I was on top of the world. It was 1999, I was in the 7th grade, and I just found out that Colleen Finnell wanted to be my girlfriend. I mean (let’s be honest here), why wouldn’t she? I was charming, outgoing, and funny (AKA the class clown). So we embarked on a relationship that I imagined would go the distance.
We broke up 4 days later.
Apparently, my outgoing and funny nature was a double-edged sword. An autopsy of the once vibrant 96-hour relationship discovered that I was too immature to be boyfriend material. It’s amazing how quickly those tides turned.
You’ve been there, haven’t you? Maybe not with a boyfriend/girlfriend, but there was someone’s whose approval you dreamed of attaining. Maybe it was access to that circle of friends. Maybe it was the approval of a superior. Maybe it was acceptance of the team.
And you achieved it!
But then, in what felt like a matter of a few days, everything came crumbling down. The tide of public opinion turned. Game-winning shots turned into missed opportunities. Those singing your praises were now writing your metaphorical obituary. You were once the best, only to be surpassed by someone younger and quicker. You were once an asset, now seen as a liability.
How could that thing that you dreamt of getting let you down so easily? In a nutshell, the Bible is clear that the approval of others can be incredibly fickle. If you make your ultimate aspiration to achieve the praise of others then you will eventually be let down every time.
There’s a passage of scripture that I believe helps us see this very clearly. In Acts 14:8-23 we read the story of Paul and Barnabas preaching the Gospel in the city of Lystra. Christ, through the hands of Paul, performed the miracle of healing a lame man (see Acts 14:9-10). And this made the crowd go wild! Acts 14:11 says:
“And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycanonian, ‘The codes have come down to us in the likeness of men!’”
The crowds then wanted to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, seeing them as gods. These men tore their garments and said, “We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news…” In other words, Paul was imploring the Lycanonians to cease from their worship of the missionaries. Verse 18 shows that they were slightly successful in the tempering of their praise. It reads, “Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifices to them.”
If the story stopped there it would seem as if they were still on top-of-the-world, approval ratings through the roof. But the story takes an unexpected turn. The very NEXT verse (Acts 14:19) says:
“But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing he was dead.”
WHAT?! The crowd went from worshipping Paul to stoning him?! In 1 verse?! The excitement surrounding Paul lasted about as long as my 7th grade relationship.
I believe this passage of scripture illuminates the fragility of normal human acceptance. You could be the hero one minute and then a villain the very next minute. The crowd is so easily persuaded, moving from one opinion to the next with breakneck speed.
Heck, the same crowd that cried out for Jesus to save them on Sunday (Mark 11:9-10) then cried out for His execution the next Friday (Mark 15:11-15).
What we desperately need was most clearly illustrated in my life 10 years after my epic 4-day relationship with Colleen Finnell, when on June 13, 2009 she became Colleen Ellis. We stood in front of a couple hundred people at First Evan Church and entered into a convenient, where we promised to love one another, on the good days and the bad, as long as both shall live.
And I know that my marriage is just an illustration of the love that we so desperately need. Not the fickle type of “love” that is only around as long as it’s convenient or self-serving, but the type of love that would sacrifice for one another. We long for the type of love that is permanent, that is guaranteed to be there regardless of feelings, circumstances, or the fickle whim of the crowd.
We are longing for the love of Christ.
Paul experienced Christ’s love (see Acts 9:1-19) and it changed him. He no longer put any stock in whether the crowd loved or hated him (1 Corinthians 4:3-4). Whether they tried to worship him or stone him, he continued to press on and preach the love of Christ.
The best of marriages are but a dim reflection of the love of Christ. His is a love that says, “When you were at your absolute worst, I died for you.” It’s a love that promises to never leave you nor forsake you. It’s a love that pursues you even when you don’t want to be pursued. It’s a love that cannot be broken, from which you cannot be separated. For as Paul himself wrote in Romans 8:38-39:
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
It’s the love that our hearts are desperately seeking.
My prayer for all of us is that we would find our source of strength in Christ’s love. As we do we, like Paul, will be unstoppable in our love for others.