By Wilbur Lim
The year 2016 has been a year of great blessings where many significant events and thoughts once conceived in the mind, crystallized in reality. I thank God for the many provisions provided. Travelling mercies granted while I was overseas and back were one of such where I experienced a smooth journey, sublime weather and peace-of-mind while roaming the cities in Taiwan and China.
Having said that, there were vast differences I experienced between the two countries that had me thinking. Of course the purpose of visiting the countries was different. Some aspects are bound to be different, thus incomparable. However as a tourist I did some window shopping in both countries. I managed to observe something very contrasting between the two countries though they were in similar settings.
While in a city in Taiwan (City A), my shopping experience was far better than that of a city in China (City B). In City A, the shop owners were positioned inside by the cashier, they were very kind and polite; and allowed me to step into their shops and greeted me with a warm smile. Even when I did not make any purchase, they welcomed me back again in future.
However, the same cannot be said about my experience in City B. Shop owners were standing right in front of their shops, staring at me and I could sense them assessing me through my outward appearance and demeanour before approaching me for a sales attempt. It seemed as though they had the eyes of a tiger; waiting patiently to devour the naive and innocent. I became wary of them and kept my distance. As I walked further on, I observed how other tourists who entered such shops were compelled to make a purchase of any item they viewed or tested – not letting them go until they have done so. Otherwise, the shopkeepers would express themselves in anger towards the tourists.
Here I am not trying to promote one city over the other, and perhaps my experience may differ with others who have visited the same places I did. However the purpose of sharing these anecdotes is to relate my experience to that of a non-believer attending our church services for the first time.
Have we ever placed ourselves in the shoes of such a person? Have we wondered what is going through their minds when they step foot inside our church building for the very first time as outsiders?
I do imagine that curiosity would certainly be present in their minds. Perhaps some of them may have some fear as they do not know what to expect. However, more importantly it can be guaranteed that they will most certainly be sensitive towards how we interact with them. How we behave or conduct ourselves would be a deciding factor in whether they choose to come again in future.
Now, what does the word “conduct” mean? Can we define it in one way or another?
The general meaning of this word used throughout this article now is “the manner in which a person behaves, especially on a particular occasion or in a particular context.”
As I did not find any Malaysian law readily available online regarding this topic, I have chosen to include one which I did find from an overseas source. In the Local Government Act 1989 – Section 76B of the Victorian Current Acts (Australia) , the conduct for its local governing councillors was defined in the following, whereby the Councillor must:
(a) act with integrity,
(b) impartially exercise his / her responsibilities in the interests of the local community; and
(c) not improperly seek to confer an advantage or disadvantage on any person.
However as Christians, we should follow what the Bible has to say in conducting ourselves. One clear command states how we ought to behave“… that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” Ephesians 4:22-24 (NKJV).
I have three thoughts about the correlation between my overseas experiences with conduct; and how the Scriptures relate to them:
1) 1 Peter 1:13-21 (NKJV) shows us how we ought to live right before God; it reads in verse 15 and 17 “but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, … And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear”. Also, Proverbs 21:8 (ESV) states, “The way of the guilty is crooked, but the conduct of the pure is upright.”
Even so, few would follow and adopt this teaching in their daily lives. The shop owners in City B had a reputation of selling imitation goods. With the advancement of technology, the imitation items were very well crafted as near replicas of the originals. Only a keen eye would be able to tell the difference between the real and the fake. Isn’t this similar to the spiritual sense where different religious groups out there offer to the public a form of peace upon meditating their mantras and the likes? The people who believe it may experience the “enlightenment” to a certain degree , but is it of God?
2) Having heard about the reputation of shop owners in City B before even setting foot in that city, I had mentally prepared myself for it as I already felt anxious about it. It was further cemented in my mind as a fact when I witnessed the imitation goods firsthand. From the book of Proverbs 20:11 (ESV), it reads, “Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright.”
The observation is that when a certain negative statement was confirmed, it further amplified the moment we witness personally that particular negative statement taking place. Similarly, for visitors who visit the church premises, they may appear nonchalant; yet at the back of their minds they already have preconceived ideas about us. Many people out there already have misconceptions about Christianity. They may have heard rumours from those who do not truly know. How then are we to change their mindset and mentality towards Christ? We have the choice to either imitate Christ just as Paul did (1 Corinthians 11:1) and be living examples to others, or we could affirm the misconceptions by behaving no different than the world.
3) Shop owners in City A wore smiley faces, and offered me an orderly, well-mannered, relaxing and enjoyable window shopping experience. In City B I experienced tense, stressful moments while window shopping. Relating my window shopping experience to the church – When visitors set foot into our premises, do we wear a smile and greet them warmly and kindly; or do we stare at them indifferently ?
I recall the Bible accurately depicts this scenario on how we ought to live before the world in 1 Peter 2:12 (NKJV), “having your conduct honourable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.”
As Christians, our lives are constantly being monitored by others. Let us be mindful of our actions. One way of safeguarding each other is to encourage each other to do the right things, as mentioned in the Scriptures. We need to be bold to speak up, yet gentle in our delivery (Proverbs 15:1).
We ought not fear in directing our fellow brethren towards the truth should they stray, just as Paul in Galatians 2:14 (ESV) did, “But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’ ”
In conclusion, let us be as Paul who encouraged brethren by their deeds as found in 1 Thessalonians 2:10 and 12 (ESV), “You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers … we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
Our reputation is at stake. How are we to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-14) to the lost if we are indifferent?
From the very words of Jesus, recorded for us in Matthew 5:16 (NKJV),“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Brethren, is our conduct in accordance to the teachings of Christ today?