It is human nature to hunger for approval. The opinions of parents, spouses, friends, and even strangers tend to be extremely important to us, even when we might wish that they were not. We may feel miserable or angry when they express disdain for us, or overjoyed when they seem to approve.
Maybe our hunger for approval leads us to spend money on gadgets to impress others. A popular quote puts it this way: “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”
Maybe our hunger for approval drives us to find our deepest identity in a sports team, hobbyist community, political party, or activist group. Being accepted by that group can come to mean everything to us.
Maybe we simply go through life feeling wounded whenever someone dares to disagree with us.
Pop culture claims to have an answer to this problem. Contemporary voices tell us that the only person whose opinion really matters is our own. If you like yourself, who cares what anyone else thinks, right? But basing our perceived value even on our own opinions of ourselves can be perilous.
We may feel triumphant for a moment when we accomplish something important, only to sink back into uncertainty and self-doubt again.
Maybe our hunger for self-approval manifests itself in the building up of a persona. We pride ourselves on being a reasonable voice in a sea of hopelessly misled lemmings. We find some quality in ourselves, whatever it may be, that we are convinced makes us morally commendable, and we emphasize it to ourselves over and over again, cultivating an inflated ego.
Paul presents an alternative view in 1 Corinthians 4:3-4: “to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.”
It was “a very small thing” to Paul whether the Corinthians gave him a positive verdict or not. In Galatians 1:10 he reveals his position on the approval of men quite clearly: “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.”
But Paul takes things a step further. He even goes so far as to say that he does not put much stock in his own opinion of himself. Examine the verse again. Paul says: “in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.”
Not only did Paul not base his value off of what others thought of him, he did not even base his value off of what he thought of himself. Thank you to Tim Keller in his book The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness for pointing this out to me.
Paul’s identity was grounded totally in what God thought of Him. And God thought of Paul what God thinks of all of us. God thinks we are worth dying for.