Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
1 Timothy 4:12
If I based my estimation of Christianity solely on the behavior of other Christians, I probably would never have become a Christian myself. We’ve all witnessed awful behavior in the church. Perhaps we’ve been on the receiving end of such behavior and, to our shame, been guilty of dishing it out as well. Based only on how other Christians act, I would have left Jesus long ago.
But of course, that’s not what our faith is based upon, is it? We don’t follow Jesus based upon what others do or don’t do. Our commitment to Jesus is based upon what he has done and what he says. Other people will let us down and disappoint us. We will, at times, disappoint ourselves. But none of our failures absolve us of following our Lord.
With that being said, we need to realize as Christians how big of an impact our example can have on others, unbelievers and believers alike. Our actions can either clear a path for the gospel or put stumbling blocks in its way. The Lord knows this and constantly reminds us of our weighty responsibility (Mt. 18:6).
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21)
People will make judgments on the merit of the Christian faith based on what they see in us. We may fairly represent Christ or not, but “the tree is known by its fruit” (Mt. 12:33). They will note whether we truly love each other or not. They will see if we are truly unified or not. As said before, hypocrisy in God’s people does not excuse unbelief, but that hypocrisy can seriously undermine the gospel. Jesus’ phrase “that the world may believe” should always be ringing in our ears. While it is the gospel that saves (Rom. 1:16) not our example, the messenger who embodies the message is most effective. This we cannot do without the Lord’s help.
“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:2-6)
We must teach the truth and teach it in love. We must live the truth and live it in love for God and our neighbor. In this way, we can be a lighthouse for others instead of perpetuating the darkness.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 5:14-16)
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” (Phil. 2:14-16)