If we are always concerned with what people think about us, we will always be reluctant to tell them about Jesus.
Perhaps the single most significant hindrance to Christian witness in the world today is our hunger for human approval. By nature, we think more about what people think of us than about what they think of Jesus. We crave acceptance and dread rejection — which inclines us toward whatever might improve others’ perception of us. And that will very rarely, if ever, lead us to call them to repent from their sin and believe the gospel.
The apostle Paul lived differently. Apparently he had been liberated from the need to be liked, or even respected. He moved from town to town, in and out of crowds, anchored in the safety and satisfaction of knowing Jesus (Philippians 3:8). Many adored him, even to the point of worshiping him, and others hated him, even to the point of trying to murder him. But he lived and served above approval ratings. He worked for someone else’s fame, whatever that fame might cost him personally in popular opinion.
He abandoned the haunted hayride of human approval to walk Calvary’s underground road to freedom from the fear of man.
Zeus, Hermes, and Human Approval
Everywhere Paul went, he met dramatically mixed reviews. During his and Barnabas’s time in a town called Lystra, for instance, they came to a man crippled from birth. He had literally never used his feet (Acts 14:8). Paul saw through the man’s disability, though, into his heart, and he saw faith — a brilliant and strong belief that Jesus could heal him inside and out (Acts 14:9). So Paul healed the man’s legs (Acts 14:10).
The crowds saw the man walking, after sitting for so many years, and they rushed Paul and Barnabas. They treated them like gods (Acts 14:11) — not like governors, or star athletes, or movie stars, but gods. They called them “Zeus” and “Hermes” after familiar figures in the pantheon (Acts 14:12). They even brought oxen to sacrifice to them (Acts 14:13).
Imagine your neighbors trying to worship you by slaughtering their animals.
The Seduction of Attention
How do Paul and Barnabas respond to these acts of worship? Do they bask in the attention? Do they relish the over-the-top affirmation and support? Do they change their handles to @Zeus and @Hermes, and retweet a few lines of the people’s praise?