What Will People Think
Concern over the opinions of others is one of the strongest human motivators. We crave people’s esteem. We fear their disapproval. We long for their acceptance. The desire to be liked and respected is natural, but when it becomes too important it can enslave us. Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare….”
This coming Sunday (November 26), we conclude our study in the book of Galatians by looking at Gal. 6:11-18. Here we discover what motivated the false teachers who were troubling the churches in Galatia. Verse 12 says that they wanted “to impress people by means of the flesh [by] trying to compel [others] to be circumcised.” In other words, the false teachers were primarily concerned with outward appearances and with the approval of others. They feared the persecution and social rejection that would come from teaching the pure gospel. They also hungered for the social affirmation that they would receive from their peers if they converted Gentile believers to their religion. Though they talked a lot about God’s law, they were not really concerned about following it. They merely wanted to appear righteous to others by conforming to the Jewish law in superficial ways. They wanted to look good.
An excessive concern with the opinions of others is common among church members who lose sight of the gospel. Pastor Mark Driscoll writes, “Because] religion focuses almost entirely on the external, visible life of a person and overlooks the internal, invisible life of the heart where motives lie, how one appears on the outside before people is far more important to the religious person than how one appears on the inside before God…. On the other hand, the gospel is concerned first with the state of our internal self….”
In stark contrast to these false teachers, the Apostle Paul seems to be joyfully free from a fear of what people think about him. In verse 11, he talks about his sloppy handwriting, which may have been the result of his poor eyesight. In verse 17, he talks about how scarred his skin was because of the persecutions he had endured. Paul seems completely unashamed to talk about his limited abilities and imperfect body. He seems unconcerned over whether others view him as weak or unattractive. Why?
The message of the gospel has set Paul free from a preoccupation with the opinions of others. He says “by [the cross of Jesus] the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (14b). By this he means: “My identity now is entirely wrapped up in Jesus and what he did for me on the cross. I no longer fear the world’s rejection. I no longer need its approval. My identity is Christ.”
This is one of the beautiful gifts God gives us through the gospel. Filled with the assurance that, in Christ, we are fully accepted by God, we are set free from the compulsion to earn the acceptance of others. Since we know longer need people’s approval, we are empowered to love them for Christ’s sake rather than for what they can give us. We are also free to allow God to change us on the inside, since the outside (how we appear to others) is no longer our primary concern. This freedom is wonderful.