When you were in Junior High School it is likely that your personal self-image was shaped largely by one factor. It was not your grade point average, not the stuff you possessed or the clothes you wore, it was how popular you were with your peers. If you were popular with the crowd you felt confident and good. If you were not you were confused and often depressed. The desire to be popular can affect the kind of car we buy, the toys we enjoy, the clothes we wear. Peer pressure is so powerful simply because popularity is so important.
Life goes on and we get through those days but that desire to be popular remains. You think that’s not true?
- When the award for humanitarian of the year is given out isn’t there a part of you that wishes they would call your name as the honoree?
- When you go to the swimming pool don’t you wish you were the person everyone wanted to sit next to?
- Wouldn’t it be great sometime to find out that someone was bragging that they were YOUR friend?
- Just once wouldn’t you like to be the “expert” the news media came to talk to?
- Wouldn’t you like to be the one being interviewed on the Tonight Show?
- Wouldn’t it be great to be the one setting the fashion trends?
We could go on and on. The point is, that right or wrong, there is a part of us that would like to be “on top”. We’d like to feel the appreciation of our peers. We’d like to be the envy of others. We have to admit this fact before we can appreciate what Jesus is saying in our text this morning. Our Savior addresses the issue of popularity with words we all need to hear. He not only understands our craving for acceptance and love . . . . He knows we can’t find it in the applause of men.
THE HIDDEN DANGERS OF POPULARITY
The Requirements for Popularity
In order to be popular it is essential that you become part of the group that you are trying to get affirmation from. You must do what they want you to do and be what they want you to be.
It is no secret that those who “buck the tide” are no longer considered to be popular . . .(unless they are the leader of the group and then “bucking the tide” becomes the standard of behavior). If you want to be popular you have to get along; you must “fit in”. It doesn’t matter what you really want to do, it doesn’t matter what you consider to be right or wrong . . . .If you want to be popular you have to follow the herd.
R.C. Sproul talks about his adolescence in which he enjoyed great popularity,
There was a price tag for popularity. I had to conform. I had to be “with-it”. I had to wear the right clothes, learn how to comb my hair properly, know the lyrics to the right popular songs. To prove my masculinity, I had to perform the proper rituals. I had to accept dares. I had to prove that I could “swipe” a magazine or a chocolate bar from the drugstore without being caught. I had to join in evening capers that involved being chased by the police. I had to commit pranks to harass my teachers. I had to learn the art of senseless vandalism. I cleaned out Mrs. Gilbert’s onion patch and I didn’t even like onions. I stole old Nick Green’s grapes from his grapevine while Nick himself was busy picking grapes in the very next row. I learned how to copy Linda Huffington’s homework and then pass it on to my buddy’s. These and many more tactics were all part of the price for the mystique of popularity.
But that sort of thing passes with the passing of adolescence. Or does it? The games change. The tests are different. The price tags are different, for things are more expensive. But the stakes are the same. I still want to be popular. I still hate to be booed. [PLEASING GOD p. 61]
The difficult thing about being popular is this: the crowd is fickle. You see this all the time in kids but it is also true with adults. The rules keep changing. One day you are “in” the next day you are “out”. It is difficult to remain popular with the crowd. It is said that President Lyndon Johnson used to carry a copy of the latest opinion polls in his pocket so he knew what stand to take that particular day!
How Popularity Runs Counter to Christianity
Where does this morning’s text come into all of this? Hang on! I’m about to show you. In verse 19 we read, If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Jesus knows what it takes to be popular . . .you must belong to the crowd. The Lord also tells us that we are not to cater to the crowd around us. We do not belong to the crowd but to Him!
In verse 26 and 27 we read, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” Do you hear what is being said? Jesus tells us that if we are going to belong to Him we must be those who tell the truth . . . even when it isn’t popular. The crowd wants to hear that “they are good”, “things are great”, “this is life!” We must tell the truth. This is no optional element of discipleship . . . it is required!
Romans 12:2 tells us not to be conformed to this world . . .but to be transformed. As believers our lives are going against the flow . . . not with it! We want to have a good reputation with the world. We want to be known as people of integrity . . . but we cannot compromise. We cannot agree to the world’s requirements. The most we can hope for is that the world will respect our integrity and treat us with some respect.
You see, as we pursue acceptance from the world we are really moving away from our relationship with the Father. The two seldom, if ever, walk together. Consider these Biblical examples: Aaron sought to be popular with the crowd and ended up leading them into the worship of idols! Abraham sought to go by the social custom of the day (rather than by God’s promise) and had a child by his wife’s servant. The result was family heartache and a national animosity between the Arabs and Jews ever since. King Saul wanted to keep the troops happy so he offered a sacrifice he was told specifically not to offer! He wanted to enjoy the spoils of victory and so didn’t destroy what God told Him to destroy . . . the result was that God’s blessing on His Kingship was withdrawn and he lived the rest of his days as a suspicious, moody, unhappy man. The World and the Believer cannot walk together!
GOD’S ALTERNATIVE TO POPULARITY – FAITHFULNESS
What is “Faithfulness”
Faithfulness is really simply seeking our approval from God. God becomes the “group” we want to please. It means taking our values from the Lord. It means speaking the truth as He declares it. It means living according to God’s standards for our life. Faithfulness is seeking to be “popular with God”. It sounds easy doesn’t it . . . but it’s not.
The Honest Warnings
Jesus is straightforward with the disciples about the cost of faithfulness.
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first…..If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. . . .They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. . . I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.
