“You’re going to ruin your testimony!” – I can’t tell you how many times I’d heard this in life. They were well meaning people who love The LORD dearly, but were they right in their thinking? Before we answer that, let me give some examples of when a person could ruin their testimony:
– One should not go to the theater as another church member may see him and assume he is there to watch a horribly wicked film and thus the movie go-er would ruin his testimony.
– One should not purchase wine for cooking as someone may see her and think she was a drunk, thus effectively ruining her testimony.
– One is to be very careful with who they are seen around town with as anyone who sees them with someone who is not of good character could also assume that the Christian with them is of the same substance (since birds of a feather flock together) thus ruining the believer’s testimony.
Grant it, most of those who make, have made, and will make these statements mean well. Most of them use the verse “abstain from all appearance of evil” (I Thess. 5:22) as their foundation for such admonitions. There are two problems with this interpretation that I’ll point out and then move on. First, it is that they are not interpreting the verse in context. The passage is dealing with believers being told to examine the teaching that they are hearing and rejecting the bad and clinging to the good. Paul tells them to abstain from any teaching that, as they examine it, is seen to be evil.
The second thing is that Jesus lived in direct violation of their interpretation of I Thess. 5:22. Jesus was surrounded by publicans, and sinners. Jesus was called a “friend (lover) of sinners” and a “glutton and a winebibber” (over-eater and alcoholic). Jesus didn’t attempt to surround himself with the high, respectable class of society. His friends were those with sordid back grounds. Those he ate with and spent time ministering to were those who society rejected – publicans and prostitutes. If Jesus had of attempted to abstain fro mall appearances of evil as those who use it to advocate “testimony guard” then His enemies would have had no basis for calling him a sinner lover and a drunk. The two things we see from the accusations of His opponents is that it was rare to ever find Jesus not in the company of the lost, and Jesus drank fermented wine – absolute no-no’s if one is zealous to guard their testimony.
Not only does the context of I Thess. 5:22 dictate otherwise, and the life of Jesus Christ being in direct contradiction to it; the thought that someone seeing you somewhere, and mistaking your intentions, could ruin your testimony is a conflation of terms. To say that one’s testimony can be ruined by someone else seeing him engaging in something that could be misconstrued as evil or offensive is to the onlooker is to us “testimony” for “reputation”. Saying “testimony” makes it sound more spiritual, but when one correctly defines his terms, one sees that this mindset is truly man-centered.
Reputation – the estimation in which a person or thing is held, esp. by the community or the public generally; repute: a man of good reputation.
Testimony – the statement or declaration of a witness under oath or affirmation, usually in court. (or) an open declaration or profession of faith.
Reputation is what one thinks about me, my testimony is me bearing witness to what God has done in my life and proclaiming His gospel. Now if I do unrepentantly involve myself in immorality, then I bear testimony with my actions that there is no change in me. But we are not speaking about actual sins as Scripture doesn’t condemn going to the theater, buying/drinking wine, or spending time with lost friends. Those things, and others, are simply things that someone else could see us doing and let their mind wander to the worst of situations and cause them to think untrue things about us, thus soiling our reputation. People who conflate (there’s that word again… I love that word! It sounds so cool!) the two also like to quote the scripture excerpt of “man looks on the outward appearance, but god looks on the heart” (I Sam. 16:7). We must not overlook the fact that God stated this to Samuel to correct him. God was telling Samuel that man is wrong for making his judgments based on the outward appearance. What is believed by those who attempt to cite this favorably is that God is making a concession for how men judge and we should be concerned with what others think about us as proved by this statement. Again, the passage is pulled out of context and interpreted with an unbiblical fear of man.
There will always be someone who is offended or misjudges your actions, regardless of what you do. To someone, you will appear to be involved in some sort of evil. We cannot ruin our testimony by living according to God’s standards without adding to them all the nit picky “convictions” of others. Now, there is a time to refrain from certain things as they are culturally labeled “taboo” although there is nothing wrong with engaging in it; but that is another topic for another day as it’s not related to ruining your testimony. Those who warn those who are well within their Christian freedom with “you’re going to ruin your testimony!”, although well meaning, are displaying an unbiblical fear of man. C.S. Lewis said, “You’ll never make a good impression on people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you’re making.” Our testimony is our proclaiming God’s grace in our lives. Our reputation is what others think of us. The things we engage in are to be governed by our love for God not our fear of man.
There is one thing I can guarantee you – If you fear man in such a way, “you’re going to ruin your testimony!” Literally.