Your godliness matters to the world. What they see can help or hurt the gospel advance in their lives. This is the idea behind the final characteristic in the list of qualifications of a pastor. This list has served us as a goalpost for maturity over the past few weeks. It speaks about having a blameless reputation in our purity, thinking, appetites, dignity, hospitality, speech, sobriety, anger, patience, peacemaking, management, and humility. This time, we will focus on what Paul means by being “well thought of by outsiders.”
“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”1 Timothy 3:1-7
Having a good reputation among unbelievers is not a popular subject of many conversations, but the opinions of unbelievers matter to the godly man. We sometimes forget that, or dismiss their opinions because they are biased or spiritually ignorant. Scripture does say that unbelievers do not “accept the things of the Spirit of God” nor are they “able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned,” so they think it’s folly (1 Corinthians 2:14). However, they are still able to recognize the good testimony of a virtuous life. In fact, godly character has a lot to do with evangelism, and that is the motivation behind this quality.
The phrase “well thought of by outsiders” refers to a man’s reputation among those outside the church. These outsiders have an opinion formed based on personal knowledge about the man that warrants a good testimony. In other words, they can testify to a man’s character because they have experienced it personally.
This is not to suggest that outsiders, or unbelievers, determine who leads the church, but that the opinions of outsiders can rob a man of success in ministry simply by removing confidence in what he says based on his behavior and reputation. It is meant to emphasize that the unsaved are watching our lives to compare what we say with how we live. And, when our message doesn’t match our living, we bring shame to the gospel and the church with which we worship.
The Dangers of a Bad Reputation
This passage highlights the devastating effects of having a poor reputation among unbelievers. First, the man could “fall into disgrace” among his peers, which brings shame to his messages. The word “disgrace” in this passage is an important one because it calls back to the first quality we examined—a blameless reputation. Disgrace is the opposite of blamelessness. It refers to a shameful reputation. That is to say, the man has fallen into reproach among outsiders. When an outsider observes a believer who doesn’t practice what he professes, they depreciate the believer’s life, his church, and the gospel he believes.
A second devastating effect of having an inconsistent testimony is that it puts the believer “into the snare of the devil.” This gives the idea of being suddenly captured by the devil’s trap. The word “snare” refers to a device that entraps and catches wild animals, which is typical of what we learn about the devil in the Bible. He is a slanderous enemy who seeks to attack and discredit the testimony of God’s people, particularly when they stumble. This is why Peter urges us to “be watchful” because “our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
This is a big concern in the New Testament. Paul repeatedly tells the church to “give no offense” to anyone (1 Cor. 10:32) and to “do all things” in such a way 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 appears as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:14-15). Furthermore, he tells women to “be reverent in their behavior, so that the word of God will not be dishonored” (Tit. 2:3-5). To men, he says to be “sensible so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (Ti. 2:6-8). And to those who work, they should work honorably, “so that they will adorn the doctrine of God and savior in every respect” (Ti. 2:9-10). Jesus says that we are the “light of the world” and that we are to let our light shine “before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).
Brothers, we need to have a practice that matches our profession. For this reason, I’m calling this characteristic a Consistent Testimony. Godly men are to build a consistent testimony to prevent the world from reviling the gospel and causing them to glorify God for the life that we live that adorns the gospel. Now, let’s look at five ways to help us build such a testimony.
Love the Lost
Building a consistent testimony before a watching world requires you to have a love for the lost. When you strive to have a blameless and consistent reputation outside the church, you are making the gospel attractive. If you love them, you will be motivated to work on your reputation.
Love the Church
In addition to your love for the lost, you need to have a love for the church. The impression you leave on the lost will shape their opinion of the local church and the universal church. So, the more you love your church, the more you will be motivated to live before the world in a way that makes the church attractive.
Live the Faith
You must live out your faith visibly. Christianity is not a private religion. It involves community and is meant to be lived in the world. This is what Jesus meant when He described believers as “salt” and “light” in the world. We are to be uniquely upright in our communities, in our workplaces, and in all our spheres of life outside the church. So, be intentional about living out your faith respectfully outside the church.
Work with Honor
I want to highlight the workplace because much of our lives are lived here. In the workplace, we experience challenges in projects, relationships, and production. Not only should we be godly in our behavior, but also excellent in our labor. In other words, we should be men with good quality work, not requiring ongoing dependence, and providing a valuable profit to society.
Pray with Watchfulness
Although our reputation is in question, our faithful and consistent testimony puts the reputation of God on the line. This is ultimately what the devil wishes to insult to steer the world away from the gospel. So, be watchful while you pray and ask the Lord to help you before outsiders. You will undoubtedly fail, but the Lord can hide your shortcomings and bring your qualities to light in the world. Also, He desires that your faith be consistently testified before unbelievers. He will empower you.