Updated: Apr 13, 2021
No Going Back to Approval Seeking: A Study on Simon Peter April 11, 2021, The Rev. David Collins
Today we’re going to pick up where we left off last week on Easter Sunday, with the Apostle Peter. When we last left Peter, he had gone into the empty tomb, and saw the linen cloths lying there that Jesus had been wrapped in. Before that, we saw the lowest point of his life, on what we call Maundy Thursday, where after Jesus was arrested, Peter followed at a distance, and when he was recognized as one of Jesus’ followers, he denied it...three times.
Peter’s bluster in the gospels, (he was always the loudest of the disciples) and the way we backs off and denies Jesus at his most crucial hour...If he were alive today, we would easily and probably pretty accurately point out that Peter had deep seated insecurities. He craves the approval of whoever is right in front of him at the time. Maybe he is still craving the approval of a father who left, or was distant. Maybe he just had some early trauma that he never dealt with.
We know the type today. The kind who can dish it out but can’t take it. Who projects their own failings and fears onto everyone else. Who changes who they are depending on who they’re with. We all do this. But sometimes, for some of us, it can become a real issue, a stumbling block to being ourselves, and worst of all, it can keep us from authentically and fully following Jesus.
What is it? Today we call it approval seeking.
Let’s take this quiz together, shall we?
1. Do you ever change or softening your position because someone appears to disapprove?
2. Do you ever feeling upset, worried, or insulted when someone disagrees with you?
3. Do you ever expressing agreement (verbally or non-verbally) when you do not agree?
4. Doing something which you do not want to do because you are afraid to say ‘No’
5. Failing to complain when you have received poor service?
6. Spreading bad news and gossip to gain attention?
7. Asking permission when it is not required?
8. Ask for other’s opinions before thinking about your own?
9. Rely on compliments or praise as a source of energy? We could go on. But we won’t. Well, maybe one more...do you ever start to ramble and stop making any sense at all when you feel like someone might disagree with you? (That one was for me. I hate when I do that).
But we all do that. It can addictive. It can be destructive. But Peter did it, too! Simon Peter was all, You are the Christ! Wash my head, too! I’ll die with you. Then later, Jesus? Never heard of him. Then the resurrection comes, Peter sees the empty tomb, then Jesus appears to him again, and spends 40 days with him and the other disciples. The Holy Spirit comes upon him and he is transformed. He becomes the first leader of the church, one of the greatest preachers of all time, a saint, and eventually, a martyr. So what happened? Well, the resurrection happened. Not just as an event, but it happened within Peter. The Spirit of Jesus came into his heart and changed him. It changed his approval seeking. Today, we’re going to dig into something he wrote. One of the short little letters at the end of the Bible is written by Peter. There’s two of them, and so they’re called 1st Peter and 2nd Peter. We’re going to look at 1st Peter today, chapter 3 starting in verse 13. Peter has been encouraging his fellow believers to keep going, keep loving, keep living sacrificially, and then he says something that I think comes directly from his own experience of once having been an approval seeker before he experienced the grace of God and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Ready? Let’s go.
1 Peter 3:13-18
"Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?" Is that a rhetorical question? How much time do you have? There are about a hundred people who will judge me, or talk about me, or make fun of me. Well, maybe it’s not a hundred, but it’s at least 10, 5...there was this kid once.... Okay, I get your point.
This was some hard won wisdom from Peter. When he denied Jesus those three times, it wasn’t in the face of an explicit threat, or even a veiled one. He was sitting across a campfire from a servant girl who said, “This man also was with him”. The threat of harm that night was first and foremost in his own mind.
"But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed."
Because we know that’s a possibility. And we’re inspired by all those who have done that before us. Peter certainly was. He knew all the stories of the prophets by heart. But in that moment for him, it didn’t make any difference. All the things he had learned he had learned from Jesus every day for three years didn’t make a difference. Being warned by Jesus that very night that he was going to deny him didn’t make any difference!
So what did? What made the difference for Peter? He goes from this blustery, approval seeking, loud mouth to a fully confident, bold leader. What happened? The resurrection happened. Peter saw the empty tomb, yes. But then he met his master and teacher again. Luke tells us that Jesus spent 40 days with him and the other disciples before ascending to heaven, and that that wasn’t even the coolest part! Jesus promised and then gave Peter the Holy Spirit, his very own abiding presence to live within him, and made that Spirit giveable, so that he could share it with others through his words and prayers. That Holy Spirit is the same Spirit that lives in us, helps us to repent and live a new life, and gives us faith and assurance, and the only approval that really matters.
