Galatians 1:10 (NIV) 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.
My dear friends in Christ,
A few weeks ago we began our series on the lies we believe. Last week we talked about this lie: “I have to be perfect.” When we went back to God’s Word and meditated on it, we realized we can’t be perfect. We’ll never live up to that lie. We also meditated on the truth from God’s Word that through faith in Jesus we are perfect. Our sins are forgiven. That’s the truth that will combat the lie.
This week’s lie is just as persuasive, and just as deadly. I know I’ve bought into it. My first day of high school was an exciting one. I was at a new school 3 hours away from home. I was looking forward to playing sports and meeting new friends. I wasn’t ready for the whole “what it means to be cool” part of high school. Most of the kids had way more fashionable stuff than I did. I had four pairs of corduroys in my closet (that was part of the dress code). I didn’t have parachute pants, or pinstripe jeans, or even one of those cool Member’s Only jackets with the little strap hanging down from the collar. I wanted to fit in. I wanted everyone to like me. My parents couldn’t afford to buy all kinds of expensive clothes, but my mom was great with a sewing machine. She made me a pair of jeans. She even found a pattern for one of those cool jackets and made me my own. When I wore them for the first time, a few of my friends started laughing. “Where did you get that?” That hurt. I wanted to be like my friends. I needed them to like me. I believed this lie: “I must have everyone’s love and approval.”
That lie seems to play a major role in a teen’s life. Do you remember doing everything you could to fit in, feeling lost when you didn’t get invited to that party, or struggling through your own fashion embarrassment? That’s not the only time we believe the lie. This past week I had conversations with two friends who were struggling with this lie. One left a job after years because they weren’t able to live their faith and talk about Jesus and finally couldn’t take it anymore. Another friend is actually living two lives. At work friends and colleagues are part of the professional conducting and music scene. At home it’s about living the rural life and attending a church where no one knows this friend’s name because my friend didn’t grow up there. Both worlds are separate, and they can’t cross or the job and connections will disappear. If my friend mentions faith and Jesus, the same will happen. This lie made both of their lives a struggle. Does a well-aimed barb of criticism ruin our day? Are we still focused on what the person said days later and unable to get it out of our heads? If so, we believe this lie. Or, does a well-aimed bit of flattery make us fly high as a kite? Does praise from others keep us going strong? We believe the lie. Do we agree with a spouse or co-worker just to keep the peace? We believe the lie. If we are willing to compromise God’s Word, our faith, our values, and our character so that we can fit in we believe the lie. If we become social chameleons believing and doing whatever the majority thinks and says, we believe the lie.
If we really stop and think about it, “I must have everyone’s love and approval,” it can’t be true. It’s impossible to have everyone like us. Walk into any room here in Stillwater. Declare proudly, "I am a Democrat!" Some in that room will love you. Others won’t. Walk into that same room. Declare proudly, "I am a Republican!" Some will love you. Others won’t. Declare proudly, "I love the Vikings and hate the Packers." You will lose the respect of everyone. Walk into that same room and proudly declare, "These are my personal religious convictions." We will lose the love and approval of some. We simply cannot be liked by everyone. It is an unattainable, irrational goal, yet we believe it and try to achieve it.
Believing this lie also damages us emotionally. Ask any doctor or counselor the problems people pleasers face. They will tell us that being a people pleaser puts our well-being into the hands of others. We allow others to control us because we don’t know how to say no. We allow others to set our priorities. We allow others to determine what we wear, what we say, and how we act. We give so much of ourselves to others that we fail to take care of our own needs. In effect, believing this lie makes others our god. We seek their love and approval so that we can be okay. The long term impact of this approval seeking? Superficial relationships, bitterness, resentment, and burnout.
How can we fight against such a powerful, life-swallowing lie? Think back to Psalm 19: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14 NIV84). The best way to address such a lie is by meditating on the truth of God’s Word. That truth isn’t always easy to live. Listen to what Paul wrote in verse 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” (Galatians 1:10 NIV). Paul had been suffering from character assassination. His enemies claimed that Paul was just a people pleaser. He said one thing and did another. His attackers had their evidence all lined up. They pointed at Timothy who was circumcised at Paul’s request. Then they pointed at Titus. He was not circumcised, again at Paul’s request. So they attacked Paul. "He tells the Gentiles, ‘Don’t be circumcised.’ He tells the Jews, ‘Be circumcised.’ He’s a people pleaser, a chameleon," they said. "Blows with the wind," they said. "Don’t listen to him, he is a false teacher.”
