This is an area most of us struggle with. We want to be liked. We want to be accepted. And we want what we’re doing to meet the approval of those around us. Those are desires just about every human being seems to have. I say just about because I’ve met a few who simply didn’t care what anyone else thought. They were always doing their own thing. And it didn’t matter what anyone else thought. My youngest son is like this sometimes. He gets locked into something and though others around him may say he’s being “strange” or “weird” or “crazy,” he simply doesn’t listen to them. I say sometimes because there are other times when the opinions of others matter, and matter a lot. The way he responds has a lot to do with how deeply immersed he is in to something. For instance, if it involves turtles, he really doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. Turtles are his domain. If you think he’s crazy to be so fascinated with turtles, well, in his opinion it just shows you don’t know how wonderful turtles are. I know where he’s coming from. When I was his age, I was the same way. While I’m not as fascinated by turtles as I once was, they are still special creatures.
But if we take another area, such as boardgame skills, he can get sensitive in a hurry. This is especially true if he believes in what he’s doing and someone says something negatively about his plan of action. For instance, he and his brother will get in squabbles over tactics in one of our favorite WWII boardgames. My younger son can get pretty hurt and defensive if his older brother doesn’t agree with his plan. What makes things worse is that often when the younger boy has come upon a certain plan, it’s a great one. I hate playing him when he has tanks. He really knows how to use them. He sees attack patterns and ideas that his older brother doesn’t. I will admit to having been caught by surprise by some of his maneuvers and I’ve dropped a couple of games to them because of it. While his older brother is overall the best tactician, probably due to a more lengthy practice of playing chess, when it comes to the use of armor, the younger one wins, hands down. And when his opinion is discounted, he can be very easily hurt by it.
When it comes to the world around us, we tend to react more like in the second case than in the first. If the world around us, or specifically the people we know around us, aren’t favorable to what we’re doing, we tend to shrink back from doing it. Unfortunately, their opinion matters, even if it is an area involving God. But God expects us to be like the first case, where it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. We’re talking about God here. And when it comes to God, no one else’s opinion is supposed to matter.
“I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? – John 5:41-44, NIV
This is Jesus’ response to some religious folks who were opposed to Him healing someone on the Sabbath and for equating Himself with God the Father. He knew their religiosity was a front. It wasn’t from an authentic love of God. Rather, it was what made them favorable in the eyes of the people around them. So Jesus did what He did a lot; He called them out on it. He pointed out that the opinions of other people don’t matter when it comes to God. So while they were feeling warm and fuzzy because they were getting the back slaps and atta-boys from the folks around them, they weren’t pleasing God. As a matter of fact, they weren’t even looking for God’s praise. And from these facts Jesus points out that there was no belief in them. That’s why He asks them, “How can you believe?”
As believers, we must not be guilty of the same mistake. We must seek to obtain the praise that comes from our God. If it happens to garner us praise from the folks around us, that’s great, but that shouldn’t be why we do it. Ultimately, the only “opinion” that matters is God’s. And it’s His praise we should be looking for. Which reminds me, I would be neglectful if I didn’t speak about the underlying warning Jesus’ words give us here. We must be careful of when we accept the praise of others, too. Part of that is who is giving the praise. Praise from the wrong people may show us to be aligned with them or their agendas in some way. The other part of it is we may get used to that praise. And thus we’ll start looking to garner it, putting us in the situation Jesus is speaking against. God’s opinion is the only one matters. That should be what drives us, not the opinion of others.