Have you ever paused in saying something because you worried that the other person might think negatively of you? Have you have battled worries in your place of employment over your performance, thinking that your employers couldn’t be satisfied with your work? Or maybe when you are with a group of parents and your children do something wrong, do you cringe inside, wondering what everyone thinks of you and your children?
I can answer yes to all those and more. Earlier this year, I was asked to contribute my writing to a project on a somewhat divisive topic. One of the thoughts that crossed my mind was, “That will certainly gain me some enemies.” That’s because I have a fear of what other’s think of me. I fear their criticism, their unacceptance, and their negative opinion of me. Writing in a public forum these past few years, I’ve had to face this fear I have of what others think.
As I’ve worked through this fear, I’ve learned a few lessons about gospel humility. Tim Keller describes humility this way: “the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”
In his small yet amazingly powerful book, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy, Keller explains what it looks like to think of ourselves less, to be “self-forgetful.” When it comes to hurtful words, Keller writes, “The self-forgetful person would never be hurt particularly badly by criticism. It would not devastate them, it would not keep them up late, it would not bother them.” 1
When I first read that, I wondered, how can that be?
What Keller points out in this book, specifically in looking at the life of Paul, is that the gospel is so life transformative, it changes us from the inside out, and so much so that we come to the point where nothing else matters to us but Christ. This is why Paul could come to the point in his faith where he wrote, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). The self-forgetful person is one who doesn’t care what they think or what others think, but only what God thinks.
So what is it that God thinks about us? Romans 8:1 tells us, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Because we are in Christ, God has no more wrath left for us. Jesus took our place. He stood trial for us. He took the death sentence we deserved. As Keller says, Jesus “faced the trial that should be ours so that we do not have to face any more trials. So I simply need to ask God to accept me because of what the Lord Jesus has done. Then, the only person whose opinion counts looks at me and He finds me more valuable than all the jewels in the earth.” 2
More of Christ
Have you ever heard the statement, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me”? Because of the gospel, that proverbial quote is actually true — words can never hurt us. When we re-live the gospel every day, applying what Jesus did for us to our daily life and when our heart is saturated with the truth of who we are because of Christ, we will find that it doesn’t matter what we think or what anyone else thinks, it only matters what God thinks of us through Jesus Christ.
There’s a song we sing at my church based on Psalm 62. It says:
My soul finds rest in God alone, my rock and my salvation
A fortress strong against my foes, and I will not be shaken
Though lips may bless and hearts may curse, and lies like arrows pierce me
I’ll fix my heart on righteousness, I’ll look to Him who hears me3
Thinking of myself less is the key to facing these fears of what others think. And not just thinking of myself less, but thinking of Christ more. I need to look to Christ. I need to seek refuge in him. I need to dwell on who He is and what He has done. All that I think and do should be about Him and for Him, not out of fear of others.
If you are like me and struggle with fearing what others think of you, remember that what matters most is not what others think, nor what you think, but what God thinks of you through Christ.
Self-forgetfulness. Thinking of ourselves less. It’s the pathway that leads to freedom from fears of what others think.
1. Loc. 291-292 in Kindle.
2. Loc. 357 and 358 in Kindle.
3. Words by Stuart Townsend and Aaron Keyes.