The New Testament is full of advice for the Christian to help him or her live a life pleasing to God. Christians are called upon to think in godly ways and to act accordingly (Philippians 4:8, 2 Corinthians 10:5), putting away the works of the flesh and striving to present the fruit of the Spirit for all to see (Galatians 5:17-24).
We do this primarily so that we may be found as obedient servants of God, seeking to walk in the same paths which Christ walked, “walking in the light” (1 John 1:5-2:6). Walking in the light also means that we are the light of the world, ambassadors of Christ wherever we may go (Matthew 5:13-16). Christ is not the only one watching how we live: the unbelievers around us are also watching. We recognize this in Peter’s exhortation in 1 Peter 2:11-12:
Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your behavior seemly among the Gentiles; that, wherein they speak against you as evil-doers, they may by your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.
While we should never live and act just to be seen by other people as being religious (cf. Matthew 6:1-4), these Scriptures and others demonstrate how we need to be at least conscious of how we conduct ourselves among those who are without. Paul speaks of this most clearly in Colossians 4:5-6:
Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer each one.
Are we “walking in wisdom” toward those who are without? Are we “redeeming” the little bit of time we have to influence them for good? Can it be said that our speech is always “seasoned” with salt, making the sharp sword of God’s word most effective (Hebrews 4:12)?
We should keep these things in mind in many contexts. Sometimes we have the tendency to “let down our guard” when we are among a group of mostly brethren, especially in our assemblies. While it is true that the assemblies are designed for the encouragement of the brethren (1 Corinthians 14:26, Hebrews 10:24-25), we ought to make sure that we do not put stumbling blocks before any unbelievers or unconverted persons in our midst (1 Corinthians 14:23-25). When we make comments in Bible class, or preach a lesson, or even while we present announcements, do we think about how one who is not a Christian would interpret them? Can we communicate in such a way that gets the point across without being unduly offensive? We are charged to be at peace with all men as much as it depends on us (Romans 12:18). Yes, there are times when teaching the truth will cause offense to some people, but it is our responsibility to make sure that it is the truth, and not the way in which the truth is presented, that has caused the offense!
How do you conduct yourself when speaking or writing regarding the faith? We often consider 1 Peter 3:15 in such contexts, but do we consider the end of that verse?
But sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear: having a good conscience; that, wherein ye are spoken against, they may be put to shame who revile your good manner of life in Christ (1 Peter 3:15-16).
We are to defend the hope that is in us, yet with meekness and fear (or gentleness and respect in other versions)! How we communicate the Gospel is just as important as communicating the actual Gospel! If we are defending the truth, but do so without gentleness and respect, we have defeated the Lord’s cause. We must return to Paul’s comment in Colossians 4:6 about speech “seasoned with salt.” Too little salt leads to bland food; too much salt makes food intolerable. Likewise, when we speak with others about the faith, and it does not clearly communicate the truth of God, it is unproductive. If we speak with others about the faith, but our words are jarring, harsh, insulting, disrespectful, demeaning, and sanctimonious, they and the message behind it will be rejected regardless of its value. Consider a filet mignon that has been oversalted: trying to promote the precious Gospel of Christ without gentleness and respect is the same!
It is often said, “you only get one chance to make a first impression.” We might be able to provide a thousand excuses for many of our miscues that we commit before unbelievers, but if we have not walked with wisdom toward them, we have not redeemed the time as we could have. We should keep watch regarding how we communicate, by the spoken and written word, by actions, and in deed, in any context that even remotely involves those outside. We must consider how we speak and whether the production is as God-honoring as the message.
Let us be circumspect concerning our thoughts, words, and deeds, so that we may be the most effective ambassadors of Christ in the world!
Ethan R. Longhenry