In a sense, pastors are local celebrities. And like celebrities, they can be the objects of scrutiny and gossip.
One woman, reminiscing about growing up in a parsonage, told of how a member of their church came to their door with an angry complaint. “Tell your brother to get his feet off our table,” the parishioner said, then spun on her heel and left. Implication: You are living on church property, and the furniture belongs to us, not you. Act accordingly. We’re watching.
That was hurtful and embarrassing enough. Later, however, the girl also realized a second implication of the woman’s behavior. Wait, she thought to herself. You can’t see our living room from the street if you’re just casually walking by. Was she spying on us?
Possibly. I know stories of pastors’ families being followed in grocery stores to see how they’re spending “the church’s” money.
But the point of this post, drawn from Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13, is this: you don’t have to be a pastor for people to be watching you.
As we’ve seen, Paul teaches that love doesn’t act in what others might consider socially inappropriate ways, not if it means causing someone else to stumble. This doesn’t mean that Christians must kowtow to every new wave of political correctness to avoid giving offense. But it does mean being aware of the fact that how we behave is a living testimony, and in love, we should therefore care how our behavior affects others.
I’ve said it before: I’m an introvert. And given my writing and speaking ministry, I’m also a somewhat public person. More people know me than the other way around. Strangers have come up to say hello, at conferences and in grocery stores, in parking lots, hospitals, even Home Depot. Whenever I’m outside the house, the sense of being watched is always somewhere in the back of my mind.
But it’s not just me. You’re being watched too. Spouses watch each other. Parents watch their kids, and sometimes forget that their kids are watching back. Neighbors and co-workers, even perfect strangers watch and evaluate each other’s behavior.
And if others know that you believe in and follow Jesus, that’s part of the deal. It might not seem fair, but like it or not, how others relate to God may be affected by what they see in you.
That’s why Paul includes the idea of rudeness in his teaching on love. We may justify all kinds of behaviors to ourselves, and expect others to agree or at least mind their own business. But that’s not how it works for people who have chosen to publicly align themselves with a Savior who let himself be crucified for the sake of love.
Again, I’m not saying that we must automatically submit to everyone else’s expectations. But in love, we need to learn to step outside our own point of view and see ourselves through others’ eyes. We need to put aside our defensiveness for a moment; we need to loosen our grip on what we believe we have the “right” to do.
Then, having done so, we need to ask ourselves honestly how our behavior is affecting the other person.
And whether we care enough to do something about it.