Paul was obviously not worried about trying to please the people around him. It's not that he didn't care about others. It's just that he was focused on serving the Lord. Is this true of us?
Though we might not verbalize it quite this way, most of us allow ourselves to be defined by two distinct groups of people: our Critics and our Cheerleaders.
The Critics are usually the ones who correct or criticize or attack us the most, whose words tend to feel more like weapons and stones.
The Cheerleaders are those who are often the source of sweet compliment or praise or support. Their words ring like a melody in our hearts.
We do a pretty good job of fitting most of the people we know and encounter into one of those camps, and if we're honest, we allow ourselves to be largely defined by both our Critics and our Cheerleaders, placing far too great a weight to either group.
We seem to gauge our identity in response to those we believe adore us, or those who despise us. It seems as though we are conditioned to rise or fall based on the consensus of either crowd.
How about you? Who has your ear? Who is most shaping your understanding of you - your Critics or your Cheerleaders?
For the apostle Paul it was neither, it was God and God alone.
The truth is, we really can't let the praise or the condemnation we receive from either side, have the greatest say in our hearts or become the loudest voice in our ears.
Too much of either side is a deadly toxin to what ultimately defines us.
If we listen only to our Critics, our self-worth invariably plummets. We wear every insult, every mean-spirited word, and every perceived failure. Unable to quiet the voice of the ever-dissatisfied naysayers, we live less than God has called us to and see ourselves as perpetually not good enough. Allowing the opinions of others to water us down and drowned us out.
Yet if we listen only to our Cheerleaders, we become horribly inflated, as if we are above reproach and far too virtuous for correction. Vanity and self-righteousness sneak in and we ride a false wave of praise and adulation. Pride enters in and our speech and head becomes puffed up.
The Critics and the Cheerleaders are equally valuable, and in a way equally useless, too. You and I can no more speak merely for the affirmation of those who agree, or stay silent because of those who take offense.
Ultimately, the only reason to ever say anything is because we are driven by the principles we stand for and the God who directs us. If for any other reason we end up just chasing applause or avoiding the stone throwers.
The Critics and the Cheerleaders will never be very far away for very long, especially if we live in the public eye. Receive what each willingly offers us every day, sifting those words for truth, but holding them loosely. Sometimes the Critics have great wisdom despite their hurtful delivery, while the Cheerleaders may simply be unable or unwilling to challenge us with honesty amidst their praise.
We all need to be able to release ourselves from those who prop us up and those who tear us down, and then act outside of either of their jurisdictions. In other words we need to fight to break our addiction to others opinion.
We need to live our life from a place that is separate and distinct from the crowds around us. That is where Paul found himself when he said, "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would NOT be a servant of Christ."
To often we are worried about what people think of us, which inhibits us from following God with our whole hearts. We need to free ourselves from our Critics and Cheerleaders so we can follow the God-given directions with reckless abandonment, because all that will matter in the end is fulfilling God's plan for our life. Not allowing other people to set the limits for our life or give us our validation. We have to follow the voice of God for ourselves and allow Him to order our every step. Just think of the prophets of old!
We are called to serve God without reserve, so let's fulfill His plan with out letting others sidetrack us. Never letting the voices of the Critics or the Cheerleaders, drown out the still, small voice of God to our hearts.
Let's keep listening for His voice, and when we hear it - speak BOLDLY!
Defined by God,