In a defiant moment, have you ever mocked the Court of Public Opinion, muttering to your friends or yourself: “I don’t really care what people think. If there’s nothing wrong with it, I’ll do it.” Perhaps you’ve never diagnosed yourself as rebellious or suffering from the ‘selfishness syndrome’ but, if you heard someone outside of your circle of friends saying the same words, what would you think?
How would you feel if your teacher said on more than one occasion: “I don’t really care what the students or parents think; if it’s my right as a teacher, I’ll do it regardless! I’m not worried about their feelings. I’ll run roughshod over their concerns.” Great teacher? Or, what would you think if your employer displayed a similar attitude?
We may mutter such words, but the Apostle Paul didn’t. We get a little insight into Paul’s sensitivity and integrity, as well as his carefulness over public opinion. The immediate context is the handling of money. Paul was very cautious to avoid suspicion and blame. He didn’t want to leave any room for someone to accuse him of questionable activity. Sure, he may have fully trusted himself and his ability to handle money honestly. But here’s what he wrote:
We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. 2Corinthians 8:20-21
When did I last avoid doing something that was technically legal and legit – out of fear someone might use it against me and say: “Some Christian he is?” In the matter of handling money, Paul took every precaution to avoid questions, red flags, and concerns. “We aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.” In other words, Paul is saying – “Yes, it really does matter what people think!”
It is not good enough to be declared by a team of scrutinizing experts to be technically right or legally honest. It’s insufficient to just say: “The Lord knows the difference; He sees how it all balances out.” It must not only be honest; it needs to look honest in the sight of our neighbours, employees, and friends.
In the context, we learn we should never handle someone else’s money alone. This applies to a community of believers, or on the job, in a volunteer position or on behalf of family. Unless it is your own personal money, always make sure two or more people are party to every transaction. Otherwise, you are leaving yourself wide open to accusations and temptation.
But beyond the handling of money, everything we do must not only be right in the Lord’s eyes; it should look right in the public eye.
Paul said in Acts 24:16:
“Herein do I exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offense toward God and toward men.”
Paul used the word ‘always’ to show that it did not depend on the situation. He was always careful to not only be honest but to appear to be honest in the sight of everyone. Lawyers and accountants and other experts can find the loopholes to prove someone’s innocence or condone someone’s choices. However, Paul used a higher standard. He said he wanted the Common Joe or Ordinary Jill to see it as honest and acceptable too, without having to prove one’s rightness by engaging in a technical argument or by winning a court case – so to speak.
Here’s a probing question to ask myself: “Would I feel comfortable seeing this choice, this action, this matter going viral online or in the news?” Paul was acutely sensitive to the Court of Public Opinion and how his actions could negatively reflect on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Remember, it is not only in the sight of the Lord that matters. Our testimony in the Public Square is critical.
Walk carefully and closely with the Lord today.
Warmly in Christ
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