Chapter Six

Christian Conduct: The Third Question

Consciously or unconsciously, every person determines how he will act and speak. Every knowledgeable Christian readily admits his God-given responsibility to govern and to control his speech and actions. Any sincere Christian openly will acknowledge he must accept that responsibility. Sincere Christians agree that what they say and do is of concern to the Lord and affects their spiritual well-being. The basic question for every Christian is this: "How do I decide how I should act and speak?"

The answers given to this question by any group of Christians are predictable. The majority would answer: "A Christian must determine what is wrong and then refuse to act and speak in that manner." A large number would answer: "A Christian must determine what is right and then act and speak in that manner." A few perceptive Christians would answer: "A Christian must determine both what is right and wrong, and then he must refuse to do the wrong and conscientiously do the right." Virtually all Christians would feel that the question had been answered properly with one of these answers.

Unquestionably Christians must determine what is wrong. It is equally necessary for them to determine what is right. As needful as it is to know right and wrong, only determining right and wrong is insufficient to determine proper Christian conduct. A third question must be asked and answered: "What influence will my conduct and speech have?" By ignoring or forgetting this question, Christians have produced some major, hurtful spiritual problems.

An Essential Question
The common neglect of the question of influence is easily illustrated. Most Christians feel their lives are spiritually sound if they determine, "Is it wrong?" To declare, "I see nothing wrong with it," is a common, accepted defense of actions, involvements, and speech. The Christian who asks, "Is it right?" is regarded as being unusually conscientious. Basing conduct on a determination of what is right is regarded as a mark of exceptional spiritual maturity. How many Christians regularly ask, "How will this affect my spiritual influence?" Compared to those who ask, "Is it wrong?" or, "Is it right?" they are few. Christians who regulate conduct on the basis of influence are regarded as being extreme, radical, and beyond being understood. The question of influence has never been regarded as a necessary question.

The New Testament forcefully emphasizes that Christians individually and collectively are to be concerned continuously about their influence. Christians are godly, honorable people. Paul made practical application of faith to daily life in Romans 12. In one application he said, "Take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men" (v. 17). Being honorable in everyone's sight is never accidental. Such influence is produced by careful thought about all of one's conduct in all of one's life. The Christian who seeks to be honorable is concerned about everyone's thinking. He even wants to be undeniably honorable before those who disapprove of his spiritual values and commitments. An honorable life is built by giving considerable thought to how one lives each day.

When distressed churches in Judea were in grave need, Gentile Christians provided financial relief. Read 2 Corinthians 8:16-24 and note the preparations made for delivering the gift. Though Paul was a self-sacrificing Apostle respected by many, he refused to place his reputation in the hands of chance. Caring for other's money easily can destroy one's reputation and influence. The absence of banks and international means of exchange meant the collection had to be carried several hundred miles to Judea. It is implied that each contributing congregation sent a representative with the gift. Additionally, a widely respected brother accompanied the group. This was not done because Paul was dishonest or because he did not trust himself. These were precautions to eliminate any opportunity for confusion, doubt, or unjust accusation. Nothing would destroy the good influence and the expression of love created by the gift. In Paul's words, "...We take thought for things honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men" (v.21). Concern for doing things honorably in God's sight was insufficient. Doing things honorably in the sight of people was equally important.

The difficult cultural and spiritual backgrounds of Jews and Gentiles created a difficult, sensitive problem in many first-century congregations. Congregations composed of both converts faced some delicate problems. Food created one such problem. The Gentiles always had eaten food offered to idols. Idolatrous festival days commonly were observed with a feast. The gifts of food were too numerous to be consumed on the festival day, and there was no way of preserving the foodstuffs. The surplus food was sold in the markets. The Gentiles were accustomed to eating at the feasts, to buying the surplus food, and to eating any kind of meat. The Jews by Mosaical command (Leviticus 11) had followed a strict dietary code which excluded many meats. They also believed eating food which had been offered to an idol honored a false god. For both reasons they vigorously refused to eat such food.

Cultural preferences and former consciences did not end with Christian conversion. Though all food is acceptable (I Timothy 4:4), a Jewish Christian had difficulty eating all meats. His past life had been regulated by a different divine law. As a result, spiritual tension developed between Jewish and Gentile Christians concerning proper food to eat. Regarding the problem, Paul stated that (1) they were not to pass judgment on each other; (2) they were not to cause anyone to stumble; (3) and they were not to use the right to eat meat to destroy a person for whom Jesus died (Romans 14). In Romans 14:16 Paul wrote, "Let not then your good be evil spoken of..." What was right within itself was not to be used to produce an evil influence. Being right or doing that which was right in a harmful manner can destroy other Christians. It was their responsibility to see such did not happen.

Jesus used two powerful illustrations to stress the responsibility of spiritual influence. In Matthew 5:13, He stated, "Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot of man." Because salt was the principal preservative of meat in Jesus' day, it was an impressive symbol of the power and outreach of influence. It was a highly taxed item. At times salt traders were taxed to the point of destroying their opportunity to make a profit. As a result traders often mixed other white crystalline salts with sodium chloride. This increased the quantity of salt while decreasing the concentration of the sodium chloride. If the salt was "diluted" enough times as it passed from trader to trader, there would not be enough sodium chloride in the "salt" to preserve meat. Yet, even a small amount of sodium chloride would kill plant life. Worthless salt had to be thrown in the road to keep it from being harmful. Jesus' point is powerful. Christians are his spiritual salt. However, Christians can dilute their lives with worldliness to the point that they have no useful spiritual influence. At that point they become a destructive influence who produce only harm.

