Christian Witness in the Public Square (Part II)

The right theology should produce godliness and right living, but this has often not been the case. Thankfully, there is clear instruction from the Scriptures to help us match our life with our lips which will drive my thoughts on this topic. (Read Part I here)

Watch Your Life and Doctrine

1 Timothy 4:10-16 presents a young pastor and pupil of Paul that has been tasked to be a model of progressing faith and maturity. The model Paul encourages Timothy to be is a man that is convinced of the doctrines of God and not easily enticed by detractions and additions to the truth of Scripture from false teachers. Paul specifically charges Timothy as a pastor to be diligent to discipline himself in godliness and to work hard at this, not only for God’s glory but for the spiritual benefit of people around him looking on. Timothy didn’t use his young age as an excuse for reckless living or for rejecting the responsibility of being an example to others, but he is told to immerse himself in the things that accord with the teachings and practices of the God, so that all would see him advance in maturity.

Paul is clear to Timothy here that how you live and what you teach must go hand in hand. Paul didn’t assume that because Timothy had learned from him or even because Timothy was a Christian that his teaching or his lifestyle would automatically align with the truth of Scripture. In fact, Paul instructs Timothy assuming he must keep a close watch on what he teaches and how he lives as if they both are in imminent danger of being corrupted. One of the key points the Christian must learn from Paul here is that how we live can discredit our teaching, but without careful attention both what we teach and how we live are in danger of hindering our witness for Christ. The Bible is riddled with opposition to the purity of God’s message being affected by the sin in man and a sinful world. Therefore, it’s crucial that we, like Timothy, watch our lives and doctrine closely to regularly examine ourselves in the faith.

While Timothy was an overseer of the church, it’s important to make note of how all Christians need to take heed to this charge to watch. There is a enough opposition to the teachings of Christ in the world that we don’t need the added hindrance that a poor Christian witness can be. We can’t assume that the national Christian leader, local church pastor, or ordinary church mother is living upright just because their teaching is accurate, neither can we assume people are grounded in biblical teaching merely because they live morally upright. It’s not hard for your life to go wayward or your teaching to go wayward if we don’t nurture both intentionally.

An important aspect of this passage for the topic of Christian witness in the public square, is that the point of watching your life and teaching is more about those who will hear and see you than it is about you. The passage makes it plain that Timothy is to be someone that the church looked up to and a person for unbelievers to see what it meant to follow Jesus as well. With this said, if Timothy would have fell into egregious sin or succumb to false teaching it wouldn’t have just been Timothy’s issue but it would have damaged the witness of the whole church. Christians have always had a collective witness that was negatively or positively impacted by individuals. Therefore, when anyone who claims to bear the name of Christ does anything in the public eye the collective Christian witness is affected for better or worse.

A negative example of this is the great writer and theologian Jonathan Edwards who owned African slaves. Edwards’ works contain timeless and edifying truth that are good for any Christian to learn from. However, one should not be surprised when it could be difficult  for an African American to hear Edwards quoted in sermons about the freedom the gospel offers when he supported the enslavement of people who look like them. Now the point here is not to discontinue quoting Jonathan Edwards but it should raise our awareness to the hindrance we can be to our own message when we succumb to various sinful normative practices of our times and our own sinful hearts. What we do, teach, and even what we tweet either cast a shadow or shines a light on the Christ we say we believe in.

One of the main reasons I decided to write this series of post is because I’ve come to doubt whether or not we really believe people still go to hell. Today many seem more concerned with their personal platform and what they believe, rather than challenging and contributing to a collective witness for Christ to an unbelieving world. The God of the Bible is to be known and obeyed and therefore your Christian witness can’t be condensed to be primarily about your personal reputation. Paul’s words to Timothy go beyond having a squeaky clean resume but drive home the reality that the life you live ultimately has an eternal impact for yourself and others. Christians have to be concerned with how the salvation of lost souls is impacted by the way they represent Christ.

I echo Paul in saying we must persist in watching our lives and teaching because we have not and will not arrive until we meet Christ face to face. We should persist because the salvation of those in our immediate local and global context is at stake.

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