As Christians, we’re here to serve others, right? We live servant lives, we lead with servant leadership, and our love for others, when modeled after Christ’s, is sacrificial, yes? He said He didn’t come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45) and it was because of God’s love for us that the Son was sacrificed (say it with me: John 3:16).
We turn the other cheek, we walk two miles when asked to walk one, and we give of ourselves in ways that would seemingly drain us (Matthew 5:38-42) – but we don’t because we drink from the well of Jesus where we are never to be empty or thirsty again. Jesus says so Himself in John 4 (Or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to go).
And I get that none of us are perfect so it never looks like that all the time. But that’s the goal. That’s the hope. The perfection to which we’re striving.
But none of that – let me repeat – NONE. OF. THAT. – has anything to do with popularity or approval.
100%, I can guarantee you: we can live in service to one someone, sacrifice in love to someone, and never ever ever receive their approval. We could give of our blood, sweat, and tears for them, and they might never like us. Ask any mom of a teenage daughter, she can give you about six million and seven real world examples of how that works.
People-pleasing is not Christ-like love. Being a doormat is not Christ-like sacrificial service.
And even deeper than that, never prioritizing yourself, your own needs, and your own heart is not a requirement either. The Bible never says you can’t say ‘no’ to things, and in fact, it’s said that we absolutely should guard our own hearts and be careful in our service to others (Proverbs 4:23, Galatians 6:1-2, 1 Corinthians 10:12). Jesus Himself prioritized quiet time with the Lord, and time away from the crowds with his closest friends/disciples.
And furthermore, lack of approval and popularity is nearly promised in the Bible (Matthew 10:22). So why are we so obsessed with people’s approval? With people’s acceptance? With always making other people happy?
I, for one, don’t really think I’ve lived my life this way, even before I was a Christian. I’ve always had a little rebellious kick back in me that didn’t want to do something just because someone else wanted me to. But I know SO many people who are, and it kills me to watch them struggle under the weight of expectation, approval, and honestly, even manipulation, just to be liked or accepted by the person in front of them. It’s not fair and it squashes the light that they are.
When you’re already worthy and you’re already enough and you’re already loved for the wonderful masterpiece of God’s creation that you are, it’s so unfair to Him, to the world, and to yourself to allow someone else’s ideas of who you are and what you should be doing – even if it’s “good,” “Christian” expectations – change what you were made to do and be.
So where do we draw the line? How do we know when we’ve crossed it? I think of two things. One, check your heart. What’s your motivation? Do you want to smooth this situation over with someone just to make them happy, or are you laying yourself down to show Christ? (Because even in conflicts, I’ll tell you right now, peace keeping does not equal peace making. Blessed are the peace makers, according to Matthew 5:9, not the keepers, and I think that’s an important distinction to make).
But also, two, check it again. Are you completely emptied by this sacrifice or compromise? Are you left feeling only pressure into this decision, and not peace? Because I think – well no, I know this from experience: when we’re tapped into the vine, so to speak, and this sacrifice, this love, this grace, is a real fruit of the spirit, it doesn’t drain us. It doesn’t cause us to sin or stumble either. In fact, I think it would in fact fill us in ways that defy logic, and further cement our faith and confidence in the Lord.
Sacrifice should hurt but when done so by the Spirit, with Jesus there, it takes on this weird “hurts-so-good” feeling, because He’s the healer and He’s there in that. He’s replenishing love and grace just as fast as we’re emptying it out to someone else. Without that, I think that’s when we need to recognize that maybe this decision isn’t about Christ’s prompting and approval, and it’s about the other persons instead (hey, idolatry, not so nice to see you).
And more than that, we also need to see that this is a red flag that we’re maybe not connected to Jesus the way we should be in order to practice that kind of service to others, take a few steps back, prioritize our hearts, let Him work in us one-on-one, and guard ourselves before we head back out on the field. And there’s ZERO shame in that. We must be filled in order to overflow. You simply cannot pour from an empty cup, no matter how cliche the saying is.