Paul didn’t believe the lie, “I must have everyone’s love and approval.” He understood that his relationship with God had to come first. Paul didn’t seek harmony by compromising his beliefs. He defended the truth of the gospel that in Christ we are free from slavery to the law. Timothy was free to be circumcised out of concern for the Jews. Titus was free not to be circumcised out concern for the Gentiles. This is the freedom of the gospel. Remember how Paul defended himself against accusation? “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” (Galatians 1:10 NIV). Paul’s final sentence is the truth that buries our second lie. If we win the love and approval of everyone around us, we lose God’s approval and cannot serve Jesus with all of our heart and soul and strength.
Jesus taught the same thing in our gospel lesson for today. “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26 NIV). Jesus warns, “If you actually achieve the dream of every high school teenager, if you actually get everyone to like you, Woe to you...” If we devote our time and energy to making everyone like and accept us, we are not being true to ourselves. Chances are pretty good that we are not speaking the truth of God’s Word and are hiding our beliefs. Do we understand where that leaves us? We compromise our character. Even worse, we end up selling out our Savior. We have become people-pleasers, not God-pleasers. “Woe!” We don’t want Jesus to say that about us. He said it to the cities of Korazin and Bethsaida. Today, they are heaps of rubble. This is the hard truth about people-pleasing and believing the lie, “I must have everyone’s love and approval.”
We have exposed the lie. We see where it takes us. It’s hard to live the truth. It’s hard not to be people-pleasers, especially when it comes to our faith. How can we live in a world that won’t accept us unless we approve of and love them and the way they live? What will fill the emptiness in our hearts that longs for love and approval? Jesus. Jesus offers love so wide and deep and long and high that we don’t need to seek love and acceptance from anyone else. Paul knew that despite his past, Jesus loved him deeply. Jesus loved Paul and the whole world so much that he carried out his ministry, loving the people around him without demanding that they love and accept him. Jesus loved us so much that he went to a cross, sentenced by men who did not love and accept him. Jesus loved us so much that he came back from the dead three days after he died. Paul knew that love. Paul believed that love. His answer to the lie, “I must have everyone’s love and approval,” was, “Jesus loves me. Jesus approves of me. That’s all I need.” He wasn’t afraid to write about that love. At the beginning of his letter to his friends he said, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:3–4 NIV).
How can we answer the lie when we tell ourselves, “I must have everyone’s love and approval”? It’s very simple. “Jesus loves me, Jesus approves of me. That’s all I need.” When someone ignores us because we aren’t wearing the right clothes or moving in the right circles, remember, “Jesus loves me, Jesus approves of me. That’s all I need.” When we start craving praise for the song we sang, the game we won, the diploma we earned, remember, “Jesus loves me, Jesus approves of me. That’s all I need.” When we are tempted to hide our faith to maintain a relationship or a job connection, remember, “Jesus loves me, Jesus approves of me. That’s all I need.” When a friend or a relative criticizes our stand on the truths of God’s Word and even turn their back on us, remember, “Jesus loves me, Jesus approves of me. That’s all I need.”
There is one more thing that the love and acceptance of the people around us can never give. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven” (Luke 6:22–23 NIV). Wearing the right clothes or being accepted by the right group won’t matter the day we cross over from death to eternal life. That can only happen when we trust the love and acceptance we have in Jesus. Thanks to his love we are free to please him and only him in our lives. Every time we listen to his Word, go back to our baptism, and receive the Lord’s Supper he strengthens our relationship with him. In each of these gifts Jesus shouts it for the universe to hear, “I love you. I approve of you. That’s all you need!”
Jesus has perfectly met our deep need for love and acceptance right here in his Word, right here in this Christian family of believers. If only I had known and understood it better in high school, maybe then I could have proudly worn my “counterfeit” fashions. Whenever we are tempted to believe this lie, go back and meditate on the truth Jesus offers: “I love you. I approve of you. That’s all you need!” Amen.
Special thanks to Pastor Tim Bourman, Sure Foundation Lutheran Church, New York City, for his sermon study and outline!