The World Is Watching
People are watching folks who follow Jesus. They see what we are doing. They’re watching how we live. They notice us.
Why does this simple fact — that the world is watching — matter?
Well, it matters because our words communicate some but our lives speak much more. Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, has studied this matter a lot and has determined that 93% of communication is nonverbal (body language, nonverbal vocal cues, etc.). That’s crazy!
Think about that for a minute. What we do and how we do it communicates a ton, way more than our actual words do!
So what does this mean? Well, this is not a call to legalism. You may be thinking, “But if what we do matters to people, then shouldn’t we always behave uber-properly, so that they get a good view of Jesus?”
Here’s my short answer: “No” and “Yes.”
Here’s the longer answer: “No” because if we get focused on the details of doing what we think is right (or what we’re told is right) people see that too. They’ll pick up really quickly that we care more about doing what’s proper than we do about people. And “Yes” because behaving ethically and in ways that promote justice are centrally important. Ethics and the pursuit of justice are different than following rules out of obligation. Why? Because ethics and seeking justice have to do with making sure that other people in the world are taken care of (Phil 2.3-4), whereas legalistic behavior is inherently self-centered.
People will see the difference. They’ll notice if we’re following rules because doing so is right or if we’re seeking the best for others despite whatever personal cost there may be.
An Example of Living While the World Is Watching
Who can serve as a good example of living an others-centered life well while the world is watching? None other than Jesus!
Check this out: “During the Passover feast in Jerusalem, the crowds were watching Jesus closely; and many began to believe in Him because of the signs He was doing” (John 2.23 in The Voice**).
Did you see that? People were watching Jesus too. They saw his life. They observed the signs he performed. They saw his love for his close friends. They witnessed his miracles and concern for the marginalized. And, of course, they heard his teaching.
And what did people see Jesus do in John 2? They saw him turn water into wine, thus preventing a wedding party from being lame and bringing shame on the groom and his family, and they saw him exercise his passion for proper worship and justice when he cleared out the temple.
They saw Jesus’ actions, actions which were for the benefit of others. John also says that people saw other signs he was doing, and if these unspecified signs were anything like all of Jesus’ other signs, then they too were done for the benefit of others.
Here’s the crux: People saw what Jesus was doing, and when the watching world looked at him they saw him living for the benefit of others.
What Does the Watching World See in Us?
The answer to this question has been studied quite a bit. Here’s what researchers have found: When people are asked to describe Christians they saw we are judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%).
The fairness of the criticisms may be unfair. But what is not up for debate is that these descriptors are what people see in us. This is how the watching world describes us.
This situation is sad, of course. But all hope is not lost.
One relationship at a time with people who are watching us, we can change people’s opinions. We can be accepting the way that Jesus was. We can be less judgmental and more loving. We can learn to be shockproof when we encounter messed up stuff in the world. We can be more open and honest about our own sinfulness. We can stop pretending we have it all together and that we have all the answers.
In short, we can live others-focused lives the way Jesus did. To paraphrase a theme from one of my favorite books, Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth, by one of my favorite authors, Hugh Halter: A follower of Jesus is a person who lives Jesus’ human life in his or her human life.
How do we live Jesus’ human life? Well, we need to find out how Jesus lived by reading about his life in the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Then we need to gather some friends around us who also want to live Jesus’ life in their lives and start doing the things we see Jesus doing. We need to pray for each other, celebrate together, hold each other accountable, and encourage one another.
I can’t emphasize this enough: DON’T TRY THIS ALONE. Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, didn’t even try this alone! What makes you or me think that we can do it? Here’s a good place for you and your friends to start together: The Tangible Kingdom Primer, by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.
So, the watching world is watching us closely. What are they seeing? And what can we do about it?
** The Voice is a newer translation of the Bible that I highly recommend. It was put together by a team of biblical scholars and artists, so it is faithful to the original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) but it is written in very easy-to-read English. This is a perfect Bible to give as a gift to someone who is part of the watching world who gets interested in Jesus!
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