That what changed for Peter, and that’s who is speaking through him when he writes...
"Do not fear what they fear"
And there’s a little note in my Bible that says this phrase could also be rendered “Do not fear their fear.” I love that. It makes it so much more immediate to me. I think we should hear this both ways. Do not fear the things they fear. Do not fear rejection, do not fear disapproval. Do not fear going without, and slander, and all those things that people fear. But also,
Do not fear their fear.
Let’s not jump to the “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” quote. Do not fear their fear says something special to me, especially about approval seeking. Do not fear their fear speaks to me about those times you’re talking to someone and you can sense how they’re feeling, how their fear is increasing, and you feel that it’s becoming your fear somehow. You know it’s contagious, so you change the subject to calm them down, not for them, but for you. You fear their fear. So it changes you in that moment. Maybe you withdraw, or maybe you overcompensate and get angry.
But what if instead of fearing their fear, or feeling it so much that it becomes yours...what if you just noticed it? Acknowledged it? Named it, if even just to yourself? Peter tells us how.
"Do not fear what they fear and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord."
To sanctify means to set apart, to worship as worthy of worship. Sanctify Christ as Lord. Lord means the boss, the one who has the whole world in his hand, the king. Sanctify isn’t just head knowledge. You don’t talk yourself into sanctifying Christ as Lord. You feel it. You know it. That’s the secret to not fearing rejection and disapproval, to saying what you know needs to be said, in the way Jesus would say it. In your heart, sanctify/feel that/ see that Christ’s approval is the only approval you really need, and you HAVE IT. It’s yours! You can’t earn it. You can’t lose it. It doesn’t depend in any way on you. Jesus died to take away 100% of God’s disapproval, rose to forever demonstrate God’s approval of himself, and through the gift of his Holy Spirit, gives that approval to you. To us. That’s the secret! And that’s why Peter goes on to write:
"Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence."
See when you know that the only approval you need is God’s, and that you have it, and can’t lose it, you don’t need to get angry or defensive when explaining why you believe what you believe. You can do it gently, and with respect. You can do it without any hint of condescension. You can do it like Fred Rogers would do it. With your full attention to the one you’re speaking with, and love for them without a hint of fear. Especially if you’re hope within you that you’re defending is your faith. Because the truth of our faith hangs on the resurrection. And that’s not something you can make someone believe by arguing. But if you do explain it with gentleness and reverence, I think they’ll be more likely to.
This should go for all of our beliefs, religious, political, or what have you. Gentleness and reverence. I believe that an attitude of gentleness and reverence is a direct consequence of experiencing God’s approval. If we are living in the knowledge that through Christ, God approves of us entirely, what other attitude could we have?
And what should we care if others don’t? If we really do believe and trust that because of what Jesus did on the cross and resurrection, that every warm, loving and approving feeling God has for his Son, is also ours, why should we care that others, who aren’t the God of the universe, don’t approve of us. Peter was thinking a little about them in this next verse.
"Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame."
But not by you! That’s the amazing thing about not needing anyone’s approval but God’s. You don’t have to put them to shame. You don’t have to tell people what they said about you, out of concern of course! But also so your friends can tell you that you’re right and they’re wrong.
"For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,"
That’s God’s promise for you today. For all of us. Your ego, your insecurities, ....your fleshiness has been put to death with Christ. And you have been made alive in the spirit with him. So now there can be no going back for you too!
No going back to approval seeking. No going back to being a chameleon, and changing who you are depending on who you’re with. No going back to getting angry when you disagree, or when someone disagrees with you.
And most importantly of all, no going back to denying with your words or your life that you are a follower of Jesus. Why can we do this? Why can we not go back to approval seeking? It’s not about self-approval. It’s about God-approval. It’s about knowing that God is real, and loves you, and loves whoever you used to be afraid of too. Peter puts it like this in his letter that we dug into today. This is why there is no going back to approval seeking for us. It says:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." - 1 Peter 1:3
Friends, let that word work its way into your hearts, and minds, and souls.