This morning, I want to look at how, by comparing ourselves to others, and seeking to impress others, how it ultimately impacts our lives and our behavior, and then how it impacts our relationships with others, and then how it impacts our relationship with God. Now, I’ll start by looking at some scriptures that I think will be helpful, staring with I Thessalonians 2:4, where Paul says, “Just as we’ve been approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, so we speak not as pleasing men, but God Who examines our hearts.”
And then Paul, in the book of Galatians chapter 1, verse 10, says, “For am I seeking the favor of men, or God? For If I am still trying to please men, I cannot be a bondservant of Christ.”
And then, in one other verse, this is Christ Himself talking. He says, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My Words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the Glory of His Father with the Holy Angels.”
So, where we want to start with is, how is my life, in other words, how is my thinking, my behavior, and the motive of my heart, how do I allow the opinions of other people to impact me? If you recall, last week, we talked about, or I read from the prophet Isaiah, the second chapter, the 22nd verse, where he says, why do you have such high regard for mankind. You know, why do we value his opinion of us so highly? In other words, why do we allow other people’s opinions of us to be the gauge in which we measure our lives? And why do we think our lives don’t count very much, unless they count in the eyes of others?
I remember my mother went to a, went on a trip with a bunch of women a number of years ago. You can imagine, a bunch of middle-aged women, with no husbands, and, just, you can imagine them, sitting around, spending all their time talking. I remember my Mom sharing about one woman, who, if you looked at her life, she had everything. I mean, look at her husband, her children, her grandchildren, her homes, her cars, her jewelry, she had everything, all the trappings, everything that a woman would want. And one night, they were up late talking, and this woman just blurted, she said, I just feel like my life doesn’t matter very much. She said, I want to be somebody, I want my life to have mattered. And they were all just kind of stunned by this remark. But I thought, after she had recounted this to me, I thought, now, this was a gutsy statement. In fact, this woman said what we so often think ourselves. And that is, you know, I want my life to matter. I want my life to really count. And, in one sense, she was comparing herself to other people and didn’t realize it. She was saying, I want to be someone in this community. But, I’m just like everybody else. And I think most people, men particularly, but probably women also, detest the thought of going through life believing my life was not very important. My life didn’t mean much. I was a nobody.
A number of months ago in Vogue Magazine there was an interesting article where they interview Madonna. And I figure if there is anybody out there who is a somebody in the eyes of the world, it would be Madonna. But listen to what she said. This is a quote from her. “My drive in life comes from the fear of being mediocre in the eyes of others. That is always pushing me. I push past one spell of it, and discover myself as a special human being. But then, I feel I’m still mediocre unless I do something else, because even though I have become somebody, I still have to prove that I’m somebody. My struggle has never ended and I guess that it never will.” Now, if you think about what she’s saying, she’s saying, once I accomplish something, I feel good about myself. I feel like I’m somebody special. She says, but the problem is, the next day I realize if I don’t continue to achieve and accomplish, I’m a nobody, because then, I’m jus like everybody else. And you see, from this interview, she is, in one sense, comparing herself with everyone else, and, comparison is so deadly.
And I was wondering as I was preparing this, you know, do you think that this is what happens to great athletes who go into retirement, who have had great careers, but then a year or two years later, they come out of retirement. Because they feel like, you know, I’m a nobody. You know, one time, I was up here, in the bright lights, and now I’ve had to recede in the background. And they just can’t stand it, and so, they come out of retirement, and often, it’s just a huge mistake. So, it’s critical to understand that most men are addicted to other people’s approval, and therefore, are driven to perform and achieve in this life to win the approval and admiration of others, because this is what we believe will make our lives worthwhile. This is what makes us think that we will measure up, and then, and only then will we be “somebody.” Now, it’s critical, I believe, as men, to realize that there are deadly consequences to this approach to life because what it does, it impacts how we view life, and it impacts on what we value and how we live. Now, let me share with you a couple of examples. A good example of this is this desire to achieve and perform and win people’s approval causes us to develop this, it’s almost neurotic behavior, but this almost unbelievable fear of failure. And, in essence, it causes many men to refuse to take risks that they probably should take, and what they end up doing, is they play it safe through life.
