When I was in middle school and high school, people always gave me the advice, “just be yourself. You don’t have to worry about what people think of you; just be yourself and everything will be fine.”
That sounded so great, and sometimes I wished I could just snap my fingers and suddenly not care what all my peers, and other prominent people in my life, thought about me, not to mention being so easily influenced by them. But, of course, it didn’t happen like that.
You cannot serve two masters
The truth is that I need to make a firm decision about whom I want to serve. And I cannot actually serve both God and people!
So maybe I’m with a couple friends and the conversation turns to backbiting or just general negativity … I know what God wants me to choose: to only saying encouraging words about the others and to be thankful for everything. Am I going to choose to serve Him or just “go along with the crowd” because it’s “not that big of a deal?” It is clear from situations like these that it is true that you can’t serve God and people, it’s just not possible.
Sometimes, these decisions to break free from serving people can be very hard. This is especially true when it involves people who have been very close to me, maybe even relatives whom I love very much. Jesus actually said in connection with this, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” Matthew 10:34-37.
No tolerance for sin
Jesus had a vengeance and hatred against sin. So when He said, “I came to bring a sword,” He meant that He had no tolerance for sin in His life – even if the influences were coming from His closest relatives and friends.
When I think about what that means for me, it is clear that if I am to please and serve God, I also need this “zero tolerance for sin policy” in my life. I can’t choose to join in on conversations that involve backbiting, negativity, impurity or gossip, or agree with sin just because my closest friends are telling me that it’s fine and there’s nothing wrong with it. Instead, people need to sense that there is a “sword” against all sin in my own life. I don’t agree with it, and I refuse to give in to it! It can hurt deeply when I have to sacrifice earthly relationships in order to keep myself pure. But I need to make a firm decision as to whom I am going to serve, because it is a matter of “either-or.”
No magic solution
Of course, when I have a deep love and care for close friends and relatives who have chosen other paths, I really want to see it go well with them. Then I can take Paul’s advice to Timothy to “take heed to yourself and the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” 1 Timothy 4:16. I can also show them goodness and love, and pray that God will speak to them and help them to choose to serve Him.
Now that I look back, I wish I had understood that the age-old advice: “Just be yourself” is synonymous with, “Don’t be so easily influenced by people.” No, you can’t magically snap your fingers and be free from caring what others think, but you can make a firm decision to serve God alone and only be pleasing to Him. And once you do, all power and help are available for you to continue to always choose the good. So, if you’re at a moment of decision in your life, pray that God will strengthen you to be firm and decided, to only choose the good, and to live a conscious life for Him alone. God promised that it will go well, and when we believe this, we understand that, although things will not be magically different, we will have all strength and power to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12), and to be “more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)