The Son of God is not a vapor. He is solid reality, with no beginning and no ending. His name is Jesus Christ. He is the same yesterday and today and forever. He looked His disciples in the eye and said without irony or exaggeration, “Before Abraham was, I am.”
But what about us? Once we were not, and now we exist? With the conception of all five of our children, that stunned me. Suddenly my wife is pregnant. A human has come into being. For how long? Forever. Either in heaven or in hell. There is no going out of existence. For that would not be joy for those who love God nor punishment for those who don’t.
You exist forever. There is no use protesting that you did not ask to exist and would like not to. That is not an option. You and God are both in the universe to stay— either as friends on His terms, or enemies.
Which it will be is proven in this life. And this life is a vapor. Two seconds, and we will be gone—to heaven or to hell. “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone” (Psalm 103:15–16).
Jesus Christ came into this world—this fleeting, fallen, fickle world—and did the greatest thing that will ever be done. As the perfect Son of God, He died in our place, absorbed the wrath of God, paid the penalty for sin, provided the righteousness of the law, and rose invincible from the dead—all in a vapor’s life of thirty-three years. Because of that, we have something firm to grasp.
“Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:7–8). The gospel is firm and lasts forever. My prayer is that these meditations on the Word of God will link you with eternal joy, and make the vapor of your life an everlasting aroma of praise to the glory of Christ.
Life is too short to spend time and energy worrying about what others think of us. Or should we care about what others think precisely because that really matters in this short life? Should we be radically free from what others think, so that we don’t fall into the indictment of being a “second-hander” or “man-pleaser,” a slave to expediency? Or should we keep an eye out for what others think of what we do, so that we don’t fall into the indictment of being boorish and insensitive and offensive? The answer is not simple. Some biblical texts seem to say it matters what others think. Others seem to say it doesn’t.
For example, Jesus warned us: “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you” (Luke 6:26). And His own enemies saw in Him an indifference to what others thought: “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God” (Mark 12:14). Paul said that if he tried to please men he would no longer be serving Christ: “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). “As we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4). So it seems that Christians should not care much about what others think.
On the other hand, Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” This sounds like reputation matters. And Paul was vigilant that he not be discredited in his handling the money he collected for the poor: “[We are] taking precaution so that no one will discredit us in our administration of this generous gift; for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (2 Corinthians 8:20–21, NASB). It mattered what men thought.
Paul taught the Roman church, “Now we who are strong ought...not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification” (Romans 15:1–2, NASB). And he taught that one of the qualifications for elders is that they must be “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2), including among unbelievers: “He must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:7).
Similarly Peter charged us to care about what outsiders thought: “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12, NASB).
Question: How is the tension between these two groups of passages to be resolved? Answer: By realizing that our aim in life is that “Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20, NKJV). In other words, with Paul, we do care—really care—about what others think of Christ. Their salvation hangs on what they think of Christ. And our lives are to display His truth and beauty. So we must care what others think of us as representative of Christ. Love demands it.
But we ought not to care much what others think of us for our own sake. Our concern is ultimately for Christ’s reputation, not ours. The accent falls not on our value or excellence or virtue or power or wisdom. It falls on whether Christ is honored by the way people think of us. Does Christ get a good reputation because of the way we live? Is the excellence of Christ displayed in our lives? That should matter to us, not whether we ourselves are praised.
Again notice a crucial distinction: The litmus test of our faithfully displaying the truth and beauty of Christ in our lives is not in the opinion of others. We want them to see Christ in us and love Him (and thus, very incidentally, to approve of us). When John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30), he spoke for every true Christian. We must insist on being less than Christ. I am vigilant, as far as it depends on me, to be less than Christ to others.
But we know others may be blind to spiritual reality and resistant to Christ. So they may think more of us than they thought of Him. Or they may think less of us than they think of Him, not because they think well of Him, but, as Jesus said, “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matthew 10:25). They may think He is a devil and we are worse. Jesus wanted men to admire Him and trust Him. That would have been their salvation. But He did not change who He was in order to win their approval. Nor can we change who He was, or who we are in Him.
Yes, we want people to look on us with approval when we are displaying that Jesus is infinitely valuable to us. But we dare not make the opinion of others the measure of our faithfulness. They may be blind and resistant to truth. Then the reproach we bear is no sign of our unfaithfulness or lack of love.
Father, at times the way of Christ is complex
to our sin-stained and finite minds.
Forgive us for the times we have justified
our vanity in the name of a good reputation.
O, Lord, grant us, in this brief life,
the wisdom and courage
to please others, or not to please others,
for the sake of Christ alone,
and not our own praise.
In Jesus’ name,