1 Corinthians 4:3–4: [3] But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. [4] For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. (ESV)

"What if they reject me?" This fear runs like an underground stream of thought in the hearts of many of us. When we see someone who seems impervious to the blows of public opinion and/or rejection, we marvel at them in part because we can't imagine having that ability. It's almost as though they're superheroes whose powers we're not certain we'd like to have.

In speaking with some of these people, it is often the case that there is still a fear of rejection, only that it looks different for them compared to us.

The Fear of Rejection

The fear of rejection often involves friends. One of the reasons peer pressure is such a powerful force is because it leverages the fear of rejection by functionally blackmailing a person into conforming. This threat is rarely made explicitly; normally it is implicit, and that only makes the threat all the more powerful. Not only does a person being threatened feel the power of the threat as the fears arise, but the nature and origin of the power are obscured behind a shadow in their mind. The same can be said of other manifestations of the fear of rejection, such as rejection by family or coworkers.

Why, in general, is the fear of rejection so powerful? How can the apostle Paul say it is a very small thing to be judged by the Corinthians or any other human court? How can Paul be content knowing that the only judgment of him that matters is the judgment by Jesus?

Before continuing, we may need to make the case that Paul is in fact speaking to things that reflect a typical fear of rejection. In speaking of judgment, Paul is invoking language that is more legal than social. Also, Paul speaks of not judging himself, which could hardly be construed as social rejection. How can someone reject themselves?

Nevertheless, Paul is defending himself against the Corinthians, and there is a social aspect to the judgment as well as the overarching legal tones. And the rest of the letter is in a sense a plea for the Corinthians to accept Paul. Although Paul is clearly not driven by fear but rather by faith, we can see in Paul's words above a lack of the fear of rejection. I would make a greater-to-lesser argument to prove my case. If Paul isn't concerned about being legally judged by the Corinthians, how much less must he be concerned to be socially rejected by them? I could press the point further by pointing out how Paul pleads with the Corinthians in his later letter to open up their hearts to him as he has to them (2 Cor. 6:11).

Developing Pauline Confidence

So how can Paul be so confident? Perhaps the most obvious and important thing about Paul's approach to the Corinthians is that he is more concerned about them than he is about himself. Paul is so confident in his standing with Christ Jesus and in the relative power which the Corinthians have toward him that he is free from the bondage to their opinions of him.

This is a huge thing to ask of a young person. It ought to make sense that older saints are more settled in themselves and less prone to being swayed by the opinions of others. This phenomenon is not restricted to saints; we see it often in the older generation in general.

Younger believers need to develop their sense of unity with and acceptance by Christ to combat the very real fear and danger of being separated from and rejected by others. Friends may forsake and reject them; Christ never will.

This is not to say that believers should be taught that people's opinions of us don't matter. They very much do, and the pain of rejection may be real. But the fear of rejection is different from the experience of rejection. To play off a similar principle, the person who fears rejection and experiences rejection suffers twice. In this case, believers should learn to trust the Lord with their relationships and cultivate confidence in him that, should rejection come, God will provide the grace to sustain them through it.

So what do we do about it? We analyze where it comes from, compare God's promises, and cultivate dependence on the promises in place of subjection to the fears. This is no easy thing. The experience of rejection is a difficult one for adults as well as children. And the fear of rejection can at times be even worse. It is all too easy to catastrophize, to imagine a future that is worse than the reality is likely to turn out to be.

Why is this? Because the fear of rejection for many people seems to be tied to an uncertain sense of identity and a fear of being alone. The former, those whose identity is tied to a certain group, will be subject to the demands of that group until or unless the attachment wears off. And the latter, those who are afraid to be alone, seem to often be uncomfortable with themselves. They prefer to be with others to experience life through them as a means of distracting themselves from the immediate experience of being themselves. The former need the group to bolster their sense of identity. If they lose the group's approval, they lose the ground upon which they base their identity and they become nobody. The latter need the group to provide solace and distraction. If they lose the group, they feel a yawning chasm in their lives that threatens to swallow them up.

These are not small issues. The fear of rejection is often a fear piled on top of other fears and uncertainties. The solution is to make the fear of rejection "a small thing". And the way to make the fear of rejection a small thing is to make the acceptance of Christ a bigger thing. And the only way that can happen is to cultivate with all zeal a relationship with Christ through all the means we have been provided as fellow heirs with him. This takes work and a frank recognition of our fears and the beliefs that undergird them.

How to Live for God With Fear of Rejection