I was applying to was conservative. The school would take it as a compliment! In their eyes, what my friend wrote was a bad reflection on him, not me. He was more than willing for them to think less of him and thought that when the admissions office saw his “negative” comment about me, it would certainly drive them to accept me as a student.
We see a negative evaluation of two apostles in Acts 4:13. Peter and John were brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin because through the power of Christ, they had made a lame man walk. As Peter and John were being questioned, the Jewish leaders noticed that they were bold in how they spoke. While that is impressive, they also noticed something negative—Peter and John were uneducated and untrained men. They had not gone to the right schools. That was bad enough. But then they said something really negative. They realized, and no doubt commented among themselves, that Peter and John “had been with Jesus.”
Being associated with Jesus was definitely not a good thing. He had been condemned by the Jews as a blasphemer and by the Romans as a threat to the peace. He had been executed as a despised criminal. Like Peter and John, Jesus was also uneducated and untrained.
My friend, in his evaluation of me, said something that in his mind was very negative. I was too conservative. He knew, however, that those reading the comment would not see it that way. The men of the Sanhedrin also said something they saw as a negative evaluation. Whatever boldness Peter and John displayed, whatever miracle they performed, they had a mark against them. They had been with Jesus.
Unlike my friend, however, the Jewish leaders did not think their words would be taken as a compliment by anybody. They were probably mistaken. There were a large number of priests in the building, and in Acts 6:7 it says that many priests came to faith in Christ. It is very likely that even in Acts 4, when people were denouncing Peter and John for being “with Christ,” at least a few thought, “Wait, that is a good thing!”
We certainly do. Those men said those words as a negative evaluation, but every believer for the last 2,000 years sees those words as positive. We are told in the NT that a person who walks by the Holy Spirit becomes more like Christ. It becomes obvious that he has been “with Jesus.”
I laughed out loud when my liberal friend wrote that I was too conservative when he was asked to say something negative about me. But wouldn’t it be great if the major negative evaluation people had of you was, “He has spent too much time with Jesus.”