By Jeremy Writebol
“We didn’t seek glory from people.”
Or did we?
One of the darkest dangers of the Christian life is the pursuit of praise. We want people to affirm and recognize us for who we are, what we have accomplished, and the results of our efforts. Perhaps rightly so. Our culture at large gives renown and praise to celebrities for who they are, what they have accomplished and the things they have produced. We’re taught that if you want your life to matter, you have to have people pay attention.
Our culture at large gives renown and praise to celebrities for who they are, what they have accomplished, and the things they have produced. We taught that if you want your life to matter, you have to have people pay attention.
Disciples devour and dwell on the things of God found in the Scriptures. We pray. We kill sin in our lives. We serve others.
Consider the incessant reality of social media today. Masked as a vehicle with which to share your life with your “friends” these channels have become self-glorifying platforms in which we project ideal versions of ourselves for the world to like, favorite, and adore.
Forbes Magazine reported a recent study from the University of Houston that found that the “highlight reels” of social media were linked to higher rates of depression among users. Our social comparison of each other creates a culture in which everyone seeks to be the celebrity.
Even think about the videos that have gone viral across social media platforms. We call it “transparency,” but it is a kind of voyeurism and narcissism that causes a couple to share live video on everything from their kids spilling milk at breakfast, to a heated argument, to the sad realization that she has just had a miscarriage. All of this to get clicks, likes, shares, and a social platform of celebrity.
We are seeking glory from people!
So how do we overcome this sort of glory seeking? Paul, writing to the Thessalonian church in one of his first letters, sought to demonstrate this sort of challenge that he himself faced and the remedy for that sort of glory seeking.
In a high-charged, socially-aware, and omnipresent world today, we have to think through how to defuse our social-glory-seeking selves. Paul gives us three remedies for the illness of social-glory-seeking.
WE LIVE IN GENTLENESS AMONG THE WORLD
In the context of Paul’s ministry, he is speaking of the way in which he and his missionary team conducted themselves among the new believers there in Thessalonica. The paradigm he uses is that of a mother and her small infant child. He describes his relationship with the people there as, “gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thess 2:7).
Set in opposition to the glory-seeking orators and thinkers of Paul’s day, he postured himself as someone who would hardly be celebrated or recognized in the world—a nursing mother.
You can’t build a platform or make much of yourself when you’re busy being present with people and listening to them.
Most mothers I know don’t get a lot of platform and social praise for the labor they do in raising children. Gentle mothers aren’t usually lifted up in our culture as the kinds of people that we should aspire to be. They aren’t the paragons of society, influence, and renown. Yet this posture should be the very first posture if we are to kill a social-glory-seeking virus among us.
You can’t build a platform or make much of yourself when you’re busy being present with people and listening to them. Pastors and ministry leaders who embody this don’t get to Instagram and selfie their every counseling conversation, tear-filled pleading for repentance, broken-hearted funerals, and hours of labor alone in a study listening to and pondering over the Word of God.
These kinds of leaders often do most of their work without Twitter announcing to the world their efforts, or a live-stream, webinar conversation with empowered leaders and entrepreneurial dynamos. The social-glory-seekers get those. This kind of leader humbly, gently works among his people feeding, shepherding, and loving them.
WE YEARN FOR THE GOOD OF OTHERS
Paul says that a second remedy to the heart illness of social-glory-seeking is the compassionate longing for the good of others. He describes his ministry this way, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you…” (1 Thess 2:8).
Paul’s affectionate desire was a deep yearning and ambition for the good of that church. He truly loved them. The context of his ministry there, and the conflict, persecution, and strife that befell him as he ministered to the Thessalonians, knit their hearts together. As they went through the deep waters of adversity and struggle, they were bound up together in love and compassion.
This affliction-born affection radically changed the perspective of the relationship. We often like to envision Paul’s missionary journeys as being some sort of multi-city tour where he would book a venue, have a big entertaining gathering, amass a crowd, preach the gospel, and see hundreds-if not thousands-get saved.
