Let’s just admit it — many of us are people pleasers. We long for the affirmation and approval of others, and we will do almost anything to get it: we will be someone we’re not; we will slander another person; we will give the impression we believe something that we really don’t; we will neglect responsibilities and even renege on promises; we will fall into deep depression if we feel we are devalued by others, and we will become haughty and prideful if we are adored by others.
Of course all of us want to be liked. Nothing wrong with that. But the Proverbs tell us in 29:25 that, “the fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” And in John 12:43, we read about those who loved the “glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” There is an unhealthy desire for the approval of others that can become idolatrous.
When we give this some careful reflection, we can see how irrational and unhelpful it is to live for the approval others. It simply creates new and worse problems. Here are five reasons why you should not find your security in the approval of others:
1) People will sometimes approve of you for doing the wrong thing
If your ultimate and highest desire is the approval of others, then you will be more likely to do the wrong thing if the wrong thing gains you some measure of popularity. Pontius Pilate is a good example of this — he could find no fault in Jesus, but in order to please the crowds, he delivered Him to be crucified (John 19:1-15).
2) People will sometimes not approve of you for doing the right thing
Sometimes doing the right thing can make you very unpopular. Peter talks about those who will malign the Christian for not joining with unbelievers in their “flood of debauchery” (1 Peter 4:4). If your ultimate and highest desire is the approval of others, it will be very easy to neglect what is right in order to maintain a good standing before them.
3) People are fickle
People will sometimes approve of you for one thing today that they will disapprove tomorrow, because people are fickle. They tend to be driven and tossed by the wind of cultural and personal change. Thankfully God does not change, and what He approves today is always what He will approve tomorrow.
4) People are different
What one person approves, another doesn’t. You might get Sally’s approval for holding an opinion, only to incur Larry’s disapproval for holding the same perspective. Now what are you going to do? You will either be a hypocrite, presenting one façade to Sally and a different one to Larry, or you will simply have to decide whose disapproval you can live with. The other option is to live for God’s approval, knowing that with Him you have ultimately only one Person to please. It’s so much easier that way.
5) People’s approval can make you prideful
What causes a person to be puffed up in pride more than receiving the ongoing praise and adoration of others? Popularity can be a dangerous thing. But here’s the paradox — once you become prideful, people don’t approve of you anymore. There’s hardly anything people admire less than a big ego. So, if you get the approval of people, and that leads to pride, you will in the end lose the approval of people. To live for people’s approval is to lose it.
For further reading on this topic, consider Lou Priolo’s book, Pleasing People: How not to be an Approval Junkie.