For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ (Gal. 1:10).
In the margin next to this passage I have written,
I still want to please others. This makes me a servant of many masters, not Christ alone.
Being a people-pleaser is one temptation to which I can easily fall prey. As a pastor it is one I have to constantly guard against. Like anyone else, I want people to like me, to agree with me, to be on my band-wagon.
Over the years this has taken on many forms. Engineering blog posts and Facebook statuses that will attract more fans, preaching sermons that will impress those in attendance (both in the pews or online), or pursuing recovery for the sake of mending torn relationships with family and friends are just some of the many ways I have tried to please people in the past.
The scriptures remind me again and again that what ultimately matters is not the good I do but why I do it. Motivations matter to God. Anything done for the purpose of pleasing people is sin. As Paul says to the Galatians (quoted above), if we are still trying to please people we are not servants of Christ. Jesus put it this way: You cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:24).
Consider these other calls from Scripture for us to examine who we are trying to please:
- For they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God (John 12:43)
- But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)
- But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts (1 Thess. 2:4).
- Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men (Col. 3:23)
- And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt. 10:28).
- How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? (John 5:44)
- Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord (Jer. 17:5)
- Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice (Prov. 29:26).
These are just a sampling of all that scripture has to say on the matter, but the bottom line is this: our desire to please people comes from a misplaced fear. We fear (revere, esteem, regard) people more than we do God. Proverbs says that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Prov. 9:10). When we have a proper fear of the Lord we will seek to please Him alone and care less and less about the approval of people. Jesus lived this out perfectly, doing only that which his Father did (John 5:19).
For me this means that whatever I write and say, in public or private, needs to run through a filter where I ask the questions: Is this for the purpose of pleasing God? Does it bring people closer to Jesus? Am I seeking the glory of man or the glory of God? It means that I check my motivations and ensure that my desire to stay sober is not solely for the purpose of keeping my wife happy but because to do otherwise would be displeasing to my Lord. I’ve been bought with a price and therefore I shall honor Him with my body (1 Cor. 6:20).
When we confess that our desire to please people is a sin, revealing that we fear man more than we fear God, we find there is grace sufficient to meet us in our need. We find forgiveness for our insane (and let’s admit it, the desire to make everyone like us is insane!) and exhausting struggle to be liked by everyone and in it’s place we receive peace and rest for our souls.
- The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe (Prov. 29:25).
For further reading on this topic I highly recommend