Seeking Approval in All the Wrong Places

When I was growing up, I wanted approval from the people on top. I wanted my parents’ approval, I wanted my teachers’ approval, and I wanted the cool kids’ approval. Usually the last one was more important to me than either of the other two.

You would think that by the time I became a Christian just before my 24th birthday I’d have outgrown this. I didn’t. Instead my desire for approval rested on those in church leadership. And the cool kids. Still the cool kids. But now the cools kids were the ones favored by church leadership.

How different this is from Jesus.

The difference with Jesus

The religious leaders of Jesus day hated what he did and taught. They hated him so much they were willing to align with powerful political leaders to take him down.


Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:1-6.)

The Pharisees were the religious leaders and the Herodians were politically aligned with King Herod, the man appointed by the Emperor, Caesar Augustus, to manage Rome’s affairs in Galilee, the region Jesus came from. The Pharisees were interested in restoring Israel to a theocracy as in the time of David and Solomon, while the Herodians sought political independence from Rome with a member of the Herodian dynasty on the throne.

These leaders had little in common except to see this man from Galilee as a common threat to their goals. They had been looking for an excuse to move against Jesus; his act of healing on the Sabbath gave it to them. After all, healing is work and work is prohibited on the Sabbath even if the healing is a miracle from God who gave us the Sabbath.

Jesus asked the Pharisees if they thought it was right to kill on the Sabbath. By way of answer, they started plotting his death immediately upon leaving his presence.

God’s work, approved or not

Jesus continued to pursue the work God gave him to do.

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon.

Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. (Mark 3:7-10.)

As Jesus traveled by the lake, that is, the Sea of Galilee, the people came to him. Not just fellow Galileans but people from Jerusalem and Judea to the south sought him out. Galilee and Judea were considered part of the Jewish homeland, of course, but what about all those other people?

  • Idumea was the Roman province to the south of Judea, the region formerly known as Edom. The Edomite kingdom was a perpetual enemy of Israel dating back millennia.
  • The regions across the Jordan were non-Jewish as well. This would include the Decapolis (a confederation of ten cities and their surrounding villages) the most prominent of which was Damascus, former capital of the Assyrian Empire which had defeated, ravaged, and exiled ancient Israel.
  • Tyre and Sidon were cities on the coast north of Galilee, originally part of the Phoenician Empire but later independent kingdoms. At the time of King David there was a good relationship with Tyre. They later aligned themselves against Israel and came under God’s curse according to the Old Testament prophets.

Judea (Ieudaea) and surrounding regions in the 1st Century (Wikipedia)

For Jesus to include these peoples among those receiving his healing might have offended the Pharisees and Herodians even more than performing miracles on the Sabbath. Jesus announced the Kingdom of Heaven to all who would hear, whether Jewish or not. As he said repeatedly:

Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Mark 4:9.)*

It’s a practice Jesus’ followers took to heart.

Seeking approval

Peter and John found themselves jailed by the religious leaders for teaching about Jesus and performing miracles in his name. The morning after their arrest they were hailed into the religious court.

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:18-20.)

Later, Paul knew his message of the gospel of grace was being challenged by teachers who tried to influence the Galatian church in his absence, but even though their legalistic teachings were gaining approval by the church members he stuck to preaching the true gospel as the way to serve God.

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10.)

The approval we have from God is ours because of who Jesus is and what he has done. As Jesus explained about himself:

For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval. (John 6:27.)

Those who belong to Jesus are approved because of him. Why look for approval anywhere else? None of that matters. Jesus prefaced his words about himself with:

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval. (John 6:27.)

Your relationship with your loving Father in heaven is eternal. Everything else spoils.

And remember, Jesus approves of you.


*For more instances of Jesus using this phrase, see Matthew 11:15, Mark 4:23, Luke 8:8, Luke 14:25, and Revelation 2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:29, 3:6, 3:13 and 3:22.

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4 Responses to Seeking Approval in All the Wrong Places

  1. This is great, Tim. I really like how you’ve connected that “whoever has ears to hear” phrase with the concept of approval from God vs. approval from people.

    The post also got me thinking of a sermon our pastor preached a few months ago on John 11: how Jesus’ actions when he heard of Lazarus’s illness seemed to completely contradict what a person “should” do in that case. When we hear a loved one is dying, we pack a suitcase and board a plane, but Jesus stayed where he was for 2 days. He must have felt disapproved-of when he approached Mary and Martha in their grief. But he was pursuing a higher purpose, a higher source of direction and approval.

    • Tim says:

      If I’d been them I’d have been tempted to say, “Why were you lolly gagging in Galilee while our brother was on his death bed here in Bethany?”

  2. Lana says:

    Great post thank you. Today I have an interview so I feel I need to be approved 🙂

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