In Matthew 13:33 Jesus compared spiritual influence to leaven or yeast. A little yeast can make any amount of dough rise. It will work until the entire amount has been touched by its presence. His disciples were to be His yeast in this world. Christian influence was expected to work its way throughout society and the world.

Selfishness - Influence's Enemy
The ultra-selfishness which increasingly characterize Americans should be of grave concern to all Christian. The American society has been geared to everyone satisfying self. In almost everyone's life, "I" is the most important factor. The number one concern and top priority is "me." "Me" is the basic concern is every issue. Even beneficial social reforms are unlikely to occur because of people's overwhelming concern about how the change will affect "me." There is more concern for "me" than for the good of society.

The basic attitudes of society infiltrate the thinking of God's people. Theoretically, most Christians deplore selfishness. Practically, they find it convenient to become more selfish every year. A noticeable evidence of increasing Christian selfishness is seen in the popular attitude, "I am responsible for me, and only for me!" It generates this thinking: "My basic spiritual concern is me. You take care of yourself. If I know I am not sinning, nothing else matters. If I am misunderstood, that is not my problem." Too many Christians have forgotten that we are members of one another (Romans 12:5).

Christians do not seem to realize that this concern with self, "my" desires, and "my" rights disclaims the responsibility of Christian influence. It declares a Christian can belong to Christ while refusing to be His salt and yeast. It declares a Christian can follow a Lord who is interested in everyone while he is interested in no one. It affirms one can be a Christian and completely be disinterested in the influence his life exerts. These are deceitful, distorted, inaccurate concepts of the meaning of being a Christian.

Insofar as service and commitment to Christ, Christians never live for themselves. Every Christian is what he is because of the grace of God. He is physically and spiritually God-made. Christ died for Christians that they should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them (2 Corinthians 5:15).

Influence: A Debt To Others
In regard to Christian influence on sinners, the Christian never lives for himself. Peter wrote in I Peter 2:11, 12:

Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your behavior seemly among the Gentiles; that, wherein they speak against you as evil doers, they may be your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.

This was written to persecuted Christians living under hard circumstances. They were not to forget they did not belong to this world. They were to behave in an uncondemnable fashion among the pagans. In time the power of their godly influence would demand respect.

In I Peter 2:15 Peter again wrote, "For so is the will of God, that by well-doing ye should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men." Christians will never out-argue the world. The world's criticisms and foolish arguments will never be silenced by out-talking the world. Christians disarm the ignorant and foolish by outliving them. Influence, not words, will disarm the enemies of the godly,

Further, Peter wrote in I Peter 3:15, 16:

Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear; having a good conscience; that, wherein ye are spoken against, that they may be put to shame who revile your good manner of life in Christ.

Christ was to be set aside as THE Lord in their lives. The reality of their hope was to be so obvious that unbelievers would ask them how they maintained their hope. They were to answer as respectful gentlemen who lived in all good conscience. In this manner, those who reviled their good manner of life would be put to shame. Again, their enemies would not be defeated by arguments and words, but by the influence of an unconquerable, hopefilled life in Christ.

In regard to Christian influence on Christians, the Christian never lives for himself. Scripture gives continuing emphasis to the fact that Christians bear each other's burdens and seek each other's well-being (Galatians 6:1-5; Romans 15:1-3; Philippians 2:1-8). The heart of this responsibility rests in the reality that Christians are a family. Because Christians belong to Christ, they belong to each other. This spiritual family is sustained by agape love, the love which seeks the highest good of another. This is the love which moved Christ to die for all. As one Christian considers another, he must understand, "If my Lord died for you, and you are His child, I cannot hurt or discourage you by the way I live. Because He loves you, I must love you and be concerned about your well-being. His death made us family."

The revival of a proper concern for Christian influence is urgently needed. Concern about appropriate Christian dress, speech, pleasures, business practices, and associations must be renewed. That concern must not degenerate into Pharisaical laws and rules based on human judgments and evaluations. Rather, Christians must awaken to the fact that godly people look like, act like, and speak like godly people. When Christian people begin to look like, talk like, and act like the godless people around them, it is probable they have become like the godless people around them.

If a Christian has courage and faith, God can use him powerfully in any honorable walk of life. Being a powerful influence for Christ is basically a personal matter. Powerful spiritual influence is based primarily on what a person is within himself. Actions have great influence when they reflect the true person within. The only effective monitor of spiritual influence is a Christian's own clear, educated, honest conscience.


  1. What are some typical answers to the question, "How do I decide how I should act and speak?"
  2. Illustrate the fact that the question of influence is commonly disregarded.
  3. Discuss Romans 12:17. Who are "all men"?
  4. What wise lessons concerning protecting Christian influence should be learned from 2 Corinthians 8: 16-24?
  5. What was the problem when Paul wrote, "Let not your good be evil spoken of..." (Romans 14:16)?
  6. Why was salt a good symbol of influence (Matthew 5:13)? How could salt lose its savor? How can Christians lose their savor?
  7. Discuss the problem of ultra-selfishness in society and in the church.
  8. What are the basic inconsistencies of a Christina seeking to follow Christ and being interested only in "me?"
  9. In regard to sinners, in what way must a Christian not live for himself? Discuss I Peter 2:11, 12; 2:15; 3:1; and 3:15, 16.
  10. Explain this statement: in Christian-Christian relationships no Christian has the right to live for himself. Read some passages which support this statement.

Thought Questions

  1. In what ways can bad Christian influence hurt the church?
  2. How does good Christian influence help the church?
  3. What are some specific areas in which Christians need to be more concerned about their influence?
  4. What is the most important lesson in this chapter?
transcribed by Christy Hesslen
Copyright © 1983, David Chadwell
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