January 18, 2015 Sermon – Who’s Approval Do We Need?

Psalm 56:11

“I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?  What can mere mortals do to me?”

The word of God for the people of God, praise be to God. Let us pray.

Loving God, we are thankful for you and the Holy Spirit surrounding us.  Please open our hearts, ears and minds to the message that you have inspired in me, and may the meditations of our hearts be a joy to you.   In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

Superstar…glamor queen…stage and film heartthrob…Marlene Dietrich was all of those things. Fans adored her. Paramours wooed her. Studios paid her the big bucks. At the height of her career, she commanded $200,000 per film, a sum that translates to nearly two million dollars by today’s standards. She was designated ninth greatest female star of all time by the American Film institute in 1999, an honor she probably would’ve exploited. Her own story is as sad as any film in which she ever starred.

During one marriage she had a string of affairs, which is tragic enough in itself. However, she was so desperate for approval that she’d even show her husband the adoring letters from her lovers.

Marlene Dietrich lived for approval. In fact, she sometimes invited guests to her home so that she could play for them the recorded ovations of her audience from her live performances. No, her guests didn’t get to see or hear the performances; they just got to hear the applause.

Tut, tut. That’s pathetic, you say. But let’s pretend you are one of Marlene Dietrich’s guests at one of these parties. You have just sat through the fifth performance of one of these recorded ovations, and you are bored to tears. You’d really love to leave, but you don’t want to offend her, despite the fact that you find these recordings rather offensive. But you sit it out. Bottom line, you’d rather be bored to tears than incur her disapproval. Then it hits you: you’re no different than she. You need approval, too.

Before you beat yourself up too much, recognize that as relational beings, humans have a built-in need for approval. Sometimes our need for that approval is misdirected, however. Deep down in our psyche we recognize the truth in Romans 3:23 that says “…all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” In other words, we believe that we have lost God’s stamp of approval. So in desperation, we then seek it from other people.

So strong is our need for approval, that we will sacrifice our values, our priorities, our beliefs, and our morals to get it. We’ll even put our lives in danger sometimes, rather than do or say the right thing. Witness the teenager who will drink too much, be promiscuous, let another student cheat from his/her paper, or lie about a bad grade to mom and dad, just for approval. A young adult may not take the wheel from an inebriated friend for fear of hurting his drunk friend’s feelings. Even as Christian adults, we may downplay our Christianity by never talking about Jesus because we don’t want to appear too “church-y.” We’d rather be one of the gang than ever express a belief or opinion that might bring on the scorn or discomfort of the group. We are all slaves to the opinions of others.

The Bible calls this phenomenon “the fear of man.” Fear doesn’t just mean being frightened by someone; it can also mean holding someone in reverence or awe. In that respect, fearing God is a good thing. However, fearing man, or putting your trust in man, is another thing. Biblical counselor Ed Welch explains it this way:

“’Fear’ in the biblical sense…includes being afraid of someone, but it extends to holding someone in awe, being controlled or mastered by people, worshiping other people, putting your trust in people, or needing people.  However you put it,…the fear of man can be summarized this way: We replace God with people. Instead of a biblically-guided fear of the Lord, we fear others.”

When we substitute the fear of God with the fear of man, things start to fall apart. As Andree Seu says: “You have a thousand masters instead of one to please. You think fear of God is bad? It’s nothing compared to the alternative. Fear of man is a cruel tyranny. It’s exhausting, it’s complicated, and you’re not nimble enough to pull it off.”

In other words, you can’t please everyone; and if you try, you’ll wear yourself out. We only have to think of Aaron, and how the Israelites wore him down so that he resorted to making the golden calf to worship instead of God. He paid for that.

In his wisdom, King Solomon says in Proverbs 29:25: “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.” 

A snare is a trap that is camouflaged and baited with the intention to capture an animal. Here the word “snare” is a metaphor for a situation which is morally or spiritually compromising. It may or may not be obvious at first, but the snare is always baited with something enticing to us humans, which makes it terribly effective. For instance, a clerk gives us back too much change. Having an extra dollar would be nice. There’s the bait. Then we think, a dollar won’t matter—the store will never notice the difference, and I’m in a hurry. There’s the camouflage. So we run along on our merry way, not righting a blatant wrong—even a “small” one.

And there’s the rub: once you become ensnared by seeking the approval of man, you are trapped. It’s only in the Lord’s approval that you are safe.

Our culture today isn’t the only one that is susceptible to snares. The Bible is full of people who were trapped by the fear of man. Look at King Saul when he shifted his fear from God to man, and consequently lost his throne. Many of the early Christians stifled their expressions of faith in Jesus because they feared the men of the synagogues. In his later years, Solomon allowed idols to be built for some of his heathen wives, making their happiness a priority over his allegiance to God.

And then there was Noah. Noah is a great example of a man who didn’t give a rip about what other men thought. Or at least not to the point that he betrayed God. Despite the mockery of his peers, Noah built the ark. He listened to God, he obeyed God, and he sacrificed the approval of man to gain the approval of God.

There’s always a cost to following Jesus, and sometimes it’s the mockery, derision, contempt and even hate from our fellow man. Are you ready for that? In the end who’s opinion really matters? Oh, I know you all have the right answer: it’s God’s opinion that really matters. Right? Well, let me send you home today with a little homework requiring some introspection, because next week we’re going to continue this discussion. I’ll give you some situations to think about, and you decide how you would handle them. I’m sure you’ll have some real-life situations that will come up during the week that will give you food for thought, too. Good. That’s the intention. One note of caution, however: be honest. This is a test, but your answers won’t matter to me or anyone else; they will only be recorded in heaven.

Here are a few situations for you to contemplate:

1. You are in a group of good friends that keep taking the Lord’s name in vain over and over again. Does it offend you? If so, would you say something to them right then and there? Or would you say something to one of them later in private? Would you get up and leave? Or would you simply remain quiet about the whole thing so that you don’t stir the pot?

2. You are watching a movie that you find morally decadent. Do you walk out of the theater? What if you’re at a friend’s house watching this movie? Do you say something or just keep quiet so that you won’t hurt your friends’ feelings or put them on the defensive?

3. You know that your best friend is having an affair. Do you confront him/her gently, or let it go because you might lose the friendship?

4. Do you ever downplay or even deny your Christianity?

 5. The rest of your family thinks you’re a religious nut. Do you try not to mention “religion” or “God” when you’re around them for fear of being criticized or mocked for your beliefs.

Trusting God is the only antidote to cure the fear of man. God has a perfect track record. He HAS never let you down. He WILL never let you down. Can you say the same of man?

May the meditations of our hearts be an offering and a blessing to God.  Amen