Larry Crabb, who is probably considered one of the most prominent Christian psychologists in the country today, says this about men. He said, “Men like to arrange their lives to avoid whatever they are not sure they can handle.” He says, “We like things – as men – we like things to be predictable. To hide our inadequacies, powerless men find something that they can control, something they can handle well, and they avoid what they fear. They pursue that which they feel most confident, and they avoid anything that makes them look incompetent and inadequate.” And then he says this. “Most men take the approach of avoiding risks or anything that might make me look bad.” I love this quote from President Theodore Roosevelt. He said, “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
So, that’s the first problem. This addiction to man’s approval, is, we fear failure to the point is we fear failure to the point that we won’t take any risks; we play it safe in life. A second part of this, is think about what happens when failure does come our way, and failure will come our way. We will fail in many ways throughout the course of our lives. And what’s interesting, if you go to The Bible, Scripture clearly teaches that failure can be one of the great blessings of life because of what it teaches us and how it develops us when we respond to it correctly. The problem is modern man hates failure because failure is devastating to them. Because, over the years, what I have seen happen in men who I have met with, is that they struggle so often with despair and depression and they often do it and never share it with anybody, but they will sit across from me and share with me and it’s often that I am stunned by this, their struggle with depression, their struggle with just real, you can call it the blues if you want to, and, it’s interesting, when I think of all the men that I have met with, there is not one exception that I can think of, when the person who said that he was experiencing depression was not struggling with some type of failure, or some type of perception of failure, or some type of fear of failure that might come in the future. So, you can see what this does to us. Finally, probably the most significant consequence that we see, and we need to understand, is how this performance trap, and this addiction to approval, impacts our character, particularly our integrity.
Let me read to you what Blaise Pascal says about this. He says, “It’s the nature of self-esteem and of the human self to love only one’s self and to consider one’s self alone. But what can a man do? He wants to be great but he finds that he is small. He wants to be happy and finds that he is unhappy. He wants to be perfect and finds that he is riddled with imperfections. He wants to be the object of men’s affection and esteem and sees that his faults deserve only their dislike and contempt. The embarrassing position in which he finds himself produces in him the most unjust and criminal passion that can possibly be imagined. He conceives a mortal hatred of the truth which brings him down to earth and convinces him of his faults. He would like to be able to annihilate it, and not being able to destroy it in himself, he destroys it in the minds of other people. That is to say, he concentrates all his efforts on concealing his faults, both from others, and from himself, and cannot stand being made to see them, or their being seen by other people.” Now think about what Pascal is saying here. He says that we have this great desire to win man’s approval, and he said, therefore we seek to create a picture to the world that my life is prosperous, my relationships are flourishing and I am a highly competent man who has his act together. He says that over time we realize that our lives are riddled with imperfections, and that we have weaknesses, inadequacies, fears, and even failures, and he says, so what is a person to do. He says we seek to hide it from the outside world. We fake it. We become an impostor. We pretend as we go through life, and ultimately, what he is saying is that we are guilty of duplicity.
I don’t know if you know that word or understand its definition, but Webster’s says that duplicity is, listen, it’s “a contradictory double-ness of thought, speech or action. Hiding one’s true intentions by deceptive words or actions.” It’s important to understand that duplicity is the opposite of integrity. Integrity, which literally means to have a unified soul, you know, where our thoughts, our words, and our actions are all aligned with each other. And so, the question we need to ask ourselves is are we men of integrity or are our lives marked by this duplicity. I think it’s important to see where this leads, because, where it leads, if we are duplicitous in nature, in our dealings with others, it has a huge impact on our character.
