Have you ever noticed how when the moon is rising on the horizon it looks huge? Then, as it ascends into the sky it seems to diminish in size? This is a natural phenomenon known as the “Moon Illusion.” It has been documented as early as the fourth century BC, proving that people have been perplexed by the seeming disparity for centuries. Many theories have been postulated, but in the end it all boils down to . . . perception. The moon simply looks larger when contrasted with the horizon than it does in the sky against a backdrop of stars millions of miles away.
Perception is more than just observation, it is the interpretation of what we see and experience. For example, someone might hear the words, “You look great!” If the person saying the words has an enthusiastic tone of voice and a happy facial expression your perception might be that they think you look attractive. On the other hand if they’re rolling their eyes and speaking in a sarcastic tone of voice you realize that they’re making fun of you. Which is fine if you were trying for the silly look.
But perception can cause a lot of problems when the perception is incorrect. For example, if the person saying, “You look great!” is someone you have had an unfriendly relationship with, you might be inclined to think they’re mocking you rather than genuinely complimenting you. But what if they were really trying to mend fences and praise you to try to heal the breach in your relationship? Your perception might cause you to react in a manner that derails that attempt. What people perceive is what they believe, and it will influence their behavior.
Sisters, we need to be very careful about how we conduct ourselves to avoid misperceptions. When we act, dress, speak or live in a way that doesn’t appear to reflect our faith, we give a misperception about Christianity. If we give the impression that Christians are hateful and intolerant, we will discourage those who have made poor choices and are living the consequences. On the other hand, if our lives look just like everyone else in the world around us, we give others the impression that Christians are no different. Why should they be interested?
In 2 Corinthians 5:20-21 the apostle Paul says, “20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” We are ambassadors to the world for Christ, and it is up to us to live in a manner that brings glory to Him. An ambassador must be very careful to live his life wisely, so that he represents his sponsor favorably – and accurately.
Of course we cannot control what everyone thinks, but we can be very careful to prayerfully consider our conduct and how it will reflect on the title we wear. We need to do everything in our power to live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18) and avoid negative perceptions. Then, if we discover that our motives have been misunderstood, we need to humbly attempt to repair the damage done and correct our behavior so that others perceive Christ living in us.
How do we try to avoid negative perceptions? First, establish a pattern of righteous behavior. It takes time to restore a reputation; prepare for people to judge you according to your previous behavior. Ephesians chapter 4 gives us some good guidelines on how to change our conduct to reflect our Christian calling. Verse 20 tells us to put off the “old man which grows corrupt according to deceitful lusts,” and verse 24 tells us to put on the “new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”
In verses 25-32, we read that we are to put away lying and corrupt language, rather speaking words that are uplifting and edifying. We are to give up bitterness, wrath and anger, and instead be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving. We are not to steal, but to work and share what we earn with those in need.
Adjusting our language is clearly very important in this passage. But there are other areas of our lives that can use some prayerful consideration. Does what we wear reflect our Christianity? 2 Timothy 2:9-10 tells us to dress modestly, “with propriety and moderation.” If our clothing choices cause people to think wrong things about the church, then it is up to us to make some changes. Does our behavior bring glory to God? Do we behave in a manner that, “is proper for women professing godliness, with good works,” Ephesians 4:10? If our behavior doesn’t consist of the actions we see in the aforementioned verses, then we need to make some changes.
Sometimes we resent having to adjust our lifestyle simply because someone might get the wrong idea, but this is part of the Christian calling. Our lives are a testimony of the amazing power of God’s saving grace. We are living for eternity, not the present. Keeping this perspective might help when we are feeling surly about sacrifices we might have to make to be a living example to the people around us. Paul tells us in Romans 12:1 that we are to present our bodies as a “living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” James tells us to submit ourselves to God, knowing that if we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord He will lift us up (James 4:7-10). Paul tells us in Philippians 1:27, “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel,” And if changes we make in our conduct cause someone to turn their heart to the Lord and be saved, isn’t it worth it?
Finally, remember sisters, it is not what you intend, but what people perceive that matters. Good intentions mean nothing when what people see is contradictory. If we humble ourselves and allow God to shine in our lives, people will see the truth of His love for them, and He will bless us for keeping the law of God: “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” Galatians 5:13-14.
May God bless you as you serve Him!
By Fern Boyle