Addicted to the Approval of Others

Let me ask you a question – With a show of hands, how many of you would say that you are a “people pleaser”?  Now, those of you who didn’t raise your hands, how many of you didn’t raise your hand because you were worried about what everybody else might think about you if you did?

            The truth is, whether we want to admit it or not, we all struggle with being people pleasers.  And I think preachers may struggle with it more than just about anybody else.  It’s hard to preach without constantly thinking, “What will people think about me if I say this or I say that?  Am I going to offend someone?  Am I going to upset someone?  Does everybody think that I’m doing a good job?”

            And so, I want to spend some time this morning looking at this subject because it seems to me that our addiction to the approval of others is a very real problem for most of us.  And if you aren’t sure whether you’re a people pleaser or not, let me share with you some characteristics of people pleasers:

  • You have a deep need for other people to like you.  People pleasers spend a lot of time worrying about being rejected. Those worries will lead us to do just about anything to make people like us.  For a lot of people who use social media, they will go into a state of depression if there aren’t enough people who “like” their comments or pictures.  We want people to like us.
  • You feel responsible for others’ happiness.  Now, we understand that our behavior does affect other people’s happiness, but when we believe that we personally have the power or the responsibility to make someone else happy, then that becomes a problem.
  • You’re always apologizing.  Obviously, you should apologize when you genuinely need to do so – if you make a mistake, or hurt someone’s feelings.  But, if you find yourself apologizing excessively even when it’s not your fault, that may indicate that you’re a people pleaser.
  • It’s hard for you to say “no”.  If you’re a people-pleaser, there is a very good chance that your schedule is filled with activities that you think other people want you to do.  You think that saying “no” to someone or turning down a request for help will make someone think you don’t care about themAnd so, you will agree to do whatever it is they want you to do, even if you don’t have the time or the desire to do it, because you’re hoping that it will make them like you.
  • You go to great lengths to avoid conflict.  People pleasers feel uncomfortable if someone is angry with them.  Because if your goal is to keep people happy, then if they’re angry, that means you’ve failed.  And while keeping the peace is a good thing, people pleasers will go to great lengths to avoid any conflict at all, which means that they’re unwilling to stand up for those things that truly matter to them.
  • You need compliments.  While praise and kind words can make anybody feel good, people pleasers depend on validation.  And if your self-worth rests entirely on what others think about you, then you’re only going to feel good when other people are showering you with compliments.

            Now, if any of that sounds familiar to you, then I hope this lesson will be of some benefit to you.   Because this morning, I want us to try to get at the root of what it is that causes us to become addicted to the approval of others.

            Our text this morning is Proverbs 29:25, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.”

            Let’s talk a little bit about that phrase, “the fear of man”.   That may sound simply like being physically afraid of what someone might do to you, like being afraid that someone might break into your home or afraid that someone might mug you on the street.  But what Solomon intended is much broader than that.  In fact, the Good News translation translates this verse, “It is dangerous to be concerned with what others think of you, but if you trust the LORD, you are safe.” (Proverbs 29:25, GN)

            When Solomon talks here about the fear of man, he’s talking primarily about being concerned with what others think about you — pleasing people, wanting their approval, trying to make others happy with you.  The fear of man manifests itself as people-pleasing, compromised values, peer pressure, and a reluctance to share our faith. 

            That phrase “fear of man” implies something negative here in this verse, but not all “fear of man” is necessarily bad.  It’s not always bad to be concerned about what other people think about us.  In fact, Joey pointed this out at the end of his sermon last week.

            The truth is, God wants us to live in a way that will please other people.  He commands us to live our lives mindful of what other people think about us.  Let me give you a few examples:

            Children should live in a way that pleases their parents.  In Proverbs 23, Solomon said, “The father of godly children has cause for joy. What a pleasure to have children who are wise.” (Proverbs 23:24, NLT).  Godly children will seek the approval of their parents.