I want to read to you from what Dr. Peter Moore, who is a, I believe he was an Episcopal priest, and he started Trinity Seminary, where Paul Zahl today is, and is head of, and he makes this observation. He says, “In everyday language, arrogant people see the world as a mirror. Coming into a room full of people, they don’t see other people with needs, problems, and life experiences to learn from. What they see is an audience, people to impress, to be admired by, and from whom to gain a measure of self-esteem. Because of their underlying insecurity, they will tend to gravitate to those who radiate celebrity, charisma, power, and influence. These are the people who must be impressed and charmed, and by whom it is essential to be admired.” Listen to this. “If personal values must be bent in the process, so be it. They are totally subservient to this need. It will be expected that relationships will become manipulative and will be short-lived, because self-absorption prevents them from being truly faithful despite an intent hunger for something lasting and deep.” You see what Moore is saying? He’s saying that we are a culture where outward appearance is more important than inward character. Where image rules over substance.
Steven Covey says it this way. “The effort to put on a front puts one on a treadmill that seems to go faster and faster, almost like chasing a shadow. Ultimately, it will prove to be our undoing.” He says, “Why, why is that?” Because, when image and appearance become preeminent in our lives, the heart and the soul will be neglected. And this is why Jesus spoke so harshly, I think, to the Pharisees. He said to the Pharisees, you know, outwardly, you guys perform quite well, you know, men honor you. He says, the problem is, your hearts are spiritually dead. In fact, Pascal went on to say, “We want to lead this imaginary life in the eyes of others. And so, we try to make an impression. We strive consistently to embellish and preserve our imaginary being, and we neglect the real one.” You know, as I was preparing this, I was reminded of that event where God revealed to Samuel that David was God’s anointed and was going to be the next King of Israel. If you will recall, Saul, who was the first King of Israel, had been disobedient to God and was told that he would be removed and would be replaced, and what we’re told is that he would be replaced by one of the sons of Jesse, and Samuel is going to anoint one of Jesse’s sons, and he says bring your sons to me, and he brings all his sons to him, except the youngest, the baby, David, who he leaves out to look after the sheep, and he brings his sons in, and Samuel, the godly Samuel, sees all of these sons coming in, and the first one he notices is the oldest son, whose name was Eliab. And Eliab, obviously, was tall, strong, good-looking, I mean, even the godly Samuel says, surely this is God’s anointed. He looks like a leader. He looks like a King. And, it says, in fact, let me read, this is from I Samuel 16:6-7. “When they entered, Samuel looked at Eliab and thought, surely the Lord’s anointed is standing before me. But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or his height, or his stature, because I have rejected him.’” In other words, he is not the one. “For God sees not as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
You know, an interesting question I get, and I believe is that the most liberating event in life is when we can live our lives without worrying about what people think. I mean, think about it. How liberating it would be where I can live each day and not have to think about or worry about impressing someone else. Now, whenever I say this, immediately people ask me, well certainly shouldn’t you worry about your reputation? Shouldn’t you be concerned about your reputation? Isn’t that important? Isn’t that to be value? And the answer is yes, but, think about this. Our reputation is how other people see us. Our character is who we really are, and if our life focus is on our reputation, what eventually happens is we come to be known as people pleasers who are always trying to impress others, and that becomes our reputation. Where, if our life focuses on the maturing of the soul, the developing of the heart, and serving others, your reputation will take care of itself. And you will be known for who you are, and not how you appear. Now, taking all of this into account, how does the pride in my life, we’ve talked about how it impacts me and my character, but how does it impact my relationship with others? Because, if you think about it, if all I project to the world is a superficial image, how can I expect to have anything but superficial relationships? You know, if you think about it, if the addiction to other people’s approval leads to a fear of rejection, then why would I ever be willing to expose my true self to anybody else? I believe, guys, this is why men have such superficial and shallow relationships with each other.
