We are prone, as people, to be consumed with other’s opinion of us. What does the congregation think about me? Do they like the songs we are singing? Do they not like the volume of music on Sundays? Is my pastor happy with how I’m doing? What does my band think about me? Did I say the right thing between songs this week? Was that prayer good? Did I play the part right? Why didn’t my friends invite me to that? Why do I always get so nervous when I’m around new people? Why did my boss schedule this meeting? Am I in trouble?
Whatever it may be, the emotions we have and the decisions we make are often significantly shaped by our attempts to gain the approval of others, revealing what we truly love and hope for most.
The Bible has another name for people pleasing that identifies what is truly happening in our hearts, the fear of man. Solomon calls it a snare, something that can trap and entangle us(Prov. 29:25).
The problem, however, is not that we care what people think. In fact, it is a good and right thing to be well thought of and have a good reputation (Prov. 22:1, 4, 11, 29). The problem arises when we care too much of what others think and the opinions of others dethrone God’s opinion of us in our hearts. We crave the approval of others and have become professionals at covertly figuring out ways for this pursuit to look totally appropriate on the outside. This is the deceitfulness of sin. We are caught, and don’t even know it anymore.
What are we to do then? Do we simply dismiss the opinions of others? How do we find freedom from such a subtle, likely long standing struggle? What help does God offer us in His word to enable us to be concerned with giving blessing to people rather than trying to get something from them?
Looking Under The Hood
In 1st Corinthians 4, God gives helpful insight that bring clarity to what is going on in our hearts when we are walking in the fear of man, and gives a new perspective and pursuit as we engage the world around us.
“…everything is yours, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. A person should think of us in this way; as servants of Christ and managers of the mysteries of God. In this regard, it is required that managers be found faithful. It is of little importance to me that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I don’t even judge myself. For I am not conscious of anything against myself, but I am not justified by this. It is the Lord who judges me. So, don’t judge anything prematurely, before the Lord comes, who will both bring to light what is hidden in darkness and reveal the intentions of the hearts. And then praise will come to each one from God… The purpose is that none of you will be arrogant, favoring one person over another…” – 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, 6b-7.
Paul’s line of argument goes something like this, “If someone is going to think about me, I want them to think of me as someone who is a faithful steward of the Gospel. But I don’t ultimately care what they think about me. I don’t even care what I think about me (a whole other blog is required for that one sentence). Why? Because God is the only one who can really judge me. He is the only One who sees accurately. To allow others or myself to operate as the one who ultimately defines me is an act of pride and opposition to God who alone possesses the authority and right to define me.
Furthermore, the fear of man reveals one’s attempt to gain praise from others now, instead of waiting for commendation that will come from God later. Beyond that, our fear of only certain people’s opinions about us, whether our boss, generous financial givers, or other ministry leaders, shows that we also commit the sin of partiality. When we are worried about what only certain people think and dismiss the thoughts of others, our emotions show that we think one person matters more than another. This is arrogance, and God wants to help us be humble.
Paul’s remedy for people pleasing is not “don’t worry about being judged.” Instead it is, “who are you concerned about being judged by?” In the cross of Jesus, we have been judged already. God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that in Jesus we might become the righteousness of God. God has judged us as righteous by nature of our being united to Jesus by faith.
This is good news because we will still give an account before God for the works that we did while in our bodies (2 Cor. 5:10). If left to our own merits before God, damnation and condemnation would be the only fair payment.
Knowing that we have been judged already as righteous and perfect and pure in Jesus and finding our worth, value, and hope in Him frees us from being ruled by the opinions of others.
What does it mean to put your identity in Jesus? It means letting what God says about you be the most important thing to you. Not the opinions of your congregation or your boss. Not even your own opinions of you. It is when we forget the magnitude of the Gospel and God’s love for us in Jesus that the opinions of others rule our hearts.
You are free to love, lead, and serve people because everything is already yours. Why? Because you have Jesus. You have every spiritual blessing in Him. He is your shepherd and you lack nothing. Instead of positioning your life in a way to gain things from other people, you are free to love and serve and give with no expectation of return. You love others out of the overflow of a heart deeply content in God’s love for you in Christ.
So, the next time the fear of man rears its head in your life, stop. Ask yourself the question, whose opinion of me really matters? Confess your temptation to value the opinions of others over God’s, and remember Jesus, the One who has given you more than you could ever hope to gain on your own, and who has given His perfect righteousness before the Father to you.
Questions For Reflection
- Whose opinions do you find your emotions rising and falling on? Whose critiques ruin or make your day? Write these down and pray for God’s help to walk in repentance over walking in the fear of man.
- Who do you dismiss? Who do you avoid? Write these names down and why you avoid them? Come up with 3 ways that you could go out of your way to bless these people.
- Confess this temptation to your spouse, roommates, community. Ask for their help in keeping you accountable, encouraging you to seek to grow in loving others instead of trying to get things from them.