Chapter OneDoes It Matter
What Others Think?
Life is too short to spend time and energy worrying about
what others think of us. Or should we care about what
others think precisely because that really matters in this
short life? Should we be radically free from what others
think, so that we don't fall into the indictment of being a
"second-hander" or "man-pleaser," a slave to expediency?
Or should we keep an eye out for what others think of
what we do, so that we don't fall into the indictment of
being boorish and insensitive and offensive? The answer is
not simple. Some biblical texts seem to say it matters what
others think. Others seem to say it doesn't.
For example, Jesus warned us: "Woe to you, when all
people speak well of you" (Luke 6:26). And His own enemies
saw in Him an indifference to what others thought:
"Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about
anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances,
but truly teach the way of God" (Mark 12:14). Paul said
that if he tried to please men he would no longer be serving
Christ: "Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of
God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to
please man, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Galatians
1:10). "As we have been approved by God to be entrusted
with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to
please God who tests our hearts" (1 Thessalonians 2:4). So
it seems that Christians should not care much about what
On the other hand, Proverbs 22:1 says, "A good name
is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better
than silver or gold." This sounds like reputation matters.
And Paul was vigilant that he not be discredited in his handling
the money he collected for the poor: "[We are] taking
precaution so that no one will discredit us in our
administration of this generous gift; for we have regard for
what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but
also in the sight of men" (2 Corinthians 8:20-21, NASB).
It mattered what men thought.
Paul taught the Roman church, "Now we who are
strong ought . not just please ourselves. Each of us is to
please his neighbor for his good, to his edification" (Romans
15:1-2, NASB). And he taught that one of the qualifications
for elders is that they must be "above reproach" (1 Timothy
3:2), including among unbelievers: "He must be well
thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace,
into a snare of the devil" (1 Timothy 3:7).
Similarly Peter charged us to care about what outsiders
thought: "Keep your behavior excellent among the
Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as
evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they
observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation" (1 Peter
Question: How is the tension between these two
groups of passages to be resolved?
Answer: By realizing that our aim in life is that "Christ
will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death"
(Philippians 1:20, NKJV). In other words, with Paul, we do
care-really care-about what others think of Christ.
Their salvation hangs on what they think of Christ. And
our lives are to display His truth and beauty. So we must
care what others think of us as representative of Christ. Love
But we ought not to care much what others think of
us for our own sake. Our concern is ultimately for Christ's
reputation, not ours. The accent falls not on our value or
excellence or virtue or power or wisdom. It falls on
whether Christ is honored by the way people think of us.
Does Christ get a good reputation because of the way we
live? Is the excellence of Christ displayed in our lives? That
should matter to us, not whether we ourselves are praised.
Again notice a crucial distinction: The litmus test of
our faithfully displaying the truth and beauty of Christ in
our lives is not in the opinion of others. We want them to
see Christ in us and love Him (and thus, very incidentally,
to approve of us). When John the Baptist said, "He must
increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30), he spoke for
every true Christian. We must insist on being less than
Christ. I am vigilant, as far as it depends on me, to be less
than Christ to others.
But we know others may be blind to spiritual reality
and resistant to Christ. So they may think more of us than
they thought of Him. Or they may think less of us than
they think of Him, not because they think well of Him,
but, as Jesus said, "If they have called the master of the
house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those
of his household" (Matthew 10:25). They may think He is
a devil and we are worse. Jesus wanted men to admire Him
and trust Him. That would have been their salvation. But
He did not change who He was in order to win their
approval. Nor can we change who He was, or who we are
Yes, we want people to look on us with approval when
we are displaying that Jesus is infinitely valuable to us. But
we dare not make the opinion of others the measure of our
faithfulness. They may be blind and resistant to truth.
Then the reproach we bear is no sign of our unfaithfulness
or lack of love.
* * *
Father, at times the way of Christ is complex
to our sin-stained and finite minds.
Forgive us for the times we have justified
our vanity in the name of a good reputation.
O, Lord, grant us, in this brief life,
the wisdom and courage
to please others, or not to please others,
for the sake of Christ alone,
and not our own praise.
In Jesus' name,