There was a great article in U.S. News and World Report, by a guy by the name of Eugene Kennedy, who is professor of psychology at Loyola University of Chicago. He says this, “It is dangerous to say that it is more difficult than it was at any time in the past, but there are factors in the U.S. culture,” as far as he’s talking about making meaningful relationships, “it’s dangerous to say it is more difficult than it was at any time in the past, but there are factors today in the United States in our culture such as high mobility, social conditions, the emphasis on the self, and on the superficial things of life that combine to make it very tough for many people to make good friends.” He says, “There is a tendency in the United States today to emphasize surface qualities. The attributes you need for friendship go so much deeper than that and usually requires surrender of self rather than the triumph of self over another. There is a profound longing for friendship, a poignant searching for the kinds of things that only close and lasting relationships give you, but people have difficulty knowing how to go about making friends because our society has told them that self-gratification will make them successful and happy. Therefore, we have a generation of people who are working terribly hard to find things to do together, thinking that friendship comes out of that kind of frenetic activity. The sort of carousing, good fellowship that you see on television beer commercials. There is nothing wrong with that, but that is not friendship. Friendship means having enough trust in others to act genuinely, yet many people aren’t on good enough terms with themselves and don’t appreciate the simple things about their own character. We think we have to be something other than what we are, and therefore, people never know who we really are.”
Now, the famous psychiatrist Karl Jung, I think, made a very astute observation about men. He wrote an essay called, “The Noon of Life”, in which he suggested that human personality reveals what he called masculine traits and feminine traits. He said the masculine traits he noted tend toward the functional. You know, what we do. “And almost all aspects of a man’s life push him toward the strong expression of those traits. A man’s sense of value, his identity, and his major choices, all aim at accomplishing something.” But in the essay, Jung went on to suggest that somewhere near the age of 40, what he called, the noon of life, a shift of perspective may begin to take place. The man who has worked hard to fulfill his masculine orientation, this is, his achievement, becomes slowly aware of what might be missing in his life – relationships. And he begins to regret its absence in his life. The best word to describe this regret is loneliness. You know, a good question to consider is, who, in this life, really knows us? And another question might be, do I really want anybody to, in fact, to know me? Am I willing to reveal to somebody who I really am? I read where a very wise man once said the longer we live, the more we ache to be loved for who we are, rather than what we do, and what we accomplish. So, we’ve looked at how comparing ourselves to others, how pride impacts who we are, and how we relate to other people, and now I want to close with this one final thought. How does the pride of life impact our relationship with God?
And the way I want to lay this out before concluding this, is to look at one of the most fascinating incidents in the New Testament. It’s when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. I don’t know if you remember the incident, but Lazarus, who was the brother of Martha and Mary, becomes sick, and Jesus, who is a good distance away, they send word to Him, and say, come and heal Lazarus, he’s very sick. And Jesus tarries. He intentionally does not immediately go and heal Lazarus. He waits a couple of days, and Lazarus dies. And He slowly gets there, but by the time He gets there, Lazarus has been in the grave for three days. And what’s interesting, when Jesus shows up, the Bible says there is a huge throng of people there, friends of Martha and Mary, and Lazarus, and they are there to comfort and console. And Jesus shows up, and they say, Lord if You had been here, You could have healed him. And Jesus says, basically, He doesn’t even hear anything of it, and He says, take Me to the tomb. And He goes, and He says, push the rock away. And they say, Lord, it’s been three days, by now, his body is probably decomposing, in fact, he probably smells. He says, move the stone. He says, Lazarus, come forth. And Lazarus comes walking out, and everybody sees this. I mean, imagine what that would be like today. It’s like we go out to Elmwood, have a big funeral, put the casket in the ground, cover it up, and then we’re told, let’s go back out there three days later, we dig it up, we take the casket out, and somebody gets out and starts walking and eating and living, it would blow our minds. In fact, it did have a huge impact. But let’s pick it up from there. This is in the book of John, chapter 11, starting at verse 45.
It says, “Therefore, many of the Jews, who had come to Mary, and saw what Jesus had done, believed in Him.” And this is interesting. “But some of them, who had seen this take place, instead of believing it, went to the Pharisees, and told them the things which Jesus had done. And therefore, the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, ‘What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.’”