            The apostle Paul told us that we should live under our government in a way that would please our leaders.  In Romans 12, after saying that all government comes from God, Paul says we should submit ourselves to our earthly leaders.  “Do what is good, and you will receive his approval.” (Romans 12:3)

            Paul also said that servants or employees are to work in such a way that would gain the approval of those who are over them.  “Slaves must always obey their masters and do their best to please them.” (Titus 2:9, NLT) 

            Even marriage includes a commitment to please one another.  In I Corinthians 7, Paul is talking about why it’s better to remain single.  He says, “The married man is anxious about…how to please his wife, and …the married woman is anxious about…how to please her husband.” (I Corinthians 7:33-35)

            In fact, the need for us to please other people extends even further.  When we’re trying to bring people to Christ, we need to consider what people think about us.  In I Corinthians 10, Paul wrote, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do… that they may be saved.” (I Corinthians 10:31-33).   That’s a pretty broad statement!  “I try to please everyone in everything I do”!

            So, if pleasing people and seeking their approval is a good thing – in fact, it’s even commanded by God, then why does Solomon say that it’s a bad thing?   Because, like so many other things in life, Satan has a way of taking something that God intends to be good and turning it into something bad. 

            You see, the problem is not with people or their approval.  It’s when we become addicted to that approval that it becomes a problem.  When we are pleasing others, not for the glory of God, but because of how it makes us feel, it becomes a sin.

            A fear of man that is sinful usually manifests itself in one of two ways, either with an insatiable desire for approval or a deep fear of being rejected.  So, how do you know if you struggle with the fear of man?  Look again at the list I gave earlier:

  • You have a deep need for other people to like you.
  • You feel responsible for others’ happiness. 
  • You’re always apologizing.
  • It’s hard for you to say “no”. 
  • You go to great lengths to avoid conflict. 
  • You need compliments. 

Allow me to add a few more:

  • Are you always second-guessing your decisions because of what other people might think?
  • Are you afraid of making mistakes that might make you look bad?
  • Do you get easily embarrassed because you’re worried about what other people might be thinking?
  • Are you afraid to share with others how you really feel? 
  • Are you afraid to talk with people about your faith in Jesus Christ because you’re afraid of how they might react?

            I don’t know if any of those things describe you, but I will tell you that I struggle with a lot of those things.  And I suspect that many of you do as well.

            The fear of man is the overwhelming desire to have the approval of others, and it rears its ugly head in a lot of different ways.

            So, let’s go back and take a closer look at Proverbs 29:25, and I want to share with you three thoughts that come from this passage, that I hope will help set us all free from our addiction to the approval of others.

1.         Realize that “fear of man” is a worship issue

            “The fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” (Proverbs 29:25)

            I want you to notice the parallelism in the passage.  In the book of Proverbs, Solomon often gives us two opposite choices.  And in this verse, the opposite choices are “fear of man” or “trust in the Lord”.   Solomon wants us to know that we have a choice.  We can do one or the other, but we can’t do both because each of them has a different end result.  If we have a “fear of man”, then that means we don’t properly trust God.

            Let me talk for just a moment about fear to explain why this is a worship issue.  If you look up all the different verses where fear is mentioned in the Bible, you will find that the reason for the fear, the anxiety, or the trembling is some particular person or thing that causes it.  For example:

            In I Samuel 14, “Suddenly, panic broke out in the Philistine army, both in the camp and in the field, including even the outposts and raiding parties. And just then an earthquake struck, and everyone was terrified.” (I Samuel 14:15, NLT).  The Philistines were afraid.  Why?  Because there was a powerful earthquake.

            In Genesis 32, when Jacob was returning home to his brother Esau, we read that “Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed.” (Genesis 32:7).  Why was Jacob afraid?  Because he thought that his powerful brother Esau was going to kill him.

            In Exodus 20, when the people of Israel came to Mt. Sinai, we read that “when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled.” (Exodus 20:18).   Why were they afraid?  Because they saw all these signs that demonstrated the power of God.

