Today’s question is from an international listener. “Dear Pastor John, I’m Jerra from Philippines. I always wonder if minding people’s opinion about me is a good or bad thing? The more I think about it, the more confused I get. On one hand I want to be thought of well by outsiders (1 Timothy 3:7). At the same time, I do not want to be paralyzed if others think I am a fool for following Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1–3), even to the extent of being considered, like Paul, “the scum of the world” (1 Corinthians 4:13). So how do we think about our self-image in the eyes of the world?”
I think the answer is this: (1) We should not go out of our way to offend the world unnecessarily; (2) we should not be afraid of offending the world when necessary; and (3) we should put the emphasis on proactive good deeds that, in general, the world will find it hard to disapprove of.
That is my general answer. But far more important than my general answer are the specificities of the Bible. So let me do a quick, little Bible avalanche, first, concerning the importance of not giving offense to the world, but wanting rightly to be respected by the world and then, second, texts concerning the importance of believing and saying and doing things that do, in fact, offend the world and we know they will offend the world — because the Bible says they will — not wanting their godless approval. Who needs the godless approval of the world? So those two groups of texts are very much in tension. So here they are. And we need to hear them both.
Do Not Offend the World
Proverbs 22:1. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” We should want a good name in the community.
Matthew 5:16. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
1 Corinthians 14:23. “If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?” Paul is quite concerned that they not think you are out of your mind. So that relates.
1 Peter 2:12. “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
1 Peter 2:15. “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”
1 Corinthians 10:32–33. “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”
1 Timothy 3:7 about the elders. The candidate for elder “must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”
Romans 12:17. “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.”
So I infer from that little avalanche of texts that those passages do not want us to relish giving offense to people outside. We should seek to avoid giving offense if we can. We are trying to win people, not drive them away. We want people to be saved, not just offended at how right we are.
Do Not Fear the Word’s Offense
However then we read this other little avalanche:
Galatians 1:10. “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Never rank the approval of man above the truth and righteousness of the gospel.
Acts 4:19–20. “But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.’” In other words, what you will think of us for preaching and living the gospel does not guide our decisions.
Matthew 10:25. “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household?” In other words, expect it. If you follow me, you are going to be maligned, not respected.
Matthew 10:22. “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Expect hatred, vast hatred, for your following me.
1 Peter 4:4. “With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.” That is especially interesting, because Peter is writing this book to try to help wives win husbands and people win neighbors. In salvation, there are behaviors you are not going to do anymore, and when you don’t do them anymore, they are going to make big time fun of you and malign you. So he didn’t compromise holiness. Christian holiness offends unbelievers, and they malign. There are a lot of people who don’t get that today. They think if somebody is criticizing your lifestyle, then you better adjust your lifestyle so you don’t create criticism. That is not going to fit with 1 Peter 4:4.
1 Corinthians 1:22–24. “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” In other words, we know that when we preach the gospel Paul says Jews are going to stumble over it and Gentiles are going to think it is stupid. And so preach it. Preach it.
Of course, when the Holy Spirit is at work and revival is happening God overcomes those kinds of reactions.
So my conclusion is this: We do care about what outsiders think. We own up to that first little avalanche of texts. We would like to find favor when we speak with them. We have words of life, words of joy, words of everlasting satisfaction. We would like for them to believe and be with us in the age to come no matter how bad they have been or what they have ever done to us. Christians want people to be saved, to become brothers and sisters.
But clearly from the Scriptures we do not compromise the truth of Scripture in order to curry the favor of the world. Nor do we compromise the holiness of life in order to gain the favor of the world. Rather, we put all of the emphasis — and I think this is the note that probably needs to be struck today when people wonder: Well, what are you supposed to do then? — we put all of the emphasis on aggressively positive doing of good deeds that in general the world has a hard time disapproving of. And if the Holy Spirit is pleased to move them, they will see our good deeds and give glory to our Father in heaven (1 Peter 2:12).