“Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (I Peter 2:12)
Be a fly on the wall. Sit in on religious discussions (okay, hostile debates and knock-down, drag-out arguments over doctrine) and you will come away burdened by one huge conclusion: for a large number of people who call themselves followers of Jesus, doctrine counts far more than behavior.
They didn’t get it from Jesus, I’ll tell you that. And they sure didn’t get it from Scripture.
Start at page one of the New Testament. You’re not out of the opening chapter before you see that the sexual activities of the Lord’s people is a matter of major concern. It shows up in the genealogy of Jesus, with a number of people listed having been guilty or accused of inappropriate activities of a sexual nature. Still in that chapter, Joseph hears that his beloved Mary is with child and decides to call off the engagement. It took heavenly intervention for him to change his mind.
And that’s just in the first chapter of Matthew.
Skip over to chapters 5-7, what we call “The Sermon on the Mount.” There’s doctrine there–Scripture never slights the subject–but behavior before the Gentile world by God’s people is a major consideration. Oath-taking, brotherly treatment, sexual purity, relations with one’s enemies–and we’re still in chapter 5.
Sprinkled throughout that fifth chapter of Matthew are reminders that God’s people are to live by a higher standard than the Gentiles in order to bear a faithful witness to them.
“You are the salt of the earth…. You are the light of the world…. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven…. Except your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of Heaven…. If you greet your brothers only…do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
God expects a higher standard out of us. He gives two primary reasons:
1) We are God’s children and He expects us to act like it.
2) The outside world needs to see we are different. If they see the same selfish behavior–or even worse!–in us, we can forget about having any influence with them.
Christian, behave yourself. They’re watching.
If you are like me, you can get all the background stories for this message you’ll ever need from your local newspaper.
Living in New Orleans as I do, you will not be surprised to learn of public officials being convicted of crimes and sent to prison. It’s an epidemic that shows no signs of abating. Even more disturbing is the number who consider themselves followers of Jesus.
She was a school board member, and highly respected. When a former lover requested her assistance in getting the board to buy a teaching program that would net them both a lot of money, she went for it. The school board purchased the program (which everyone declares was a good thing and beneficial to the students) and she walked away with a bundle of money for her vote. The ex-lover reaped nearly a million dollars for his advocacy. The fact that he was the brother to our congressman didn’t hurt.
She pleaded guilty to accepting a bribe and is now headed to prison. For cooperating with the feds–she ratted on her partner in crime and several other people–she gets a reduced sentence. The other day, she expressed a hope that she will serve time at a prison near Houston. She wants to be near her friends and church.
She is a confessing Christian.
He was a city council member. When a hot-shot wheeler-dealer came to him with a sackful of cash and a request for his vote for something or other, he went for it. He’s now in prison, alongwith the crook and his cronies.
That city council member had a fondness for the casino, we’re told. People who know him tell me he is a Christian.
We could do this for hours. Where I live, it’s one judge after another taking up front-page newspaper space for demanding gifts under the table from people having business before him, it’s congressmen resigning in disgrace for sexual misbehavior, it’s a parish president who often preceded public appearances by announcing he was a born-again believer but now resigning in disgrace over financial revelations from his administration.
You get the impression that a large segment of the Christian community sees no connection with what they believe and how they behave.
Friend of mine says how you behave is WHAT you believe; the rest is just so much chatter.
Christians have gotten lost.
Cut off from churches that declare the whole truth of God’s word and affiliating themselves with feel-good congregations led by popularity-addicted preachers, public officials are not being called to holy living. Such pastors make church members feel honored to share the same building with their officials and the officials to feel a cut above the hoi polloi in the pews.
Pastors would do well to remember the old preacher who was told Andrew Jackson was in his congregation that day. He said from the pulpit, “They tell me Andy Jackson is in the house. Well sir, Andy Jackson is going straight to hell if he doesn’t repent of his sins and put his faith in Jesus Christ!” The way I got it, Jackson complimented the preacher for his faithfulness and courage. We gather, however, that how the president felt about the sermon meant absolutely nothing to the minister. He was trying to please One far higher than a lowly president.
Public officials are like the rest of us in needing sermons and lessons that exalt righteous behavior and condemn ungodliness among God’s people. If our church forsakes this function, we lose a valuable guidestone.
Cut off from the regular, daily comeuppance that Bible-readers get by opening the Word and sitting themselves at the feet of the Lord and His disciples, we soon lose our way. Jesus said, “Now you are clean through my Word” (John 15:3).
Hobnobbing with people of the world who make no pretense of living for God, we soon pick up their conversation and standards.
That’s what we mean by saying “Christians have gotten lost.”
So many of us have lost our way.
“The Gentiles are watching.”
To Jews, Gentiles were “everyone else.” In the New Testament, to followers of Jesus, “Gentiles” simply means unbelievers or outsiders.
They’re always watching to see if we live up to what we profess. They’ll never tell you, you’ll never know it, but they are. And when they see you cheating on taxes or swiping office supplies or shoplifting a blouse or taking money under the table, when they hear you cursing and passing along a smutty story, when they observe the same behavior they are guilty of–or even worse, Lord help us!–they silently mark you off the list.
You never knew you were on a list. But you were. And now you’re off.
You blew it.
The lust to have it both ways did you in. You wanted to be a Christian and please God and go to Heaven. You felt you needed or deserved the finest car and the grandest home and hated to deny yourself any pleasure. You wanted popularity with the world and the respect of the Christian community. So you slipped into the most familiar pattern in the world.
You became a hypocrite.
The first chapter of the Epistle of James calls you a “double-minded man,” one unstable in all his ways who should forget about ever having a prayer answered.
The second chapter of Romans says the name of God “is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
The 50th Psalm puts it about as well as anything. “These (hypocritical) things you have done and I kept silence.” As a result, “you thought I was just like you.” (Ps. 50:21)
Ain’t that the truth.
We do these things and get by with them–cheat on our taxes and are never audited, cut corners on our expense reports and never get asked, flirt with the idea of adultery and never receive our chastising, curse and lie and delve into pornography and never hear anyone tell us not to–and eventually we feel it’s standard behavior. Everyone does it, it’s all right, God is a God of grace, Christians are supposed to forgive.
God help us.
No wonder the Gentiles don’t want any of what we’re selling.
The comeuppance is coming, Christian. And it’s not going to be a pretty thing.
Toward the end of this First Epistle of Peter, he throws down a warning we should give attention to: “For the time has come that judgment must begin at the House of God.” (I Peter 4:17)
Want to see the right way to do this?
Check out the opening verses of Acts 6. The church at Jerusalem was being torn asunder by griping. The leaders moved quickly and gave excellent guidance to the congregation. The church chose seven men from among the ones feeling victimized and assigned them to handle the matter. Things settled down, the church stayed on course with its ministries, and something amazing happened.
“…and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
The community of Jesus-followers were being watched. When they handled this little schism in a beautiful way, the outside critics were won over. “Whatever it is they have,” they were saying, “we want some of it.”
When is the last time anyone looked at your life and thought that?
Behavior matters, friend. It matters a great deal.