Galatians 2:1-2, 7-14
My one-year-old grandson John constantly looks to his parents for approval. If he gets encouragement or a hearty "Good for you!" he breaks into a huge grin and often claps with delight. When he gets a stern look or a reprimand, he lowers his head and sulks away. His parents’ reactions are helping John learn appropriate and acceptable behavior.
As we get older, our most-highly-desired approval may not come from our parents. Yet we still rely on the reactions of others to determine the acceptability of our actions. The problem occurs when we are so dependent on the approval of others that we compromise our beliefs or integrity in order to win it.
Peter was called to task by Paul for acting differently with the Gentiles when no Jews were present than he did when Jews were there. We have certainly seen our politicians act one way in front of a particular audience and a very different way in front of another.
This is not to say we can’t tailor a message to an audience; I speak differently to a meeting in a church than I do to a group of financial advisors. The key lies in determining whether I remain true to my beliefs and principles in all settings, allowing the message to be delivered in different ways or at a different pace but not changing the message itself in order to gain that group’s approval. I need to ensure I am not so dependent on the approval of others that I say something I don’t believe, or act in a way I would not act if that particular group of people were not watching.
We are created with a craving for love – not just divine but human – and much of what we do is a quest to gain it. We so often go for human adulation because we can hear the applause of human beings; we can’t hear God clapping. Indeed, we live in a world where God’s voice is frequently silenced or drowned out. We need "God with skin on" so we experience the truth and know in tactile, sensate, visible ways that we are loved and lovable, accepted and acceptable.
Our appointed task, then, is multi-layered. We need to consistently critique our own behavior and pray that we may strive more to follow Jesus than to gain the approval of human beings. At the same time, we need to seek out faithful, trustworthy servants of God who can be sounding boards for us, challenging us as Paul challenged Peter whenever we are going astray. Finally, we need to be "God with skin on" for others. We need to be instruments of healing who reassure others of their innate approval before God, who help ensure they have their daily bread (in every nuance of its meaning), who help them resist temptation, who forgive without measure, and who companion, instruct, challenge, and love them as Jesus would if he were here today.
It is very difficult to seek God’s approval, which we cannot visibly see, over the approval of those we can see. It is very difficult to keep our allegiance to the gospel strong and true even in the midst of human disapproval. It is very difficult to be such a model of Christ that others come to prefer discipleship to human praise. But if we don’t, what will children like John learn, whose approval will they crave, and ultimately, who will they follow?
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.