Should we care at all about what the world thinks of us? The almost reflexive response given by most Christians is, no. To care what they think would be to operate under the rubric of the fear of man. We care what God thinks. All true. I’ve said these very things at times.
But in my 40 years of ministry now, I’ve come to realize over those many years that there are many facets of a given truth that make up the brilliance of the diamond. So, while it is true that we should not care what the world thinks of us due to the “fear of man”, we should at the same time care deeply about what they think of us as the representatives of Christ in the world.
Many of us have wrestled with what it means to love your neighbor in the context of Covid-19. God enjoins us to “love our neighbor” and when a lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor” he produced the parable of the good Samaritan. One reading of the parable answers that question by saying, Anyone who needs our help, is our neighbor”. This is buttressed by verses such as:
Gal. 6:10 “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
Eph. 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”
James 1:27 “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world”
Titus 2:14 “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works”
Added to this, I find several indications in Scripture that God wants us to have a good reputation and relationship to those outside the church:
Paul said he became all things for the sake of those outside the law that he might winsome to Christ (1 Cor. 9:21)
Paul tells us in 2 Tim. 2:1-4 that we should pray for government authorities to the end that we might live a “peaceable and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” which has some connection to outsiders being saved.
One qualification of an Elder is to “be well thought of by outsiders” (1 Tim. 3:7)
Paul’s handling of the offering for the saints in Jerusalem was structured with integrity “for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man” (2 Cor. 8:21)
Rom. 2:23-24 says, “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
Abraham made peace with Lot over the conflict between their respective herdsmen and the implied reason given is that “At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land” indicating that there was concern for Abrahams’s and Lot’s testimony among their neighbors (Gen. 13:5-7)
Paul avers that the apostles are “a spectacle (on display) to the whole world and all men” (1 Cor. 4:9)
Paul orders that the use of spiritual gifts should take into consideration “outsiders” or “unbelievers” (1 Cor. 14:22-25)
Rom. 12:17 – 13:10 is an extended passage dealing with the believers relationship with the world from living peaceably with all (12:18) to being kind to your enemies (12:20) to obeying government (13:1-8) to fulfilling the law by loving your neighbor (13:8-10)
How then, do we want the world (our neighbors) to view us as a church and as Christians living in a pluralistic society in a Covid-19 pandemic? Do we want to be seen as compliant or defiant to the efforts of the authorities who “lock us in our homes” and “shut down our churches”? Do we want to be seen as only caring for our self as a church or caring about others also? Do we want
the bear the testimony of protestors who voice our outrage at public safety policy, or participants in a united effort to squelch the spread of the disease? Do we want to be seen as “scoff-laws” who dismiss regulations with which we disagree, or do we want to be seen as submissive and cooperative for the sake of gospel testimony? Do we want to be seen as primarily fighting for our Constitutional rights or focusing on our biblical responsibilities as the representatives of Christ on earth? Do we want to set social media on fire with our rhetoric proclaiming our first amendment rights, or do we want to season all our language with salt, always keeping in mind that we speak as Christ’s representatives before we speak as individual American citizens?
These are some of the things I think about with all the unrest swirling about us in the world. We are living in crazy times. The divide in society about all issues related to the virus should not create a divide in the church. My first and foremost responsibility as a believer is to ask the question, “How will my words and actions best represent Christ and the gospel to my neighbors; both in the church and outside the church?” How will this tweet promote the gospel? How will this post on Facebook foster greater Christian unity? There is still much room for a variance of views among believers even when we take this stance of “gospel first”. But until we get to the point of “gospel first” we are not loving our neighbor best. In this context, we should all care what the world thinks.