And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2).
It is a pressure we all feel acutely from a young age: the desire to be popular. As young children we want to be accepted and to be part of the group. In high school there seems to be two crowds: the popular kids and the kids who wish they were popular. While we might wish that we could leave such things behind after graduation, all too often we continue to feel the pressure to be popular as adults.
Humans like being popular and doing the things that lead to popularity. People will talk in certain ways and use colloquial language to seem cool and popular. Celebrities and other “popular people” are seen in certain types of clothes or engaged in various behaviors, and many think that they can be popular themselves by imitating them. Billions of dollars are poured into popular music, popular pieces of technology, popular vehicles, and so on and so forth, much of it to engage in popular activities and to be part of the popular crowd. For too many, the worst possible insult is to be called unpopular, uncool, or “out of touch.” Many fear that they would be rejected or ostracized if they were not popular.
Are certain styles of clothing, speech, attitudes, and objects wrong just because they are popular? Of course not. It is also not inherently wrong to be popular or to want to be accepted and respected by others. Yet, as with many other elements in life, it is easy to take popularity too far and to make it a god and to serve it.
Unfortunately, in our society, what passes for popularity often involves matters of sin. The “popular girls” tend to dress in clothing that is too revealing and is immodest (cf. 1 Timothy 2:9). Sexual purity has rarely, if ever, been the “popular” path, and far too many young people have engaged in sinful sexual behavior on account of pressure to be popular (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:1-2). Drinking, drunkenness, and drug use tends to be prevalent among the “popular” crowd, and the pressure to participate in such life-destroying activities is immense (cf. Galatians 5:19-21).
This does not necessarily get better as people get older. The connection between “keeping up with the Joneses” and popularity is strong: we want to be seen as successful in order to be popular, and it is easy to fall prey to greed, indebtedness, jealousy, and/or envy in this pursuit (cf. Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:5). It is also easier to change one’s opinions to fit the “in” crowd than it is to hold firm to another viewpoint and face the risk of unpopularity (Romans 12:2).
If popularity is our focus and goal, we will stand for little and our beliefs will change according to the vicissitudes of popular opinion. We dare not challenge conventional wisdom lest we be derided as “out of touch.” Such, sadly, is the way of the majority (Matthew 7:13)!
There are some who are able to maintain popularity while standing firm in God’s truth. The rest of us, however, often feel like we are outsiders looking in, and the temptation is always there to compromise what God says in order to be more acceptable to others.
This temptation must be avoided at all costs. The Bible makes it clear that to stand with Christ is to stand against the world, and when what is popular is what the world decides is popular, we will, by necessity, be standing for what is unpopular (cf. James 4:1-4,1 John 2:15-17, 3:13).
Jesus, the Son of God, was not popular on earth (Matthew 10:25, John 1:5, 11). He was not popular among the unrepentant sinful because He condemned their lifestyles; He was not popular among the religious authorities because He condemned their hypocrisy (Matthew 23). The prophets before Jesus were also unpopular, as were the Apostles who came after Him (Acts 7:51-52).
It should not be the goal of the Christian to become unpopular for rebellion’s sake; unpopularity will find the Christian on its own. In our culture today, to stand for God’s truths– that there is only one God, and only one way to God through Jesus Christ, that He is Lord, that what He says is sinful should not be done, and that in all things we must look to Him and His authority– is automatically to be unpopular with those of the world, and also among many others who would claim to be Christians. We must always make sure that in all things we are not doing something because it is popular (or, for that matter, unpopular)– we should do all things by God’s authority (Colossians 3:17). Let us maintain God as our God, and not popularity!
Ethan R. Longhenry