Jesus tells His disciples right at the beginning that following Him probably won’t be easy. It won’t be easy . . .but it WILL be worth it. The likelihood is that people will ridicule, persecute and maybe even want to kill you.
Why the hostility? It’s because you are not in “the group”. When you follow Christ you are going against the stream of public opinion. After Christ died the hatred that some people felt toward Him turned toward the disciples.
History records that every disciple faced persecution and all except John faced a horrible death (although some traditions say that John was put in a caldron of boiling oil, but escaped death in a miraculous manner before he died in exile). They were run threw with swords, beheaded, skinned alive and dipped in oil, they were crucified.
In the early centuries of the church believers were often hunted down and killed. They were exiled from society, forced to live in caves and hunt for food to survive. Still today in some countries Christians are pulled from their home at night and placed in prison or never heard from again. In our own country Christians are ridiculed for their beliefs. Christians are tolerated as long as they sit quietly on the sidelines. As soon as a believer takes a Biblical stand the lines are drawn and the battle begins. Society is against those who take a stand for truth.
Why the fierce reaction? Living in the light exposes the darkness by contrast…
- your ethics expose the duplicity of the world’s methods.
- your values imply that the behaviors of the world are condemned by God
- your compassion exposes the heartless self-absorption of the world
- your peace and joy angers those who want what you have
In one of His parables Jesus tells us that we must “count the cost” before we declare our faith in Christ. He calls those foolish who rush into declarations of faith without thinking about what they are doing. Have you counted the cost? Are you willing to pay the price to be a follower of Christ?
The honest person is led to ask, “Why bother with the pursuit of faithfulness?”
FIRST, the way of Christ is the only way of salvation. The only way to be forgiven of the wrong things we have done is to stand with Christ. God promises us the strength of His Spirit. He promises that we will not have to face the hostility alone.
You remember the old story about the guy asking for directions. He is met with the response: “You can’t get there from here!” Well you can pursue popularity in the world but understand that when it comes to salvation . . . “You can’t get there from here”. Salvation is found in no other way but Christ.
The Bible tells us plainly that the wrong that we have done in the past and continue to do in the present has separated us from God. As a result, God’s perfect character has to declare us guilty and deserving of eternal banishment from God’s kingdom. But God, out of love for us, provided an alternative. Jesus came to live a perfect life and to die in our place on the cross. His death becomes the payment for the wrong that anyone who believes has committed. His resurrection is the evidence that Christ’s sacrifice was acceptable to God. Now the choice is ours: to receive the forgiveness God offers and to follow Him as the Master and Lord of our life or to reject this offer and persist in our exile from God.
The point is simple . . . there is only one way to forgiveness and everlasting life. That way is Jesus. And in response to God’s great love, our allegiance is the only response.
SECONDLY, Friendship with God is stable and dependable. God’s standards never change. The standards of the “group” are constantly changing. God’s character is consistent . . . the personality of the group changes endlessly. You can never feel secure. In the next moment that same crowd that applauded you seconds before may be attacking you. The world cannot be depended on. God’s Promise is sure. The only way to have any sense of peace or security is through a relationship with the Savior.
FINALLY, the world’s popularity cannot provide what you are really looking for. You are looking for acceptance and love. What you seek is not found on a stage or in the presence of your so-called friends. The acceptance and love you desire is found, strangely enough, on a hill of execution. Today it would be the equivalent of a gas chamber. For it is there that you find one who accepts you not for what they want you to be or do . . . but for who you are. That’s right! The one on the hill of execution accepts the REAL you, the person you are when no one else is looking. You see, the reason He is at the place of execution is to pay the price for the wrong you’ve done. He is there so that you might go free. “Greater love has no man than this…that a man would lay down his life for His friends.” Such is the love of the one executed. Such is the love of Jesus.
- He doesn’t guarantee popularity but He does guarantee that some day you will hear the “Well Done” of the Creator of the universe.
- He doesn’t guarantee the applause of the crowd . . .He does guarantee that nothing will separate you from His love.
- He doesn’t call you to work harder, to be better, to attain a certain standard . . . He calls you to trust Him to provide what your broken soul needs.
Jesus does not “sell” the faith the way most would today. He simply told the truth: If you follow me there will be tough times. If you follow me people may attack you . . . . but if you follow me, I will lead you home.
What are you seeking today? Are you pursuing the world’s applause or the Savior’s “Well Done”? Are you depressed that you are not “popular” or grateful that you are “made new”? Are you trying to have “the best of both worlds”? It can’t be done . . . you can’t have Christ and the world at the same time. So, if you can’t have them both which side are you leaning on . . .are you leaning toward the world or toward the Savior? We all want to be popular and none of us like to be “booed” but when it all comes down to it you have to ask, “What price am I willing to pay for popularity?”
Are you ready to stop straddling the fence and stand with Christ? Are you willing to pursue faithfulness over popularity?
To Those who have chosen to walk with Christ, Max Lucado writes,
You’ll be home soon. You may not have noticed it, but you are closer to home than ever before. Each moment is a step taken. Each breath is a page turned. Each day is a mile marked, a mountain climbed. You are closer to home than you’ve ever been,
Before you know it, your appointed arrival time will come; you’ll descend the ramp and enter the City. You’ll see faces that are waiting for you. You’ll hear your name spoken by those who love you. And, maybe, just maybe – in the back, behind the crowds – the One who would rather die than live without you will remove his pierced hands from his heavenly robe . . . and applaud. [THE APPLAUSE OF HEAVEN p.190]
In that moment we will find that His love and approval is what we have been longing for all our lives.