“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24
In this week’s journey, I want to look into one of things that many of us, or all of us, struggle with, if we are honest. I think everyone appreciates being told that they have done a good job. When I have worked hard on some project, it is gratifying to know that someone else recognizes the value of what I have done. I also appreciate knowing that my life and ministry have positively influenced someone’s life and helped them grow in their relationship with Christ.
Feedback, whether we are giving or receiving it, is an important part of our lives and growth as individuals and followers of Christ. We see numerous examples of feedback, both encouragement and criticism, in the pages of Scripture. Yet, we also see warnings against seeking the approval of others or placing too much value on what others perceive or say. How do we navigate this path without allowing what others say to us, or think about us, to become an idol in our lives? Here are some things that can help us to accomplish this.
Work for the Lord, regardless of whether our efforts are recognized by others. The passage in Colossians 3:23-24, shown above, is interesting in that the apostle Paul is addressing slaves with these verses. Slaves may rarely, if ever, have been shown any respect. They could perform their work each day with no response of gratitude or appreciation from their master. They could have been mistreated, even when doing everything they were asked to do. Yet, whether they are treated poorly or whether they are recognized for their work, Paul instructs them to work as if they are working for the Lord, not for men. As we live out our lives and conduct the work the Lord has provided for us to do, we should do our work for the Lord, not the approval of others. The Lord will reward us. And if no earthly reward or acknowledgement is ever received, we can know that God will reward us for our faithfulness and obedience.
Consider criticism, when it is received from a trustworthy and godly source. When we are involved in life and ministry, we don’t always receive the type of response that we want. We want positive feedback. When someone comes to us with some advice, exhortation, or challenge, our first response can be to be indignant or offended. However, it could very well be that God is using this person to bring some issue to our attention. Or maybe we don’t get any response, from anyone! We thought we did a good job on something, but no one seemed to notice. Do they all think I did not do well? Was my contribution not important? Again, God may be using this situation to remind us that we called to live for Him and not the approval of others. The Lord disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:3-11). When criticism or silence come our way, we should be willing to evaluate our lives and motives. Consider the source of the critique and seek the Lord for wisdom. The Lord may be trying to tell us something.
Thank God for the encouragement we receive. When someone praises something we have done, we should thank them and give acknowledgement to God for His work in our lives. We need to remember that it was not us who did this alone, but it was God working in us (Ephesians 2:8-10). Apart from Christ, we can do nothing of eternal value (John 15:1-5). It is also important to remember that God chooses the weak and foolish (all of us) to accomplish His purposes, so that no one can boast (1 Corinthians 1:23-31). Thank God that He has graciously allowed us to serve Him and to be a part of what He is doing in the world.
Do not place too much value or importance on praise we receive. Jesus did not entrust Himself to those that followed and even believed in Him for the wonders He did among them (John 2:23-25). This is because He knew the hearts of all people. We are all sinners. If we determine our value or commend ourselves because of the praise we receive, we are basing it on the opinion of those who are fallen, just like us. Yes, godly feedback and encouragement can spur us on to continue pursuing Christ. However, those who praise us today can curse us tomorrow. It happened to Jesus. It will happen to those who follow Him. In addition, when we pursue the praise of others, Jesus said that we have received all of the reward we will get. There is no eternal reward because have coveted the approval of others, rather than God (Matthew 6:1-18).
Above all, seek God’s approval, not that of others. In the end, the only One whose opinion really matters is God. Our desire should be to please Him and to pursue His desires for our lives. When we are in glory, the praise we received from others will count as absolutely nothing. While we can be thankful for the generosity and encouragement of others, our pursuit is to be for God’s approval. Ultimately, God’s approval of us comes only through being clothed in the righteousness of Christ, having received the salvation provided through His sacrificial atonement (Romans 3:21-26; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Beyond that, we can find our joy and satisfaction in knowing Christ and allowing Him to work in us and through us to accomplish His purposes (Philippians 3:7-11).
Praise received from others can be a source of encouragement to us in our walk of faith and ministry. However, it can also become an idol that we crave and pursue after. It can become the driving force behind our lives, our work, and our activity within the church. When this happens, our pursuits are based on what we get out of it rather than the glory and purposes of God. In the end, we will not obtain what we really want, for the praise of others is often tainted and it is fleeting. The approval of God is eternal and brings joy and satisfaction for this life and for eternity.
Together for His glory…