THE PERILS OF POPULARITY
Peril: exposure to injury, loss, or destruction. What could be perilous about being popular? Popularity is one of life’s most sought after desires. Everybody wants friends, to be loved, to be accepted and belong. What’s wrong with that, one might ask? Why is this something we need to be concerned about? What is perilous about the desire to be popular, and how might this desire expose us to injury, loss, or destruction?
It is commonly accepted that riches and popularity are universally esteemed and seriously sought after by mankind. It is also recognized that most of the world’s drive and ambition seems to be focused on the effort to obtain them. It is sad to see the results of those pursuits, when we consider the conditions of the world past and present. “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” is a revealing statement. While riches and popularity are closely connected, for the sake of brevity, we will only be examining popularity for now.
To make these thoughts a bit clearer, maybe a bit of substitution could be permitted without misrepresenting Scripture. In 1 Timothy 6:9, we read: “But they that will be rich [popular] fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.” While this particular scripture is primarily dealing with materialism or riches, is it not possible that the principle being lifted out also applies to the area of popularity as well?
“They that will be…” is the concern of this article. Temptations, snares, foolish and hurtful lusts—who wants to fall into these? Neither our loved ones nor we would knowingly seek these out. The temptation to be uppermost was first introduced to us in the Garden of Eden, and it continues in its attempts to dethrone God and honor the creature. There are several applications for the word love in the Scriptures that help identify this spirit, two of which will be examined below.
The Greek word agape denotes the active love God’s people have for Him, others, and God’s creation. It is a selfless love given freely without regard or respect of persons.
Another word used in the Bible for a very different type of love is philoproteuo. This is a love to be first, loving to have preeminence. Who does this sound like? This “love” is not from God. People employ it to get what they desire and use it as a tool for self-promotion. It is earthly, sensual, full of guile, and seeks its own. Sadly, this so-called love is more commonly offered in the world today than the love of God. The desire for position, power, station, and political preeminence are examples of the world’s vision and drive for and of success. But what has that got to do with God’s people, we might ask?
“How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” (John 5:44). When we can face the fact that we are as subject to this temptation as our neighbor, we will be better able to recognize it and seek God’s help in resisting it. A few examples might serve to see the devastating effects this perilous desire has had on the loves of some powerful people in the past. King Saul’s sin didn’t seem that bad compared to some, we might think, but rather than repent and be restored he states, “I have sinned, yet honor me now, I pray thee, before the elders and before Israel.” This same desire turned a son against his father as Absalom stole the hearts of the people from his father. What was he seeking? What type of love and desire was that? How different from the love Jonathan had for David! What was the source and motive for these two very different approaches to life among God’s people? We admire the one and recoil before the other. How might we be influenced
and drawn away by this form of sinister self-love?
“For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God,” is said of the Pharisees (John 12:43). King Saul, in justifying his actions, offered the excuse of fearing the people, so he “obeyed their voice” rather than what he knew was God’s will. Was this the same ever-present peer pressure we often struggle with? Or was it some form of self-preservation fed by his desire to be somebody and retain a position highly esteemed among men?
The desire to be popular, to be honored, is a great plague and grace robber among God’s people in any age or situation. When this temptation is trying us, we may become unfaithful to our baptismal vows to give and take reproof. Doing so, we fear, might result in the loss of friends or make us unpopular with some of our brethren. When asked how things are with us, we might struggle with integrity issues and not be as open and truthful as needed, for “fear of the people.” Then the next step down is to become people pleasers at the expense of pleasing God. What will one sacrifice on the altar of popularity? This selfish ambition will result in a life of compromised convictions and criticalness. Bondage to a certain look, public opinion polls, and a lack of closeness with God are sure to follow. A certain stress and fear of how we appear compared to our brethren affects our motives. Take a moment and read James 4:1-11. How often does this struggle want to try us?
Openhearted hospitality and a warm, friendly demeanor are very much appreciated and should be encourage. These are social graces that, as Christians, we should encourage and practice. They are very helpful in the furtherance of fellowship and work in the kingdom of Christ. May we offer them without respect of persons or advantage to self. As parents, let us pray to God for a vision to assist our children and youth in their growth and development of J.O.Y.—J=Jesus, O=Others, and Y=Yourself. The giving away of self is the real abundant life, the life of promise fulfilled within us, the life of the indwelling Christ manifest in selfless service.
How we live will long outlive how long we lived. Like Abel, we being dead or alive will yet speak. “My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings. Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart. For they are life unto those who find them, and health to all their flesh. Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:20-23). May we offer our Father our whole hearts and rest in His plan and promotion for our lives.
From Messenger of Truth, Vol. 110, No. 15, July 25, 2012