It is a good question because there have been those, in the past, who have not been too bothered about their reputation outside the Church, as long as they had a good report within the Church of God. It is a topic worth reviewing.
First of all, let us look at “having a good report” within the Church of God. If we can’t measure up to this requirement, then we shouldn’t be a Church member, and having a good report from those outside the Church becomes irrelevant.
In respect of the ministry, we read in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 about the qualifications of the ministry. Verse 2 says: “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach.” Verses 3-6 continue along the same lines, and in verse 7, we read: “Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” Many other translations reflect this same need to have a good testimony or report from those who are not Church members.
This clearly shows that a minister in the Church of God must have a good report both inside and outside the Church, and he is to speak the Truth and shepherd the flock. There are many other Scriptures that give the same advice and instruction; for example, see Acts 20:28; Ephesians 4:11-16; Philippians 4:9; 2 Timothy 2:14-26; Titus 1:7-9; Titus 2:7; 1 Peter 5:2-3 (and there are many more).
Ministers have to set the example in the Church of God but such an example is not the preserve of just ministers. Likewise, members have to live up to high expectations as required by God of His people.
In a piece by one Christian author, entitled, “An Example for Others to Imitate,” he wrote that “being a godly example is not an option, it is commanded in Scripture. We have no choice in being an example of some kind and having an impact on those around us, but we do have a choice in the kind of witness and impact we provide. Someone is going to follow us and be influenced by us. We need Christian maturity that provides people with real honest-to-God examples of authentic Christ-like living and that mature Christians and leaders have a responsibility to maintain a consistent example.”
Let us review just a few Scriptures about members inside the Church.
Matthew 5:13-16 reads: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
God is not calling the whole world now. He is only working with a small group of people at this time to get a specific job done, that of preaching the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God in all the world as a witness to all nations (see Matthew 24:14). In other words, Christians are rare. True Christians are basically sprinkled across the earth like you would sprinkle salt across food – sparingly. But what a difference they make in the world! One thing we can learn from Christ’s metaphor of salt is that our calling and commission are unique, important and highly valuable. It is indeed a rare opportunity to be called by God in this age.
We can see that salt is pure. It spices and flavours, it creates thirst, and it preserves, and all the analogies are applicable to a Christian’s life.
In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, we read about Paul serving all men: ”For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.”
Unfortunately, some take this to mean that a true Christian must be accommodating about all things, which is obviously in error. One commentator wrote that “We do not lower our standards but we waive our privileges.” When rightly understood, this is about setting the very best example to encourage and help those who may be interested in the true message of the Bible and showing that we are not hypocrites but live by every word of God (see Matthew 4:4).
1 Thessalonians 1:2-4 shows us that we are to be about our Father’s Work: “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.”
We have been chosen by God. 1 Peter 2:9-10 states: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”
Further, we are to follow Christ’s example, as we read in 1 Peter 2:22-23: ““Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously…”
Acts 16:2 reads: “He (Timothy) was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium.”
We must always be cognisant of the fact that our attitude and approach can affect hundreds, maybe even thousands of people during our lifetime.
A review of some Scriptures about having a good report outside the Church will show us how important this is.
Proverbs 22:1 states: “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, Loving favor rather than silver and gold,” and Ecclesiastes 7:1: reads: “A good name is better than precious ointment…”
One writer observed: “There are people you have never seen or met—yet just their name gives you an opinion of them. For example, when you hear the name George Washington, you think of a man who sacrificed greatly to help form the United States of America; but when you hear the name Adolph Hitler, a very different picture comes to mind.” A good name usually refers to the reputation of that person.
Romans 12:17 states: “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.” Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers observes: “Let your purposes be such that all men shall recognise their complete integrity. Do not engage in enterprises of a doubtful character, that might bring not only yourselves but the Christian body into ill repute.”
Romans 15:1-3 reads: “We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.’”
This is about helping others and not being self-serving which is a trait and a trap that most in this world can fall into.
1 Corinthians 10:32 exhorts: “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God”. Ellicott’s Commentary put this succinctly: “A practical test of whether any course of conduct is to the glory of God. If it cause[s] any human being to offend then it is not to God’s glory.”
1 Thessalonians 1:6-8 points out: “And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.” Put another way, their actions were worth a thousand words, and in spite of “much affliction,” this did not deter them from setting the right example.
As mentioned previously, 1 Timothy 3:7 stated: “Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” This couldn’t be clearer, and while this is speaking about a minister, the same principles would certainly apply to a Church member who falls into reproach, that is, into disapproval, criticism or disappointment, which, inevitably, will damage the reputation of both the Church and that individual.
Titus 2:6-8 reads: “Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded,in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.”
How could any opponent of the Truth of God have anything wrong to say about a Christian who would exhibit such an example, unless they twisted what was said and done in a distorted and dishonest way – and that would be to their shame, should they do so.
1 Peter 2:12 reads: “…having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.” This shows that true Christians will be “spoken evil of” by those who have little or no knowledge of the Way of God but they will realise, at some time in the future whenever God chooses, that the example of beliefs of such Christians was the Truth all along. This shows that our example and current life-style is so important, not only at the present time but also at some time in the future for those who may mock and scorn us now.
As Benjamin Franklin once observed: “A good example is the best sermon.”
There is no doubt that there will be times, probably many times, when true Christians have to go against the prevailing ethos or culture in our respective countries and stand out as being different for the sake of our beliefs. As time goes on, this will surely accelerate as society plunges into new depths of anti-godly behaviour, and we will be out of sync with most people. That should not worry us; surely, the worry would be if we were in tune with what is going on.
Mr Herbert Armstrong told the story of those who managed a particular Feast site and who remarked that Church members were great but “oh that crazy religion”—never realising that it was their religion, their Christian faith, which made them the decent individuals that they dealt with. At that time, such members set a very good example of God’s Way of Life.
We should be concerned about the way we are perceived by others, as we don’t live in a vacuum. In short, we should always endeavour to set the very best possible example that we can, both in the Church and outside in society, but realise that many times we will have to set our face against the prevailing ways of man which will set us apart, and if that means that we will “be spoken of as evil” (see Romans 14:16), then that is the price we have to pay.
We are to have a good report from those outside the Church, but without compromising or accommodating the world in any way.
Lead Writer: Brian Gale (United Kingdom)