Pastor Rosenbaum and I, when we start the worship service, pause for prayer at the altar before starting. Do you ever wonder what we pray? We could be simply counting, 1-1000… 2-1000… 3-1000…, until it’s time to step aside. I can’t say what he prays for because I am not in his head and we don’t pray out loud. I have similar words each time. “Thank you, Lord, for this opportunity to speak your truth. Use your Holy Spirit to bless the words spoken and sung this morning. Help everything I say and do be to your glory and your glory alone.” The goal is to center my heart on God, not on me. The actual application of that is difficult. There are Sundays when I feel like I was really working my A-game. “That was a good one.” Sadly, at times, my hunger for approval shadows my praise to God.
You don’t need to be a professional preacher to suffer from this. We all devour approval. Approval isn’t a bad thing unless it overpowers our praise of God. Whose opinion matters the most to you? How do you react when you can’t get others to react? What goes through your mind when you don’t get the number of clicks, likes, or comments? How do you react when you don’t get the credit you think you deserve? When no one notices your hard work? When the only words you receive are how you can improve or what you did wrong and not what you did right? Do you feel deflated or are you still ok?
Being shackled to approval of the people around you is no way to live. It gets you to spend far too much time in front of the screen than you should. It makes some of you live for the approval of your boss over time with your family. It drives you insane because you feel like you can’t do anything right when you don’t get enough positive feedback. Approval can be like a drug that you can’t get enough of. But there is freedom. When you live for the praise of God, you can thrive with or without human approval.
Paul’s purpose in writing the letter to the Christians in Corinth was to bring them together. There were unhealthy divisions driving a wedge between the people. Some in that church were choosing to follow different leaders to further the fractions. One group followed “Paul,” another followed missionary named “Apollos,” another followed the lead disciple named “Peter,” and others were the purists who only followed “Jesus.” The groups of people formed for the wrong reasons. Paul set the record straight, not to fix his own reputation, not to receive the approval of the people, but to preach Christ crucified. The solid place where he put his approval rating was in how God approved of him, not in how well he preached.
Paul wants the people to be in the same place. 26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. Most of the people in that church were like every other church, normal. There wasn’t a lot of rich, influential, or upper-class people. They were normal. They didn’t do anything extraordinary to receive complements or praise. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. Paul’s big point was to point praise to God, not to people. The world may praise the outwardly brilliant, powerful, strong, and beautiful. God choses to praise the lowly and humble.
So where do you go to seek your praise? There's a great desire inside all if us for approval. When we seek it out from people, sinful humans just like us, we will not always get it. When we get our highs and lows based on what other people think and say about us, we are basically telling God that his opinion of us doesn’t matter that much. It's like saying, "You are nice and so on, but what I really need is their approval. You are not enough, God, to make me happy."
“God, I really needed my friends to like me. That's why I did it. You aren't enough.” “I wanted my boss to approve of me, so I fudged the numbers. You aren't enough.” “I really wanted my dad to be proud of my grades, so I cheated." "I couldn't keep my baby, what would people think if I had it." “God, everything you’ve done for me and all the love you shower on me, it isn’t enough to fill me up the way I need to be filled.”
You can scoff at some stranger heckler in the crowd, brushing him off like his words don't mean a thing but then tell that to your Father who has sacrificed everything to keep you in the family that his opinion of you doesn’t matter. That's another thing. This sin destroys God’s approval of you. Sin makes you repulsive to him, makes him turn away ignoring the sounds of your voice. Your addiction to the approval of the things and people that have no bearing on your eternal welfare distances you from God’s smiling face.
Why run to so many others when we have everything we need in Jesus? 30 It is because of him (the Father) that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Jesus was perfect, he lived satisfied with the approval of his Father. Never once did he need to compromise his behavior because he would rather receive the approval of people around him. Oh how his Father must have loved him. But he was ruthlessly condemned, which is the opposite of approval, so that you could have every ounce of love and approval the Father has to offer. The longing for approval is filled by the good God who sings your name because of Christ. God loves you. God likes you. God approves of you. His face lights up when he thinks of you. All because of what Jesus did for you.
31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” I am here to convince you all you need to be happy is your great God’s approval of you. He smiles over you. It has nothing to do with you. You don’t need to perform, work harder, or look better to get the approval from him. It is all about what Jesus lived, worked, performed, and did for you. That’s why we can still boast. We boast in God.
It doesn’t matter how small or how big you are, there’s always someone smaller and someone bigger. You put too much of your contentment in how many people like you or the nice things they say about you. We don’t need more people to like us, we need our God to love us. He does. Live in the praise of God.
So how do you make this work? Here’s what I like to do. When someone say’s “Good sermon.” I like to respond, “Thanks. God is good.” Or “God’s word is awesome.” This does two things. It acknowledges the praise that comes from God through other people. It also turn those into praise to God. When you do this, you will grow less needy for people’s approval and more thankful whenever it comes. God doesn’t use outside standards to judge of how much he cares about you, it is complete in Christ. He is not angry, he is not disappointed, he is not hiding or cowering away. Through Christ, he embraces you and rejoices in you.