How often do we, when making a decision about what to say or do, think first of how others might react? And not the consequences of the decision that might affect people, but how those people will view your decision. How they’ll view you in light of your decision.
It’s a trap.
If you consistently fall into this line of thinking, you’re trapped in a cycle of doubt, fear and low self-image that is not consistent with how Christians are called to live their lives.
I’m a living example of that.
For a long time, probably when I switched schools from 4th grade to 5th grade, I began worrying about how others viewed me. I wanted to be one of the popular kids, one of the guys that every girl “liked,” the best player on all the sports teams, picked first in P.E. I found approval in people asking me about homework questions and academic things. If somebody asked me a question about something in U.S. history or math, and they liked my answer, my self-esteem shot through the roof. I was so pumped that somebody thought I was smart enough.
But by the time I was a junior in high school, I thought so much about how others viewed me that I took every little slight, whether real or imaginary, intentional or unintentional (which most of them were), as a bullet through my chest. I would spend time mourning my (totally imaginary) loss of friends.
It took reaching the summer after my sophomore year of college to get shaken by a radical truth: seeking the approval of man, seeking to be popular in their eyes, seeking to be loved by all, it’s a trap. And the Bible supports that thinking.
Proverbs 29:25 says,
The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.
There’s a powerful image in this proverb. Imagine you’re walking along a path and you’re too busy looking up, trying to find the right way, that you completely miss the tree root jutting out on the ground in front of you. You trip and you fall. The snare was laid, and you fell right into it.
Seeking man’s approval is the same way. We’re so concerned about what other people think of us that we fall into a trap of constant doubt and fear, mixed with a few self-esteem issues, because we’re so busy looking around at others and their opinions instead of watching where we’re going. We want people to love us so much that we end up doing things that we would normally not do. That, or we fall into a depression because we’re not loved as we feel like we need to be.
That’s where God steps in. If we throw our total trust in God in whatever situation and hold no fear of man, we will be safe from those traps. That doesn’t mean we still won’t have fear, but we have a God who “gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). And in the long run, what’s better — finding man’s approval, or being safe in God’s loving arms? If we seek after the LORD for our personal emotional/mental security, not the opinions of others, we’ll avoid those traps, we’ll be safe.
One thing I want to add: do not hesitate to heed wise counsel. Asking a wise spiritual advisor or a friend for their opinion on something serious or life-changing does not mean you fear them. In fact, as Proverbs 29:1 says,
He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.
Being corrected in your way of thinking by someone wiser or getting good counsel is praised by the Lord. It’s part of the sanctification process. Ignoring all the opinions of man is folly, because others in our lives just might be able to point us in the right direction when we’re lost if they’re seeking the Lord as well.
The encouragement here is this: do not be controlled by what others think of you. Seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, not fearful of the world around you and their thoughts. As Christians, our thoughts and ideals, if they match what the Bible says, will often contradict with the majority of the world, and then you will not have much support. But relying on God is a safety that will protect from sin and fear. Trust Him.