As I stopped at the main gate at Kirtland Air Force Base I handed the security guard my retired ID card. He looked at the card, then at me.
He said, “I know you from somewhere. Do you go to the Church of Christ on the west side by the river?”
Surprised, I replied that I did. He told me he thought he recognized me from there. He said he had been there a few times because his mother attended there. He told me who his mother was. He continued that he had gone to the church across the street from us for a while, then moved out of that area and so stopped going there. We exchanged pleasantries and I drove onto the base.
Recently I heard a preacher speak about the teenagers of the congregation. He said that the younger children in the congregation look to them to be role models even more than they look to their parents or other adults. They look to the teenagers as the “cool” kids. (Although they may not use that word any more.)
These two incidents point out something very important, and perhaps very scary. People are watching us. Even when we don’t realize it, people are noticing us. Granted, as the person who welcomes people and makes announcements, as a song leader, and as a teacher, I may have more visibility in the congregation than some other people. But realizing that someone who visited for just a few times can recognize me in a totally new context brings home the fact that people may notice you when you might not give it a second thought. Charles Barkley’s comments notwithstanding, everyone is a role model, either positively or negatively.
Paul the apostle understood this. He knew that what we do in public can affect others directly. Some things (eating meat, eating meat offered to idols) may not be wrong in themselves, but become wrong because of how we influence others with our actions. “For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” (Rom 14:20-21)
It is possible, then, for us to do something totally neutral, in relation to sin, and have a negative influence. Sometimes even doing something right may appear wrong. People make snap judgements, whether they should or not. You go into a liquor store to make a phone call for someone whose car broke down. That is good, but if someone makes an uninformed judgement on seeing you leave, perhaps it would have been better to use a phone in the grocery store next door. You are trying to reach the prostitutes on the street with the gospel. Someone driving by thinks you are trying to be a client. In the first example, a better choice might have been available. In the second, one must do what one must regardless of how it appears to others. We must consider how we appear before others. We do not necessarily have to use that consideration as an excuse not to do something we ought to be doing.
Some have said, “If you are going to drive like other people drive, please don’t put a church bumper sticker on your car.” Others say they will put such a sticker on their vehicle, just so that they will remember to obey the laws. They will realize their influence, and it forces them to change their ways.
Maybe that should be the key point in realizing our visibility. When we know that God is watching, it often has little effect on our actions. When we know that other people are watching, we should act as if God is watching. How we act in front of other people will have an effect on their lives. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt 5:16) Peter told wives that their influence was far-reaching. “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.” (1 Pet 3:1-2)
Someone is watching you. It may be someone you know. It may be a stranger. Let them see God in you.