Do you ever feel like you deserve special treatment? Someone to assure you that you are, in fact, going in the right direction with your life? To be brought “inside” the places where you feel peripheral?
I’ve recently realized (again) how much value I place on the opinions of other people. I interpret how I am treated as the measurement of my worth, and therefore I live in this constant limbo. I am always looking for special treatment.
The impact of this thirst for approval is that I begin to live a life completely opposite to what I want. I want to live authentically, yet I become an imposter. I want to known, yet I am actually unknown as I try to fulfill the expectations of others. My heart is confined and bound, unable to be open with other people because their response is what defines me.
In fact, I sometimes elevate the response of the world, hearing them as God’s response to me. I’m not steady: my faith shakes in the winds of human opinion.
Recently, a stranger tried to “help” me get a large box of groceries into my house. He talked loudly about helping me so that my neighbors would hear him, yet he quietly asked me for money under his breath.
Sometimes I feel like my desire for approval is like this man—loudly promising to help me out, “Come on Bethany, let me help you love other people better and be who Jesus wants you to be.” Meanwhile, there is this quieter, more sinister side subtly persuading me that fulfilling the expectations of others will earn me the acceptance I want. But it’s deceptive—an utterly false and empty promise.
In 2 Corinthians 6, we’re reminded that things are not what they seem; that the opinions of others are not what define if we are in Christ:
We are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. – 2 Corinthians 6:8b-11
Paul believes exactly the opposite of what the treatment of others seems to be saying. He’s treated as having nothing, and yet says he possesses everything. How does Paul do it? How is he so certain that he is known, even when he is treated as if he is unknown? How does he rejoice always, even when circumstances are sorrowful? How does he live in poverty, and yet see his life making many rich?
I think the answer is that Christ’s righteousness matters to Paul. In chapter five, he says,
“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:20-21
When I realize who I have become in Jesus, I am able to speak freely and to have a wide open heart—to live as if there is something deeper defining me than the treatment of others. When I take my eyes off myself and what I can or can’t accomplish, and see what Jesus has accomplished, then I live honestly and openly.
Suddenly, special treatment doesn’t seem so important. We are defined by a Word that is deeper and truer than the treatment we receive from the world, and so there is always that “and yet” to our experiences of disappointment, discouragement, or mistreatment. We are now Christ’s ambassadors instead of people who must establish our reputations.
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Image sourced from Flickr and used under a Creative Commons License with color edits made.