Numerous texts identify a visible Christian lifestyle as a powerful evangelism tool. It is through what people see that they will take notice of who and Whose we are. It is by seeing our good works that people’s slander will be contradicted and their praise of God will be motivated (1 Pet. 2:11, 12; 3:16; Matt. 5:16). It is by observing our mutual Christian love that they will know we belong to Christ (John 13:34, 35).
Likewise, as they notice our surprisingly resilient hope, they will ask us why we have it (1 Pet. 3:15). Similarly, Christians who refuse to whine and pine will shine as lights in our crooked and twisted world (Phil. 2:14, 15). In addition, we can astonish unbelievers when they see our boldness of faith (Acts 4:13). Even further, the Church is a Light and City that is meant to be on open display—unhidden on a hill for all to see (Matt. 5:14, 15). And finally, we are to show ourselves to be models of good works, integrity, and dignity so opponents can have nothing bad to say about us (Tit. 2:7, 8).
Christian withdrawal is counter-productive to Christian witness (1 Cor. 5:10). We are called to be in the world, though not of course, of it (John 17:11-18). Jesus himself modeled a witnessing style that drew near to sinners, and ate and drank with the worst of them (Luke 5:29-31; 7:34; 15:1, 2). When the demoniac was delivered from oppression he was not called to isolation from the world, but to return to his world—his home and family—to tell them all that Jesus had done for him (Luke 8:38, 39). And if believers are invited to dinner with unbelievers they are to feel free to go and enjoy whatever they are served, being all things to all men—for the sake of the gospel; eating and drinking to the glory of God, in order that sinners like us may be saved (1 Cor. 9:19-23; 10:24-33).
None of this Christian witness can happen unless we are seen by the world up close and over the long haul. As much as there is a need for bold street-level verbal witness for Christ (for example, see Acts 17:16, 17), there is at least as great a need for consistent, quiet, neighborhood-level visible witness for Christ—testimony of Christ’s transforming power, offered simply in the way we live. I am not advocating the error that there can be evangelism without words. Words about God Triune, and the Person and Work of Christ, in his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and coronation as Lord must be proclaimed, or we have failed in our mission.
But we need to realize that people will pay little attention to our words until they have seen the proven integrity of our works. For this reason, we need most Christians to become really good long-term neighbors; good as in kind and pleasant and helpful (the type of neighbors you and I would like to have next door). And good as in morally virtuous: dependable, non-gossiping, upright, generous, reverent, holy, faithful in their marriages, committed to their churches, and holy like Christ.
God Plants Us Where He Wants Us
This calls to mind God’s words to his ancient people Israel as they were exiled into Babylon: “Thus says the Lord of hosts…to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile…[in]to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce….have sons and daughters…that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there and do not decrease…[S]eek the welfare of the city where I have sent you…and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:4, 5, 7). Daniel is one example of a Hebrew believer who lived this kind of life in that Babylonian neighborhood, and had a powerful witness in high places as a result (see Dan. 1-6).
In this text, we see that God calls us to love our neighbors and neighborhoods by being:
- A stable presence (“build houses and live in them”). This has a New Testament parallel in 1 Thess. 4:11, 12 where Paul tells us to live quiet lives while minding our own affairs, because it matters for our witness to outsiders.
- A hard-working, productive presence (“plant gardens and eat of them”). A New Testament parallel to this can be found again 1 Thess. 4:11-12 where Paul adds that we should “work with our hands…so that [we] may walk properly with outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
- A reproducing presence (“have sons and daughters that they may bear sons and daughters). We should continue the calling to populate the earth with godly offspring to impact our world (Gen. 1:28; Ps. 127:3-5; Mal. 2:15; Eph. 6:4), while also seeking spiritual offspring by answering our neighbors’ questions about our faith through grace-filled words (Col. 4:5, 6).
- A helpful and improving presence (“seek the welfare of the city”). We find a similar New Testament calling in Gal. 6:10 and Luke 10:29-37 where we are told to go and seek the good of others, doing good to all people.
- A praying presence (“pray to the LORD on its behalf”). 1Tim 2:1-6 commands us to practice this very same intercessory life for our unbelieving world.
All this is the work of faithful believing people, who are more outwardly mobile than upwardly. It is the calling of those who are more concerned for those who live around them than they are about where they live. If it is true that God has “determined allotted periods and the boundaries of [our] dwelling places” (Acts 17:26), then we should assume that there is a mission reason for our being where we are.
I don’t mean to say that Christians should never move. Of course they may—when solid and compelling reasons exist. But I would suggest that Christians are usually not called to flee, but to be; not called away, but called to stay. God plants us where he wants us. Most likely he’s given you your current address because he has a redemptive purpose for the abiding presence of your humble, holy, happy, and hopeful life right there.