The Enslavement of Seeking Man’s Approval
It is no mystery that many of us have suffered hurt or rejection in some way during our lives. For some, the hurt has come from those who should have loved us the most and best. Thus, their rejection cuts even deeper, leaving wounds that need to be healed by the unconditional acceptance and love of Christ. Until a person finds his identity and worth solely in who he is in Christ because of His love for him, he will continue to seek his worth elsewhere, typically chasing the approval of others.
It indeed is the natural way of man to constantly seek the approval of others. Teenagers, for example, look to their peers in particular as a means of gauging their own worth. The high school experience is notorious for ranking individuals based upon clique, dress, extracurricular involvement, and smarts. In fact, much of life is based upon performance and rank. Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, said, remarking on life in general, “I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:4). Like the futility of chasing the supposed pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, trying to find our worth based upon human rank, performance, or others’ acceptance is never going to satisfy or fulfill the void that rejection and hurt has left in our hearts. It is a striving after wind.
Every labor, activity, and work of man is, in his natural state, based upon competition with others. Women, for example, tend to compete based upon their looks, beauty, and figure. They compete based upon whom they have married and how well or poorly their spouse treats them. They compete based upon how successful their children are in school, sports, or other activities. More recently, they compete by trying to outperform men in what has traditionally been areas only open to men’s competition. There is nothing wrong with a woman playing sports or trying to make a career in business, for example, but it is a striving after the wind if she is trying to do so to make a statement or prove something to the world as a means of validating her own worth. Men, on the other hand, are prone to find their worth in who they are dating, in their status at work, in their bank account, in their athleticism, in their ability to fix things, and in their house, yard, and other possessions. A man is tempted to think that he has made it if he can just outdo some other man in terms of achievement, wealth, or any other kind of competition. Much of this is so ingrained in our ways as men and women that we don’t even have to consciously decide to compete and compare. We do it unceasingly and without even noticing it. We subconsciously chase after the wind, and we have become enslaved to a temptation of the devil. We are trying to find our worth and identity not based in how God values us but in what others think of us. This is why we glorify and even deify sports stars, Hollywood icons, pop artists, and media elites. We constantly live under the illusion of if only I did this, had this, made this, knew so-and-so, became like so-and-so, and got this, then I would get so-and-so’s approval and then I would be happy. Such is like the ridiculous notion of trying to catch the wind. It can never be done, for it is impossible. In fact, it was ordained and designed to fail. Such is supposed to draw us to the only true source of satisfaction, wholeness, healing, and fulfillment which is Jesus Christ. It is all by God’s design.
Hopefully, we have come to the point where we get sick and tired of trying to people-please, worrying about peer pressure, and trying to outdo our neighbor. Hopefully we can see that it is a treadmill that keeps us from ever gaining any ground no matter how hard we work and try. Yet the temptation remains. John 12:42-43 says, “Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.” The Pharisees held an elite position of power, authority, and respect. They could make the rules, carry out sentencing, and show everyone how spiritual they were based upon their outward apparel and rituals. To be a Pharisee among the Jews was to be at the top of the pecking order. Yet Jesus constantly rebuked the Pharisees for being hypocrites and missing the essence of the call of a follower of God- love for God and love for their neighbor. Some of them did see their error and come to faith in Christ, yet because of appearances and the love of man’s approval, they did not give up their positions. They knew that if they confessed their belief in Jesus publicly that they would be relieved of their positions in a public display of shame and ridicule. They would lose everything, be oppressed, struggle to find work, bring shame to the family name, and potentially endanger their own well-being as well as that of their own families. Some were not willing to give up all of the comfort, show, and “security” of the things of the world for the sake of Christ. They loved the approval of man rather than the approval of God. In other words, it is either one or the other. If we follow God and love Him with all of our hearts, then we must recant our allegiances and compromises with trying to impress others, trying to boost our own self-esteem through making earthly comparisons, and trying to achieve what only God can give. It might be as simple as not wanting to be seen praying because of the ridicule other students or co-workers would bring. Loving man’s approval might also lead us to never avoid risking rejection that might accompany sharing the gospel with a stranger or a loved one. But if we love God we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him, even if it means that we are rejected by family and friends. Paul lost all and counted it joy for the sake of knowing Christ. He would rather enjoy the fellowship of Christ, even if it was fellowship through suffering, than continue to live as an elitist Pharisee of the Pharisees. Paul had it all, being trained by the best of the best when it came to the teachers of the Law, Gamaliel. Paul, in terms of the rivalry of human nature, had won. He had arrived. Yet upon encountering Christ, he left all the rank, status, and competition behind and became one of the least. Identifying with Christ was not an impressive societal mark; being a Pharisee was. Yet Paul chose Christ even though it meant certain persecution, ridicule, and likely death. Paul valued the eternal over the temporal, understanding that in the life to come the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Thus, he rightly understood that seeking God’s approval is always worth it in the long run.
