I find an oft overlooked verse in Acts 19 descriptive of how we should conduct our life in view of watchful eyes. “You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess,” Acts 19:37.
I have been told since I was a youth that when people know I am a Christian, they will watch me like a hawk. They want to know that my life matches up with my belief system. Gandhi said, I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians. Somehow people judge our God through the window of our life. That is the present reality.
Some find an easy path to denigrating other religions in order to make Christianity look better. If they can show a weakness in the other religion, whether Buddhist, Islam, atheism or other religion, then Christianity will look stronger. If we stoop to anything approaching this idea, we will turn off the people we are aiming to reach before we can get our story out.
In Thailand, if we denigrate Buddha, we lose our chance to tell the story of Jesus. When we talk up the person of Jesus as the wonderful savior and the one who can take our karma on his back to give us freedom for an ongoing bondage to karma and reincarnation, we have a chance to speak about the one we love. When we speak with love and with a positive tone, people listen. Not everyone responds favorably, and some in positions of influence may work to make our mission more difficult. But we have stood on solid ground when we do so.
What Paul did in Ephesus and all we need to do is demonstrate the kingdom of God to people. We have the almighty God on our side. If we just allow him to be seen in and through our lives, who wouldn’t want that. When we have something fantastic, we just need to let people see the goods. We don’t even need to get into comparisons. God will dwarf anything else with his amazing wisdom, goodness, love and power. If we merely show off our God and live a life worthy of our calling as Paul writes in Ephesians 4:1, we’ll make great inroads to society. The church turned the world they found themselves in upside down. People wanted what God offered so strongly than those trying to hold onto the status quo were passed by in the blink of an eye. Gamaliel said early in the life of the church that we can’t fight what is from God, Acts 5:38-39
38Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
The divine nature of the church and the kingdom of God can speak for itself. Luke allowed Gamaliel’s statement to sit as a prophetic and foundational statement to the beginnings of the church. Within 3 decades the church had impacted an entire empire, establishing local congregations throughout the Roman world. One reason the church went so far so fast comes back to the fact they didn’t set out to destroy other religions, but to let God and the message of Jesus take off with a bang. They lifted Jesus up, exalting him above other gods. They didn’t try to take down the other gods to put them under Jesus. We see Paul coming back to this in Ephesians as he reignites the love for Jesus that brought the Ephesians to follow God. The first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians reads like Paul putting the name of Jesus in a rocket ship to blast into the sky and hold the person of Jesus as high as possible over any other gods or religions as possible.
Maybe we have erred in making the religion too much about the doctrines. Don’t get me wrong, the early church fought to maintain doctrinal integrity, and what we believe holds importance. What I am saying is that in the west if we set up the premise around what we believe, then people can find fault with what we believe when our life falls short. We are inevitably going to fall short, and our aim is not a perfect life, but a life moving toward Christ. People saw in Paul and the early church a life changing affect of God coming into their lives. God should impact our world.
In the end, all we need to do is let people see God through our life. We don’t need to stoop to bad mouthing the way nonChristians believe. In this area, our reputation should be exemplary in the community. Our goal is not to be liked or popular. Jesus was not the most well liked person at the end of his life. He was contrarian and went against the grain. He said we would receive the same persecution in the world that they gave him. It’s just that our persecution should come from our faith in Jesus and not our behavior towards other’s faith.