What Will People Say?
“What will people say?” Have you said those words recently? It’s such a common, normal, human trait to be conscious of what others will think of me. So, I wash my car, not to preserve it, but so that it looks nice, so others won’t think I’m dirty or slothful. This same motivational thinking can influence what I wear to church, what words I use, where I go, how I behave in public, etc. What will the people say if the pastor wears his pajamas to the store or to church? This is the stuff of pastoral nightmares.
“What will people say/think?” can be a strong motivator of behavior. If it is too strong, we describe it as paranoid. If it is too weak, we describe it as careless or even rebellious. So, how does this kind of thinking impact my religious behavior? Do I go to church because of what others will say? Do I pray, read my Bible, and study my Sabbath School lesson because I don’t want to appear as a weak or uncommitted Christian? What motivates me to be, or to live, like a Christian? Am I fearful of the consequences – a heaven to gain and a hell to shun? Is my religious life and behavior subconsciously motivated by punishment or reward?
When children are young, they learn to obey their parents, whether they like to or not. It may not be their choice to put a sweater on before going out in the cold to play, but they have to because the parent says so. The consequences are rewarded by punishment or affirmation. We call this extrinsically motivated behavior. When they reach their teen years, they start to test the parents’ values. This can often be wrongly interpreted as rebellion. If the parents guide them successfully through this testing period, they come to the place where they themselves choose or buy into the value system of the parents. This means they have internalized their parents’ values as their own. This we call intrinsically motivated behavior (first introduced by psychologist Gordon Allport in the 1950s).
Unfortunately, we as adults are still motivated by extrinsic factors, like “what will people say,” instead of simply doing it because it’s a choice I have made based upon my own chosen value system. What are some examples from the Bible of this kind of behavior? One of the clearest examples would be the behavior of the Pharisees. Jesus describes their behavior in Matthew 23:5 NLT as “Everything they do is for show” – in other words, it mattered to them what the people would say or think of them. Jesus calls them hypocrites, because “they don’t practice what they teach” (Matthew 23:3 NLT).
Another example of extrinsically motivated behavior was the rich young ruler, who thought that keeping the commandments would reward him with eternal life (Matthew 19). A scathing rebuke of extrinsically motivated behavior is found in Matthew 7:21-22, where Jesus says that a Christian experience that is based upon external good behaviors as the motive for gaining salvation will result in a disappointing refusal to enter heaven.
What are some intrinsically motivated behaviors in the Bible? One that stands out to me is that of Job when he says, “As for me, I know my Redeemer lives, . . .” (Job 19:25 NET). In John 3:15 NLT we read, “everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” Therefore Paul can quote Habakkuk in Romans 1:17 where he says, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” Joshua 24:15 is another striking example of intrinsic faith. Joshua challenges Israel to “choose today whom you will serve.” He doesn’t ask them to put away their idols because he says so, but because they have made a personal choice. It’s their choice, no one else’s.
So, when I am constantly worried about how my behavior comes across to others, being worried what the people will say, I am giving my power and control over to them. If they like me, I feel good. If they don’t like me or censure my behavior, then I feel bad, and attempt to change my behavior to please them. This is extrinsic behavior. Intrinsic behavior is based upon my own choice, not what others say or think. I take my power and control back. I take responsibility for my own actions. I don’t blame others or my circumstances when things don’t work out the way I want them to. I own it, learn from it, and grow in spite of it.
In short, I am NOT a victim of my circumstances, unless I CHOOSE to be!