            In every example of fear, there is an object, a person, or a force that causes the person to tremble.  What gives fear such power over us is the object behind it.  People tremble for a reason.  People are afraid for a reason.

            Our fear recognizes that that object or that person we are afraid of has great power, and sometimes this is appropriate because that object is worthy of our fear.  For example, if an F5 tornado is headed in your direction, fear is the proper response.  That tornado has tremendous power and so, it is only appropriate for you to have great fear as you acknowledge its power.

            But, very often, we are afraid of things or of people and, in the process, we give them great power over us, we believe that they have great power, even though, the truth is, they have very little power of their own. 

            Let me give you an example.  When Sueanne and I got married, we lived in a house that the church provided which was located across the street from the church building.  But it was also surrounded by corn fields on three sides, which meant that when it got cold, all the mice that were running around out in the fields, they decided they would come inside our house to get warm, and we had a significant problem.

            There were days when I would come home to find Sueanne trapped in the dining room with her feet up on the chair, crying out in fear because she had seen a mouse run through the room, and I had to rescue her.  Now, logically speaking, there’s really no reason to be afraid of a tiny little mouse.  It doesn’t have great power.  It can’t kill you.  It can’t even hurt you.  A mouse isn’t powerful.  But, when we are afraid of something, we give it great power over us.

            And, in the case of our fear of man, we give people power over us that they shouldn’t have. We stand in awe of something that we shouldn’t be in awe of.  We place more value on something than it deserves to have.  When we are afraid of something, we give it great power over us.

            And so, that’s why Paul was able to say, “Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” (Galatians 1:10, NLT).

            It’s why when the Jewish leaders told Peter and John not to talk about Jesus any more, they said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)

            Peter, John and Paul were all saying the same thing, “You don’t get to tell me what to do.  You don’t have the power to tell me what to say or how to live.  That power belongs to only one person, and that’s God.”

            That’s why the opposite of trusting in God is fearing man. And when you boil everything down, it’s basically a worship issue.  It comes down to a matter of who is truly most important to us.   And when I make my decisions primarily on the basis of how other people will react or what other people will think about me or what will make other people happy, then I’m basically saying that they have that place in my heart that belongs to God.

            That’s why the fear of man is basically a worship issue. It involves being afraid of someone, but it goes further than that.  It’s holding someone in awe, being controlled by people, putting your trust in people, needing people to fulfill your deepest needs.

            So, when we start to tremble in the presence of others or we live in light of what other people think of us, we need to ask ourselves the question, “Who really is most important to me?”  Because having a fear of man is giving power to people that belongs only to God.  And when we are addicted to the approval of others, we end up making people big and God small.

2.         Realize that “fear of man” controls us

            “The fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” (Proverbs 29:25). 

            Remember, we said first that our addiction to the approval of others begins by standing in awe or giving power to something or someone that doesn’t deserve it.  And then, because we have given it such power, it now has the ability to control us.   And when we allow what people think about us, their approval, the deep desire to be liked, the affirmation of others, when we give power to those things because of our fear, they now have the ability to control our lives.  As Solomon put it, “the fear of man will prove to be a snare”. 

            A snare is a lure or a trap.  Fishermen sometimes use snares to catch fish.  Hunters use various kinds of snares to trap game.  And Satan uses snares to trap human beings.  One of those snares is the fear of man.  The fear of man can be a snare when we allow it to influence our decisions, and take control of our lives.

            When you are obsessed with what other people think about you, it is a dangerous trap.  Your fear of losing the approval of others will lead you closer and closer to committing sin.  If you let others affect the decisions you make, you will always be tempted to compromise.

            We see this happen in John 12, “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in [Jesus], but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue.”  (John 12:42).  There were people who believed in Jesus, but they were afraid to make it known, afraid of what the Pharisees might do to them if they did.  Their fear of man controlled them.

