“And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” (1 Tim 3:7)
In the third chapter of Paul’s first letter to Timothy he primarily focuses on the qualifications of elders (overseers) and deacons. An elder should be the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money, not be a new convert, manage his household well, keep his children under control, and be above reproach. It’s quite a list, but what it ultimately comes down to is that an elder is in terms of character a mature man of Christ who’s preferably married with children. Whether he is an elder depends on if he’s called and appointed to be an elder. Whether or not you’re an elder or aspire to be an elder, we all should aim to mature in Christ, and so most of these qualifications are generic for any Christian. We can summarize this list to only one item: we should be above reproach. We should be above reproach towards God, towards our wife (or husband), towards our children, and towards our community.
As Christians we have been given the task by Jesus to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:20), and in my view this is a two-step process. It is first our character towards those outside the church. The more we mature in Christ, the more we show Christ-likeness, the more we show the character of God to others, the more it becomes apparent to those outside the church that we are different. This should provoke questions and discussion, which leads to the second step. And that is that we then should fully embrace the opportunity to speak about Christ, “for out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Mat 12:34b). Showing God’s character only through our character is not enough, as “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17). – Just to be sure, I am not saying that we should only start talking about Christ when we are mature Christians. The moment that we give ourselves to Christ is the moment we receive the Holy Spirit, which enables us share to the Gospel. I am only saying that the message we speak through our character is just as important as the message we speak through our words, and that our character should also lead to spreading the Gospel through our words. –
And so our character, or reputation, towards those outside the church should be above approach. Like most people I spend 40 hours of my week at work, being surrounded by unbelievers. You could say that this is an excellent place for mission, and it is (although it could be much more). At work I feel I am constantly tested on my character (not as much by my colleagues, but by myself – or I should say the Holy Spirit who’s convincting me). It’s so easy to get sucked into the world’s way of thinking, of acting, engaging in conversations that you shouldn’t, laughing at jokes that are actually not funny at all, etc. It’s a daily challenge. And I must admit I am often failing more than I would like to or like to admit. And whereas the Holy Spirit convicts me, He also helps me by providing Scripture to either stay focused or refocus. And so I leave you with two verses that I find very encouraging in this aspect: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.” (Philippians 2:14-16), and “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” (Colossians 3:23-24)