You know what, this just blows my mind. Here are the most learned, religious men, they knew the scriptures, they knew that a Messiah was coming. You would have thought the first thought would have been, let’s go talk to this guy. Maybe He is the Messiah; maybe He is the one we have been waiting on. But, do they do that? No. In fact, what they care about is their high position. Because they say, you know, if we let Him go on like this, the Romans will come and take away our place, in other words, our position, our status. And we will lose everything. You know what’s interesting? They didn’t want to give up their high position, because it was more important than God’s Truth. They were more interested in their status, you now the positions they had before mankind, than they were in the Truth of God. Now, let me keep going. This thing doesn’t go away. In fact, this was really the straw that broke the camel’s back that led to Jesus being apprehended, and then crucified. But you move on into the next chapter. Listen to this. It’s quite interesting.
“The large crowd of the Jews then learned that Jesus was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.”
In other words, not only did they want to get rid of Jesus, they wanted to get rid of the evidence. They wanted to kill Lazarus. I mean, think about that. Here, Lazarus had been dead for three days, he is raised, and instead of being inquisitive, and saying what is the truth, and what is going on here; let’s get rid of Lazarus, let’s kill him. Verses 17 through 19.
“So the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify about Him. For this reason, also the people went and met Him, because they heard that He had performed this sign. But, so the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him.’”
I mean, you see what’s happening. They didn’t care about, they didn’t care, very little at all, about the Truth of God. They cared about themselves, their position, their high position, their place of stature. Then, verse 37.
“Though He performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing.” And this is critical. Even though many of the rulers believed in Him, even though they saw it, they believed it, it says, but because of the Pharisees, they wouldn’t confess Him, for fear they would be put out of the synagogue, and this is the heart of what I want to leave you with. For they loved the approval of men, rather than the approval of God.
Do you see from this little incident, I say little, it’s a huge incident, but do you see from this incident, how deadly the love of the approval of man can be? And so this is a huge question that each of this morning needs to consider. What is more important to us? The approval of God, or the approval of man? I truly believe that the desire to win man’s approval is such a powerful force in our lives, and this is why Paul, I mean, he just put it out there on the line, he said, are you seeking the approval of men, or of God, because, if, in fact, you live for the approval of men, you cannot be a bondservant of Christ.
Now I want to close with a powerful story, and it’s really the story of how Charles Colson came to faith. Colson, as you remember, was chief counsel to President Nixon. He was in the inner circle. He was one of the most powerful men in our country. And then, Watergate hits. And they go into this bunker mentality. And they are under scrutiny, and the press is on them, and I mean, just unbelievable pressure. And so, Colson happens to be in, I think, I can’t remember exactly where he was, but he decided, I guess he was invited over to visit one of his good friends that he hadn’t seen in a while, a guy by the name of Tom Phillips. Phillips was the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a very powerful man, and he shares with Colson about this change that had taken place in his life, and how it happened. He said, one night I was in New York on business, and I noticed that Billy Graham was having a Crusade at Madison Square Garden. Phillips said, I went, curious, I guess, hoping maybe I’d find some answers. What Graham said that night, put it all into place for me. He said, I saw what was missing. The personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The fact that I hadn’t ever asked Him into my life, hadn’t turned my life over to Him, so I did it. That very night at the Crusade. He said, as he went ahead and talked to him about this relationship that he had with Christ, and Chuck Colson began to tell him about his own life, and then Phillips said, I don’t think you really understand what I’m talking about, and you won’t understand what I’m saying about God, until you’re willing to face yourself and squarely take that first step.
