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That quote comes from the second episode in the second series of Downton Abbey, now on ITV1 on Sunday evenings.

Julian Fellowes has written a number of memorable bon mots for Maggie Smith, who plays Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham. This is one of them — and one for Christians, in particular, to take seriously, given man’s proclivity towards excess and impulse.

About a decade ago, I worked with a French business associate employed by an American multinational.  As a manager, he dutifully parrotted what his American bosses said: ‘Perception is 9/10ths of reality’, or something similar.  It sounded quite postmodern to me. As such, and seeing that he was not someone whom one could particularly use as a role model, I ignored it, despite his uttering it with nauseating regularity.

Lady Violet puts it so much better and with more gravitas. Immediately upon hearing her, I began thinking of all the practical applications and a dozen ways in which it convicted me personally.  She wasn’t speaking in a Christian vein but of a situation in the Grantham household which did not project the family at their best to the outside world.

There is always room for the Christian to improve — outside of legalism!  How does the fruit of one’s faith grow — beautiful and inviting or a bit nubbly and undeveloped?

Our appearance, our speech, our reactions, our family life, the state of our homes all bear testament to our growth in Christ and God’s grace.  Yes, there may be many faithful Christians whose outward manifestations do not quite square up with what they feel in their hearts.

As Lady Violet says:

It’s not the truth that matters, it’s the look of the thing.

Yes, certainly, our faith is a private relationship between us and Christ.  However, the other half of the equation is that when we confess Him as Lord, we are representing Him to the wider world.  Christ instructed us to make disciples of all men.  Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to pray for God’s grace in order to smooth our edges, roughened by sin.

To take a practical example, let’s look at what we do in our free time.  The Revd Gil Burgos is the Pastor of New Covenant in Christ Church and Director of Education at NYC Full Gospel Theological Seminary.  He recently wrote about Christians and alcohol on his blog, Under the Broom Tree.  In ‘Sipping Saints’, he clearly and intelligently unpacks this relationship.  Emphases mine in the excerpts below:

Below are a few verses that I found, along with my own comments: Now, drinking wine (within itself) is not stated as being sinful in the Bible – especially when it comes to medical reasons: “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities” (I Timothy 5:23, KJV). Yet, drunkenness is…“Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18, NLT).

I personally, don’t drink…yet, I cannot say that I have not. Still, here is some ample advice: Christian, keep your personal life private – as you have to answer to God anyway. Yet, don’t do anything that you wouldn’t do in front of your pastor or church. Also remember, Christ is in you (Colossians 1:27). So, where you go…He goes. Moreover, people can be judgmental. When you post pics of yourself on Facebook or Tweet, “Look where I’m at (Sitting at a Bar),” it doesn’t bring glory to God – for this ungodly world thinks you’re just like them – and you’re not! (I Peter 2:10) …

Again, the world would agree with Lady Violet:

It’s not the truth that matters, it’s the look of the thing.

So, what should the proper Christian response be in this situation?

What God commands Christians regarding alcohol is to avoid drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18). The Bible condemns drunkenness and its effects (Proverbs 23:29-35). Christians are also commanded to not allow their bodies to be “mastered” by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12; 2 Peter 2:19). Drinking alcohol in excess is undeniably addictive. Scripture also forbids a Christian from doing anything that might offend other Christians or encourage them to sin against their conscience (1 Corinthians 8:9-13). In light of these principles, it would be extremely difficult for any Christian to say he is drinking alcohol in excess to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Alcohol, consumed in small quantities, is neither harmful nor addictive. In fact, some doctors advocate drinking small amounts of red wine for its health benefits, especially for the heart. Consumption of small quantities of alcohol is a matter of Christian freedom. Drunkenness and addiction are sin

So, how we present ourselves as ambassadors of Christ is paramount.  When we interact with others, be it friends and family or strangers in the outside world, we are supposed to be representing Christ — not our sinful depravity (e.g. slovenliness, lack of control).

Unfortunately, the human impulse is to judge on appearances.  Fellow Christians can also be judgmental, as a drive-by let me know last year in my lack of condemnation of another pastor — of a discernment ministry — who is undergoing physical and spiritual rehabilitation.  An act of mercy would be to pray for his recovery, not denounce him in a proud, holier-than-thou manner.  There but for the grace of God go we …

On a lighter note, Downton Abbey fans might wish to recall some of Lady Violet’s best lines from the first series, courtesy of New York Magazine.

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