Popularity or Purpose? What Will You Seek?

By Mark D. Roberts

August 26, 2019

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

Mark 1:38


Shortly after Jesus began his ministry in Capernaum, he arose early one morning to find an isolated place where he could pray without interruption. We’ve been considering the implications of this action in the previous devotions of this week. Jesus’ time for private prayer didn’t last too long, however, because his disciples looked for Jesus to tell him what they surely believed to be happy news: “Everyone is looking for you” (Mark 1:37). An expanded paraphrase might read, “Jesus, you’ve made it. You’re a hit! Everybody wants more of you. Congratulations!”

a bored and unamused crowd of people in Black and whiteNaturally, the disciples assumed that Jesus would leave his solitary place of prayer in order to please the masses. But then he said a strange thing: “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (1:38). Jesus understood that he was not sent only to Capernaum and the immediately surrounding region. Rather, his mission would take him across Galilee and ultimately to Judea and Jerusalem. Along the way, he would disappoint the crowds who wanted more of him, as well as many of his one-time followers who turned back when Jesus didn’t fulfill their expectations (John 6:66).

Nothing can distract us from our true purpose in life like popularity. Even when we know God has called us to some particular work, we can be tempted to focus our energies on some other venture if that’s what people like. Many pastors, for example, find it easier to preach on what makes people like them rather than on what their people need spiritually. Business leaders sometimes work long hours because the praise they get at work is much more gratifying than the day-to-day challenges of family life. Popularity is not necessarily bad, of course. But it can be a poor measure of what God wants us to do with our lives.

Jesus did not let his popularity distract him from his true purpose. Rather, he remained faithful in his calling. So he left behind the adoring and needy crowds in Capernaum in order to preach the good news of the kingdom in other places.

Something to Think About:

When have you been tempted to focus on what is popular rather than what you’re really supposed to do with your life?

What helps you to fulfill your calling in life, even when it is hard, even when it is unpopular?


Lord Jesus, when I read this story from Mark, I’m reminded of how easily I can become distracted from my primary purpose in life. When people want me to do something that makes me popular, I can be led astray, not so much into sin, as into activity that isn’t consistent with what you have called me to do.

Help me, Lord, to do in my work that which is most important, whether or not it is the thing that brings the most praise.

Help me, Lord, to be faithful in my closest relationships, especially with my family. Keep me from getting so wrapped up in work that I forget the relational dimension of my calling.

Above all, may I give first place in life to my relationship with you. May I live for your pleasure most of all. Amen.

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Jesus the Bread of Life: John 6.

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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