Sometimes following Christ won’t require that we “lose out” on things of this world. Sometimes we can stand for truth and even be rewarded for it. Many times, however, it will cost us something. Regardless of the outcome, the issue is the attitude and posture of our hearts. Is the kingdom first in our hearts, or is something else in first place? Do we want to please God more or man? Such is the question that we must answer.
The bottom line is this. What is more important, the pleasures of sin in this life, or the riches of eternal life in Christ forever? If we live for Christ in this life, ignoring what man might think, say, or do to us, we will be well-off in heaven. But if we choose to compromise and compete with man here on worldly terms for worldly things, we will lose out in eternal rewards. Weighing these two options side by side should come out to be a no-brainer. The eternal is quite a bit longer than life on earth, and God’s rewards are quite a bit nicer than a pay raise, being accepted by the “in” crowd, and chasing fame in this life. Clearly, from a purely rational standpoint, the eternal weight of glory is far greater than anything this world has to offer. The perspective that we need to have is found in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 which says, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Suffering is one of the best things to remind us that we don’t want to put all of our investments into the here and now. Death is the great equalizer, bringing even those who lived the “happiest” of lives to their ultimate destination. We need to fix our eyes on the eternal, viewing this life as a journey into the eternal. If we want to have a great heavenly “retirement,” we should work hard for our seventy or eighty years, if we are so blessed. This life is temporary, a mere vapor that is here and then gone. Oh, that we would see the weight of the glory of the eternal and the transience of the temporary.
Why chase the approval of man? Why look to earthly things to fill a void that only Jesus can fill? Why constantly compete to look better than someone else? Someone will always be better at something, more beautiful, or more successful than we are. Rather, we ought to enjoy what God has given us to do and do it to the best of our ability and to God’s glory. Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” When we come to the point where we view everything as an act of worship to God, we will finally ignore the approval of man. When what God says is the only verdict that matters, man’s opinions won’t matter any longer. May God bring us each to the place where we are cognizant of doing all things for Him no matter what it may cost us. May He enable us to stop worrying about what others might think if we do what is right.
Besides the fact that man’s approval doesn’t satisfy, why else should we live for God’s glory rather than for our own glory by chasing after the approval of man? Colossians 3:24 continues, “Knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” The great equalizer is the justice of God in that all men will have to stand before His throne. Our neighbor with the bigger house, yard, and boat is not going to judge us. Our supervisor who has the authority to promote, demote, or fire us is not going to judge us. Our spouse or family member who we want so dearly to approve of us is not going to judge us. Yet the temptation to seek their approval over God’s is great. Yet only God will be the judge, and only He has the power and authority to give out rewards. It is He alone Whom we are to serve. We can’t serve both God and man or money or anything else that this world seeks. At the end of the day and the end of life, it makes no sense to live in enslavement to people-pleasing. Since God is the only One Whose opinion ultimately matters and Who has the power to give out rewards that last forever, we ought only to concern ourselves with pleasing Him. We can handle some rejections by men for the sake of God if we know that God will honor us for doing so in eternity. We must appreciate the glory of eternal honor over temporary earthly honor.
May God work in our hearts to give us hearts wholly devoted to Him, hearts that find their worth and identity in Christ, and hearts that are filled to the max with His joy and satisfaction. Why chase after something that we can never get enough of and that will never satisfy? Let us passionately pursue God Who is eager to let us embrace and enjoy Him. With Him is full satisfaction and rest rather than a constant striving after vanity.
Wrestling with insecurity? Harboring rejection? Choose by faith to break the chains of seeking man’s approval. Anchor your faith today in the unconditional love and acceptance of Christ Who adores all of His children equally and perfectly. Find your worth today in the only One Who is worthy. Don’t wait for somebody to come and boost your self-esteem. Let Christ be your esteem.