            We may not be afraid of suffering physical persecution for our faith in Christ, but we’re still afraid.  You feel it whenever you feel that tug on your heart to talk to your friend about Jesus or about how they’re living.  And you’re afraid of what will happen if you do.  Do you risk it?  What if they’re offended?  Can you take the rejection? 

            I wonder how many husbands, if they were honest, are really afraid of their wives?  Or how many wives are afraid of their husbands?  I wonder if you can be honest with your spouse?  Can you confront him or her?  Can you address a sticky issue?  Can you talk about hard things?  

            When you talk to others, do you use subtle humor to communicate your point?  That way, if somebody gets upset, you can say, “I was just kidding”?  Do you ever bend the truth, just a little bit, because you want to present yourself in a little better light?

            People who are addicted to approval are so controlled by the fear of what others think of them that it directly impacts their relationships, especially close relationships.  Because those are the people you try to keep happy so that they can give you the affirmation you need.  But it’s not their place to meet the needs that you have; no one can take the place of God in your life.  Even at their very best, people are imperfect and they are going to disappoint you from time to time.  And the result is that you will never be satisfied trying to make others happy because they can never give you what you want.

            Edward Welch describes people who fear man this way: “They are fairly sure that God loves them, but they also want or need love from other people – or at least they need something from other people. As a result, they are in bondage, controlled by others and feeling empty. They are controlled by whoever or whatever they believe can give them what they think they need. It is true: what or who you need will control you.”

3.         Realize that our only hope is trusting the Lord

            “The fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” (Proverbs 29:25)

            The opposite of the fear of man is trusting in the Lord.  As I said, Solomon only gives us two choices.  And people who are filled with the fear of man do not trust the Lord.  You can’t fear man and trust God at the same time.  It’s impossible.  Remember Paul’s words from Galatians 1, “If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” (Galatians 1:10, NLT).

            That word “trust” means that you are looking to someone or something to take care of you, to provide for your needs.

            As David said in Psalm 118, “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?  The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.  It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.  It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.” (Psalm 118:6-9).

            And in Psalm 9, “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.  And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:9-10)

            Notice what David said, “those who know your name will put their trust in you.”  If you don’t know God, you will never trust him.  And, instead, you will try to fill the God-size hole in your heart with things that don’t fit.  If we are going to get rid of our fear of man, it has to begin with the understanding that fearing man and trusting God don’t go together.

            You see, we’ve got to run to God.  We can’t just stop fearing man; we have to run to something greater, a greater object of worth, awe, and trembling.  We don’t get rid of our fear of man by saying, “Who cares what they think of me!”  Those are just empty words that try to put other people down.  The question is, where are you going to run when you begin to feel the fear of man begin to control your decisions?

            Those who trust in the Lord are able to find true safety and security.  For just a few moments, I want you think with me about the connection between your relationship with the Lord and your desire for the approval of others.

            It may be that you’ve run from relationship to relationship, from job to job, from marriage to marriage.  It may be that you can look back at the history of your life and you can see the relationship body-bags that you have left behind.  And, if you’re honest, it may be that you can see that the mess you’ve made in your life comes from an addiction to approval.  You have a deep need to have people like you, and it’s destroying you.

            But if being addicted to the approval of others means that 1) there’s a worship problem and 2) there’s a control problem, then I have some good news for you.   There is someone who thinks the world of you, who thinks that you are special, who would give anything for you because he loves you so much.  And unlike the people in our lives, we don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love, and we don’t have to worry about God getting upset with us and refusing to talk to us anymore.  And all of those things that we keep hoping that other people will give to us, God gives, and more!  So doesn’t it just make sense that God is the one we ought to be trying to please?

            So how do we deal with our approval addiction? First by seeing it for what it is. The fear of man is using people to get what I want.  It’s giving someone more power and control over our lives than they deserve.

            “The fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” (Proverbs 29:25)

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