Have you ever heard of the idea of “living for an audience of one?” I have. In fact, I helped lead a college group by that name (“A One” for short) from 2001-2008. We were there before Big Daddy Weave wrote the song. Booya!
Recently I’ve heard the phrase more than usual, so I thought it might be a good time to share some development in my thoughts on the matter. You see, usually when people use this phrase it’s to signify that we live to please God alone and not people. The Bible verse we chose for our group was Galatians 1:10:
“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Far be it from me to pick a fight with Paul. I think this is perfectly true and appropriate for us today. We do not live to please people as though we should change who we are or what we believe to fit the tastes of our peers. We stand on character, acting with integrity according to our purpose.
However (and surly you knew there was a “however” coming) there’s an extreme that needs to be guarded against: thinking that people don’t matter. Of course we as Christians should not forsake our commitment to Christ in order to make people happy, but is this the same as living for an audience of one?
The Bible is also clear that our love testifies to the world that we belong to God, that our good deeds ought to cause people to praise God—that everything we do is lived on a stage before not just one person but the whole world. The 2nd century Christian apologists provided rational arguments for the faith but counted the greatest evidence as the lives Christians live. They invited non-believers to look at them, to examine their lives, and to see that it had to have its source in God.
What we’ve done is confused the audience with the director. We live for an audience of one only to the extent that we act at the command of a single mastermind. But this doesn’t mean we ignore the greater audience, hide from them, or take no pleasure from their reactions. It simply means that there is one person whose approval matters more than all the rest combined. They may not fully appreciate a given line or gesture, but they don’t have to “get” everything; what matters is that its intended purpose is realized.
Not only is the audience more than God alone, but of the people who could potentially get a glimpse of our lives, there are both Christians and non-Christians. We sometimes use this phrase “living for an audience of one” to mean that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks except God, but that’s bogus. It matters that we have a good testimony before non-believers AND it matters that we listen to fellow Christians. If you’re doing something and the whole Christian community is against you, you need to take a long, hard look at what you’re doing. Or forget the whole community, if you’re doing something the most godly people in your life disapprove of, it’s time to take stock. (Or has the Holy Spirit made clear to you something He has hidden from everyone else?) We need to be held accountable, to be humble in our walk, and this means paying close—if discerning—attention to what other people think.
I think we might need to do away with the phrase “living for an audience of one.” It’s a nice idea, but I’m afraid it’s too easy to misinterpret. We live first and foremost for God, no question, but we need to make crystal clear that doing so means living for an audience of billions.