I was asked not long ago about the example of a Christian, the fine line between people not judging based on appearances and Christians who have led people to believe in a false idea through their examples. It was asked, “I know gambling is wrong, but is it also wrong if I work for the gambling hall and not participate in the gambling?” The Christian who worked in the gambling hall may not believe in gambling, nor does he gamble, but he can make good money working at the gambling hall. Do other Christians not have the right to judge or to assume this man advocates for gambling because he worked at this place, or do other Christians go too far in their assumptions? What could this work place do to the Christian and his reputation?
To examine this question in the general idea; is it wrong to associate and work with sinful organizations as long as I don’t sin while with them? Teenagers employ the same concept when they claim they just went to the drinking party, but they did not drink. Can Christians sit in the seat of the scornful without being scorned? As much as the saved may not like to admit the reality, living with sin and wickedness will have a negative effect on their spiritual lives and connection to God. Paul warns, “Be not deceived: Evil companionships corrupt good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33). Believers lie to themselves and deceive themselves if they think that they can bind themselves into a world of sin and evil influences, and never be corrupted. God does not say that Christians might be corrupted; God assures His children that wicked camaraderie WILL corrupt good morals.
Paul writes to the church at Corinth to warn of the same danger of worldly influences. The inspired apostle explains, “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened…” (1 Cor. 5:6-7a). How can Christians purge themselves of the old sins and corruption while still living in the middle of it? Let no one be so arrogant to think that the association and constant presence with sin will leave the sanctified untouched and unspotted by the world (James 1:27: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”). Christians cannot avoid wicked influences completely, but when Christians run headfirst into the fire of wickedness without preparing their minds and defenses in the faith, they WILL fall, and they may not even know it (Ps. 1:1, 4-6; John 17:15-17)! Most people, if they are being honest with themselves, know the difference between unavoidable correspondence with the worldliness and purposefully association with worldliness that is not necessary.
Let us consider a second aspect, being a stumbling block to other brethren (Rom. 14:21: “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.”). If Christians work in a place of sin and a new, impressionable, babe in Christ witnesses or hears their brethren’s work and association with a sinful organization, the young Christian could easily mistake their brother’s presence and work with the organization as advocating and supporting the sinful work.
Take the biblical example of meats offered to idols in Corinth (1 Cor. 8; Rom. 14). It was a common practice for idolaters to feast and eat of the meats offered to their idols as a way to honor and praise their false deities in Corinth. New Christians who converted from paganism seeking to separate themselves from idolatry were confused and were offended when mature Christians ate of the meats offered to idols because the new Christians believed that their brethren indorsed the praise and worship of the idol gods.
As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.1 Corinthians 8:4-9
The brethren at Corinth needed to take a hands-off approach to the idolatry association for the sake of the new Christian’s growth in righteousness.
Christians should never offend the weak conscious of their brethren in Christ through their liberties. What is Paul’s conclusion? “But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Cor. 8:12-13). Christians should seek to separate themselves from the sinful world, not stand as associates. Christians are responsible for sitting a good example in the world, they should never misrepresent or cause confusion as to what is right and what is wrong (1 Cor. 11:1; Rom. 14:12-13: “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.”).
Ultimately, people, and especially Christians, should not judge based solely on appearance, but likewise, Christians must understand that certain actions will hurt their reputation in the community or in the church. A good reputation is a precious commodity (Prov. 22:1: “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.”). God wants His children to consider how their actions will be perceived by the outside world (1 Peter 2:12: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” [ESV]). If Christians know that their actions will hurt their influence and good name, and may possibly scar the reputation of the church, then the Christian should not do it!