People love adulation. We all do. We love to be praised and celebrated, and we love all the influence that comes with it. The more we get, the more we want. It’s addictive, and and it affects our brains like a drug. We become stupefied and begin doing foolish things to gain further acclaim or hold on to what we’ve got (Think reality TV).
Many of us believe that with popularity comes happiness and fulfillment, and we ignore all the signs that indicate just the opposite.
What happens when our addiction to praise puts us in direct conflict with God’s Word? That’s precisely what happened to Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14, in the town of Lystra. Paul was preaching when he saw a crippled man in the crowd, and in the man he saw a spark of faith. So Paul called out to him and said, “Stand upright,” and the man did. His faith had made him well.
At this, the whole crowd turned to Paul and Barnabas and declared them to be gods—Hermes and Zeus, respectively. They brought out bulls to sacrifice and placed garlands on them. What a scene!
Most people, followers of Christ or otherwise, would likely balk at being called a deity. But I don’t think many of us would protest very hard. We might offer a token, half-hearted, “C’mon guys, don’t do that.” But that’s not how Paul and Barnabas responded. They rushed into the crowd, pleading with them not to do this, proclaiming that they were men just like everyone else. They declared their God was a better way and wanted no part of this celebration. Paul and Barnabas knew their place before God and how much the people needed to hear His good news, and no amount of praise would deflect them from their course.
Just days later, the same crowd that had praised them turned on Paul to stone him. They rejected his message and left him for dead. This is the fickle turn of fame and the cost of standing up for the gospel.
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul would write, “All who seek to live a godly life will face persecution” (3:12). That’s quite the juxtaposition to the pursuit of praise. But it was worth it to him. Even from prison at the end of his life, Paul prayed that a door would be opened for the gospel—the same gospel that put him there.
The hope and truth of the gospel drove Paul. Fame and fortune seemed to mean nothing to him, though I’m sure he battled their stupefying power.
What would it look like for us to live lives life free from the need for earthly acclaim? What would have to change? What would have to take hold?
Maybe the best first step would be for us to own that we’re at least a little tempted to seek the praise and favor of men, and to open a prayer for help with that confession.
Written By Barnabas Piper