Should Christians Care What Unbelievers Think?

Appreciate Outsiders

But care for outsiders goes beyond First Corinthians. Related is the healthy concern for the gospel’s reputation in the Pastoral Epistles. Whether it’s the conduct of widows (1 Timothy 5:14).

It matters in 1 Thessalonians 4:12 that we conduct ourselves wisely “toward outsiders, making the best use of time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

And as we give an answer, and provide a defense to anyone who asks the reason for the hope that is in us, Peter adds his voice to the concern with outsiders: “Do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)

Ask About Outsiders

Perhaps the place where this strange concern for outsiders catches us most off guard is the grand finale of the elder qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7). Why this unexpected charge? Philip Towner comments, “Paul’s ultimate motive is missionary in thrust. … [I]t is the threat to the evangelistic mandate that would follow from the church falling into disgrace.”

The church is right where Satan wants her when the elders are disgraced among outsiders. Why? Because the devil wants to keep outsiders from the gospel. He wants them to stay as “outsiders” by bringing reproach on the church’s message through reproach on the church’s leaders. Satan loves it when Christian leaders, of all people, give outsiders just cause for disgust. It’s one thing to be a fool for Jesus, but it’s quite another to be foolish just as much on heaven’s terms as the world’s.

Why We Care About Outsiders

Should Christians really care what unbelievers think? The biblical answer is just as much yes (if not more so) as it is no. But most significant is why, and both the apostle’s example and his exhortation agree: that they may be saved.

To those outside the law, I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God, but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:21-22)

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 Corinthians 10:32-33)

In the end, we care because God cares. He delights to make outsiders into insiders. He rejoices to bend his heart outward to the vilest offender, and not to leave them outside, but bring them into the sphere of his eternal covenant love.

And he loves to make us frail, former outsiders his means for bringing in more.  

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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.