He stuck around for a few days with a discipleship class, and then off to the next town to raise up the next evangelistic crusade power-assembly. How wrong we would be. His visit to Thessalonica was anything but that. Acts 17 paints the picture of civil discourse in the Jewish synagogue turned into a violent mob and a harrowing late-night escape to the next town. Nothing self-aggrandizing in this ministry but a beating from jealous religious zealots.
But this affliction-soaked ministry birthed deep love and concern for the good of others. Ministers that care only for the glory of the platform don’t worry themselves with the street-level stuff.
Seeking glory from people means working to make sure that people affirm and like you, not that you care about them. Paul saw the hostility and the rage against the new Christians firsthand in this city, and it moved him to compassion for those people and that city. Social-glory-seeking would count Paul’s work as a loss and a failure. He saw it as a means to love.
Seeking glory from people means working to make sure that people affirm and like you, not that you care about them.
Pastor, do you care for the good of those in your church?
Do you yearn for the fruit of the Spirit to be prevalent among the flock of God?
Have you shown up unannounced at the home of a friend who is living in folly to try and wake them out of their stupor?
Do you pray with the lonely, elderly, sick, and shut-in? Or do you only care about the “wins” (blasphemous term!) of ministry and celebrate the numbers of success; attendance records and fiscal prosperity?
Are you intertwined in the affliction of ministry or just the successes?
Or are you busy retweeting the rave reviews of your books, declaring where you’re speaking on the tour next, and the fiscal perks of your work?
Killing the social-glory-seeking heart that is present among the ministerial ranks requires an affectionate yearning and care for the good of others.
WE SHARE OUR LIVES, NOT JUST OUR MESSAGE
No one will say that proclaiming the gospel isn’t necessary, or even important. However, an insidious trap has been set by our enemy. In a social-glory-seeking world we’ve been deceived to believe that our message of the gospel is a product with which we can dispense to the world, build a platform around, and amass a pop following of glory with.
But if we’re not seeking glory from people, why do we act like the stage is the pinnacle place of ministry in the world today?
Paul’s remedy is very different. “We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess 2:8). For Paul, living in community was essential to defeating the monster of the glory-seeking me.
We may feel that we are “sharing our lives” but it’s never our failures, never our sins, never our weaknesses or losses. It’s always our wins. Does anyone really know us?
Sharing lives, not just messages, required that people knew him, and that he made himself known. The believers at Thessalonica became part of Paul’s life. He had friends, he had meals with them, he shared everyday stuff of life.
Social-glory-seeking, however, creates false barriers. It puts out only the best and brightest of our lives for everyone to see. We may feel that we are “sharing our lives” but it’s never our failures, never our sins, never our weaknesses or losses. It’s always our wins. Does anyone really know us?
To kill this kind of glory-seeking requires an imbedded life together. We have to be known; we have to be sharing of ourselves—our joys, our worries, our frustrations, our aspirations, our true selves with others. I worry for leaders and pastors who are not in community life with people in their church. They don’t express hospitality to the church; they don’t attend or participate in normal small groups; they create bubbles and barriers of protection and circles of trust that isolate them from the crowds, lest everyone see their faults and weaknesses.
I am convinced that the postures of gentleness, affection, and an imbedded life together will keep us from seeking the glory that comes from people. We won’t have time to get caught up in seeking praise.
Instead what will result, especially among pastors and leaders, is hard work that engages the lives of the people in a community and church and the effective advance of the gospel at the street level.
These attitudes will produce a church life that is ripe for revival and gospel advancement. It will bring a contagious movement of the Spirit of God that will produce fruit for generations to come.
It won’t end with a celebrity parade or self-served spiking of the ball to tell everyone how great you are. It will conclude with honor, praise, power and glory to the King of all Kings – Jesus.
“For not only has the Word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything” (1 Thessalonians 1:8).
Jeremy Writebol (@jwritebol) has been training leaders in the church for over fourteen years. He is the author of everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present (GCD Books, 2014) and writes at jwritebol.net. He is the pastor of Woodside Bible Church’s Plymouth, MI campus.