In the past few years – especially since getting a job – I’ve come to realize just how much other people’s opinions of me (and what I think their opinions are) control me. They control my actions, my confidence and security, and my sanity. Yick! So this is something I’ve been doing a little pondering about: the ‘need’ to control other people’s opinions of me. I’m going to focus on those of critical people in particular (although I think this applies to all people in a way) since those are the ones that unnerve me the most.
Critical people (and even people I just think are critical because I’m insecure and thus judge them to be judging me [Oh the irony!]) out of all the humans in this world most make me want to make them like me. I want to do whatever it takes to make them understand why I do what I do and win their good opinion. (And hey, some respect on the side wouldn’t be bad either.) But when I actually take the time to think about it, my desire to control their opinions of me really just boils down to fear. And what’s God say about that?
Proverbs 29:25 ~ The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
I can testify to the truth of that verse! (The second half will tie in later.) Fear of man’s opinion of me always, without failure, trips me up and makes me fall on my face in a figurative mud puddle. (With my mouth open, no less.) Rather than gain that person’s good opinion, I end up with a burden of shame and a mouthful of mud. And in the end? Honestly, if someone feels like criticizing me, they’re going to find a reason to criticize me no matter what I do. (And maybe especially when I try to make sure they can’t.)
As I was thinking about this, I remembered a couple verses:
1 Peter 2:23 ~ When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.
Isaiah 53:7 ~ He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.
In the face of not only criticism, but a gruesome death by torture, Jesus gave us an example to follow. He was abused and humiliated and in intense pain; meanwhile His critics jeered, “If You’re the Christ, save Yourself!” Translation: if you want us to believe You, do this one thing to earn our good opinion. Of all people, Jesus had the most right to justify His actions to His critics. And how dare they say such irreverent things to Him? “Yet He opened not His mouth,” “but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.”
That reminds me of another verse.
Matthew 7:6 ~ Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
What would have happened if Jesus had tried to explain His actions to the mocking crowd and ‘fix’ their opinion of Him? He had the right to put them in their place. He could have scolded them. But what would have happened? Like Matthew wrote, they would have trampled on His efforts to justify His actions and attacked Him all the more. They would have taken His words and thrown them back in His face. By not justifying Himself to the people, Jesus was really living out His own teaching in Matthew 5:39 to “turn the other cheek”. What looked like weakness to the rabble was really wisdom.
I want to justify myself to my critics. I want so badly to shut them up by proving that I deserve their approval. But if Jesus didn’t do it when He most had the right, then how can I do it? In the end, the answer to fear of people’s opinions is not to try to control them – they always end up controlling me instead – but to entrust myself to Him who has the only right to condemn me, and yet loves me exceedingly and abundantly more than I could ever deserve. In His hands I can safely turn the other cheek and let Him handle both my reputation and the people whose opinions I’m so tempted to fear. He’s ready to give me confidence in spite of other people, but I first have to trust Him.