Should Christians Care What Unbelievers Think?

There is a place for a holy disregard for what unbelievers think. But it is small.

We shouldn’t be caught off guard when they “suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18).

So, we have good reason not to be shaken by every opinion from outsiders. But we must beware of letting one biblical truth masquerade as the whole. It is far too easy to slouch into an unholy, careless lack of concern about what outsiders think, when the Scriptures say more than simply turn a deaf ear to every word from the outside. You might be surprised how much the New Testament has to say about having a genuine concern for what unbelievers think.

Associate With Outsiders

The apostolic voice with the most to say on this score is Paul’s, and the letter in which he says most is First Corinthians. His first mention of “outsiders” is at the end of chapter five, where he clarifies that his previous instructions “not to associate with sexually immoral people” (1 Corinthians 5:9).

Christians are on the hook, says Paul, to discern from among our own number when someone’s comfort with sin is so out of stride with the gospel that we must distinguish them from the rest. When their pattern of life has become a blatant lie about our Lord, it is for their own good—and for the sake of others, inside and out—that we make the difference plain. We must “judge,” but the judgment we render is toward our insiders, not outsiders.

What have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)

To be true to the church and the world, we must judge within the church. But as the apostle lays on us that burden, he lifts another. “God judges those outside.” We are liberated from the need to judge “the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters” (1 Corinthians 5:10). God’s promised judgment of the unbelieving frees us from feeling the need to be the instrument of their condemnation. Rather, we happily associate with outsiders and seek to be means of their redemption as we focus our energies on impressing them with the gospel of Christ and its counterintuitive fruit in our lives.

Accommodate Outsiders

Paul prominently mentions “outsiders” again in 1 Corinthians 14. This time, the context is corporate worship, and far from ignoring them, or planning things in such a way as to turn them off, Paul wants to engage them. To win them.

Rather than the unintelligible words of tongue-speaking, he would have us speak prophetically, in terms understandable and clear to all: “How can anyone in the position of an outsider say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying?” (1 Corinthians 14:16) Ultimately, the hope is evangelistic:

If … 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? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Corinthians 14. 23-25″ data-version=”esv”>1 Corinthians 14: 23-25)

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David Mathis
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.