Democratic Presidents achieve their office and power by acquiring the most votes. Movie stars, musicians, and artists of all flavors bet their futures on notoriety. Business tycoons and navigators of the corporate ladders depend upon the favors of those above them as well as the marshaled support of those below them.
As social creatures, we all need the approval of others. However, as reviewed in Claiming Christ, when Christian leaders do what they do to please others, they no longer remain servants of Christ!
The very social dependency upon which most of this world revolves is the very same prostitution that can disqualify Christians. There is a whole history as to why the Apostle Paul felt it necessary to contrast his ministry against that of others within the church who apparently conducted themselves with an eye towards gaining the approval of fellow believers. Without detailing the whole context, here is his view of ministry-for-approval:
“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10).
The simple fact is that the genuine gospel of Christ contains inflammatory and difficult truths—so much so, that Paul questions the Galatian believers about him having become an “enemy for having told the truth”.
Throughout Scripture, the most common dichotomy between true and false prophets involves this approval factor. Faithful teachers preach the truth, no matter the consequence or reception by others. False preachers are more concerned about keeping their job and often mask their pursuit of success and power by claiming a heightened degree of gentleness and sensitivity to the plight of others—as if that excuses scriptural obedience.
It is true that we are also called to seek the good of others, and in that sense to please others. The problem, is a matter of motivation. Christians are called to love others, but to seek to please God. Whenever we confuse our ministry with needing the acceptance and approval of fellow Christians, we adulterate our pure devotion to Christ.
The first century Pharisee’s were renowned for their prowess at garnering attention to their ministries and claims of righteousness. In more recent times, an elder defended his church’s reasons for not using the scriptural guidelines for ordination, because if they did, then they would have no elders to run the church.
Many pastors struggle with the tension between teaching what the Bible says verses the reality in many churches that if they lose the majority support of their congregation, they will get dismissed. Sadly, I have seen many examples where truth becomes the Cinderella of step-ministers.
One husband retorted, “that is a serious matter and it is true, but I could never say that to my wife.” A top televangelist responded to a question regarding why he avoids talking about sin to his audience with the motive: “people just want to be encouraged”.
In another case, I read the account of one of the most influential theologians alive today who defended his early portrayal of Jesus from the synoptic gospels while avoiding the inclusion of John’s gospel. His stated reason was that in Christian academia, few scholars respect the historical reliability of John’s gospel, and so if he had used that book, no one would have read his work. Now that he is popular, he was asked if he would redo his portrait of the historical Jesus, and he said no. His popularity has come at a price, and he cannot go back.
Youth director, Pastor, Sunday school teacher, parent, student, paid and unpaid Christians…Why do you do what you do?
When facing conflict between truth and desire, are your decisions influenced by what others think? None of us are immune to such longings for acceptance, but do you realize that mixing Christian service with the desire to win even partial favor of your audience will void your usefulness to the Lord?
Of course, speaking truth can cost you your job. It can leave you feeling very alone. It can even get you killed by those who think they are serving God (according to Jesus own warning).
It is time to count the cost. Remember, in spite of what it may look like around you, there are seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal. You too can place your ministry, destiny, and needs in the hands of God rather than the voting committee.
From whom do you desire to hear the approving words, “Well done my good and faithful servant”?