Galatians 1:10: Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
John 15:18-19: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
We all like applause. Be honest, there’s few things more exhilarating than a room full of people enthusiastically applauding for something you have just done. The sound of applause brings affirmation that we have accomplished something pleasing, acceptable, commendable and enjoyable. It signals that we have been appreciated by our peers. This kind of commendation can come to us in many forms. Affirming e-mails from friends, a word of appreciation from a boss, a cheer from the crowd at a sporting event and so forth. Our spirits need affirmation. God created us that way. How then do we understand these two rather challenging texts?
Paul sets winning the approval of humans and being a servant of Christ at odds with each other. Jesus takes it further. He claims that if we truly desire to follow him the world, and the people that are in it, will hate us. So much for applause.
I think both Jesus and Paul were getting at this; the greater we love someone, the deeper the need for their love and affirmation in return. If we truly love God with all our heart, soul, strength in mind, will it not follow that his love and affirmation of us will be more important to us than all others? This may be the greatest test of where our love truly lies. If our love for God gets lost in our love for other things (acceptance, security, prosperity, happiness, etc.) then we will seek applause from other sources than God alone.
A few years ago I had a difficult conversation with a pastor regarding his leading of his congregation. In the midst of our discussion he admitted to me, “Scott, you have to understand that I am a people pleaser.” That comment continues to anger me what I think about how it is played out in compromised theology and lifeless leadership. Yet it is true for so many leaders today. When we seek the applause of the people around us more than the affirmation from God, we are through as effective Christian leaders.
We must not read these texts to say that we should go out of our way to upset people and inspire their hatred. The point is that if we focus our lives on serving God alone, and if our spirits are filled to overflowing with the affirmation that we are in his will and doing his work the way he leads us, then we will naturally be put at odds with the values of the world around us. The more we stay true to following Christ, the more likely we will upset and offend those who so eagerly thirst for a broader audience. The “hatred” we will experience will come even in the face of our passionate desire to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In fact, it just might be the nature of that love that incites the hatred from others.
I have a bookmark that always inspires me. It reads, “It doesn’t matter if the world knows or sees or understands, the only applause were meant to seek is that from nail-scarred hands.”
What kind of applause are you seeking today? Whose affirmation means the most to you? Where have you compromised following Christ in order to win the approval of people? And does your life so passionately align with the values of the kingdom of God, that you run the risk of having people hate you because you claim the name of Christ?
Whom are you seeking to please today?
Think back to the last time that living your faith cost you something. Perhaps it was a friendship, a job, an invitation, a grant? If you had to do it over again would you make a different decision? Likely not. When we are faithful in our walk with Jesus Christ, any related “cost” seems relatively insignificant. Now think back to a time when you felt you might have compromised your faith in order to either win applause, or avoid rejection. If you had to do it over again would you make a different decision? Likely so. Make a commitment today to seek only the applause of nail-scarred hands.
Loving and faithful God, I confess to you that there had been times when I chose not to speak your name, acknowledge my love for you or identify myself as one of your followers. I’ve compromised in the past in order to please people and gain their applause. Forgive me Lord for ever having denied you in even the smallest most subtle ways. Lord, I need you to strengthen me for living this life for you. I don’t like being hated, or receiving the disapproval of people. Yet I know that the time will come when following you will cost me in this way. Prepare me for it, Lord. Help me develop a heart that loves you so deeply that your affirmation alone will overflow my spirit to the point where nothing else is needed. Give me a passion for the applause of nail-scarred hands. In your precious name I pray, Amen.