Tom then reached into the corner table and picked up a small paperback book. He read the title. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Tom said, I suggest you take this with you and read it while you’re on vacation. He said, but before I do, let me read you a chapter, and then he began to read him one of the chapters from the book Mere Christianity, which is called, “The Great Sin”, and it’s about pride. Colson says, “As he read, I could feel a flush coming into my face, and a curious burning sensation that made the night seem even warmer. Lewis’ words seemed to pound straight at me. It is pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. Pride always means enmity. It is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God. Suddenly, as he was reading, I felt naked and unclean. My bravado defenses were gone. I was exposed, unprotected, for Lewis’ words were describing me. As he continued, one passage in particular, seemed to sum up what had happened to all of us at the White House, for pride is a spiritual cancer. It eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense. Just as a man about to die is supposed to see flash before him sequence by sequence the high points of his life, so, as Tom’s voice read on that August evening, key events in my life paraded before me, as if projected on a screen.”
In other words, all of the honors that he had earned over the years. He said, “Now, sitting on the dimly lit porch, my self-centered past was washing over me in waves. It was painful, agony. Desperately, I tried to defend myself. What about all my sacrifices for government service. The giving up of a big income, putting all my assets into a blind trust. The truth I saw in an instance, was what I had wanted, the position in the White House more than anything I had ever wanted, even more than money. There was no sacrifice. And the more I talked about my own sacrifices, the more I was really trying to build myself up in the eyes of others. I would have eagerly given up everything I’d ever earned to prove myself at the mountaintop of government. It was pride that led me into government. It was pride, Lewis’ great sin, that had propelled me throughout life. Then, Tom finished the chapter on pride, and shut the door. I left his house, and got into my car, as we parted and said goodbye, but outside, in the darkness, the iron grip that I had kept on my emotions began to relax. Tears welled up in my eyes as I groped in the darkness for the right key to start my car. Angrily, I brushed them away and started the engine. What kind of weakness is this, I said. The tears then, began to spill over, and suddenly, then, I knew I had to go back into the house and pray with Tom. I turned off the motor, got out of the car, but as I did, I saw the lights going out in the house, and through the hall window, I could see Tom stand beside his wife as they went up the stairs to their bedroom. Now the house was in darkness. It was too late. I stood for a moment staring at the darkened house, only one light burning in the upstairs bedroom. Why hadn’t I prayed when he gave me the chance? I wanted to so badly, but now, I was alone, really alone. As I drove out of Tom’s driveway, the tears were flowing uncontrollably. There were no streetlights, no moonlight. The car headlights were flooding illumination before my eyes, but I was crying so hard, it was like trying to swim underwater. I pulled to the side of the road, not more than a hundred yards from the entrance to Tom’s driveway, the tires sinking into soft mounds of pine needles. I hoped that nobody could hear my sobbing, the only sound other than the chirping of crickets that penetrated the still of night. With my face cupped in my hands, head leaning forward against the wheel, I forgot about all of my bravado, about pretenses, about fears of being weak. And as I did, I began to experience a wonderful feeling of being released. Then came the strange sensation that water was not only running down my cheeks, but surging through my whole body as well, cleansing and cooling as it went. They weren’t tears of sadness and remorse, nor of joy, but somehow, tears of relief. And then I prayed my first real prayer ever. ‘God, I don’t know how to find you, but I’m going to try! I’m not much the way I am now, but somehow I want to give myself to you.’ I didn’t know how to say more, so I repeated over and over the words: Take me. Take me. I stayed there in the car, wet-eyed, praying, thinking, for perhaps half an hour, perhaps longer, alone in the quiet of the dark night. Yet for the first time in my life I was not alone at all.”
You know, if you think about it, as we read Colson’s words, what strikes me is that it is the pride of life that keeps men and women from completely surrendering their lives to Christ. And this is what Colson is sharing here. And the question that I would leave with you men this morning is, has each of us, at some point in our lives, humbled ourselves before God, and asked for His mercy, and said, Lord, here’s my life. It’s Yours. Take me. Take me.
Let’s close in prayer. Father, we do thank You that you will receive us, that You are a merciful God for those who desire Your mercy. We thank You for the truth of the scriptures, and how true it is that we do desire to impress others, to win the approval of others, to try to be somebody, yet, in reality, You have designed us to live our lives to seek to please You and to live for You, and therefore, to be liberated from this desire to please mankind. We thank You, and pray these things in Christ’s name. Amen.