Keeping up Appearances

“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14–22, KJV)

Does the Apostle Paul teach us that it is okay to be a hypocrite? After all, this passage ends with an admonition to abstain from all appearance of evil. Is the Bible telling us that our core morality does not matter as long as we appear to be holy? Hardly. Since he begins with a list of behaviors which should be common to all Christians, Paul is teaching us to do God’s work — but, while so doing — take care to never even look evil. This should be easy work for the congruent Christian, because when we perform our reasonable service, we will act like Christ, and when we act like Christ we will look Christ as a by-product. Phoniness becomes a non-issue.

Christians, the pressure is on! Unbelievers will not pick up the Bible to see if God is on the level. They will read you, however. You are the only Bible many of your unbelieving friends will ever read. So, what is on your pages? Do you talk about others behind their backs? Do you grumble at work assignments? Do you take home office supplies? Trust me here, your pages are read with alacrity by those on the outside, and sadly, we Christians often give the world permission to sin.

“Well, that Frank, he’s a holy-Joe — but he takes home the occasional pencil — and he’s always looking for ways to beat his taxes! So, how bad could that stuff be? I figure, if Frank is doing it, it must be OK with God.”

I am not naive. Those who are inclined to sin will probably continue to sin anyway, but it’s a happy day for them when a person whom they identify as morally superior affirms their bad behavior by behaving badly himself. Why are tabloids still popular? People love to see other people fall, and especially if that other person is well-known Christian falling into sexual sin. True, our world is a broken place…but we Christians should not contribute to its brokenness. On the contrary. We are called to be salt and light. And if we take on even the mere appearance of the unholy, then our lights fade. Hence the problem.

We are not alone in this work, though. Remember, it was Jesus who was first hated for his light. But he left the job to us, to the people of his Church, to continue shining until he returns. How do we do this? Our personal holiness reflects Jesus’ light into the dark places…and sinners hate that because light exposes evil.

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John 3:19, ESV)

As we cave-in to the pressures of the world, we become, by appearance, less holy, and our lights seem to dim…but do not think for a minute that your life does not matter or that your one little mirror would not be missed in a great sea of lights. As in the physical realm where all lights count for the total effect of illumination, so goes the spiritual world. Shine on!

On some sad future day, when all unbelievers will face God’s judgment, they will protest, as they do now, that they did some good works — maybe even more than most, that hell is not fair, that they need more time, that there were hypocrites in the churches, blah-blah-blah…. Will God be able to point to you as a source of light? Will he be able to say that your earthly testimony to the truth of Jesus Christ was sufficient for them? Increase in prayer. Test your heart and clean your mirror, because every photon counts.

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