I am a people-pleaser. There, I said it. For me, it stems from early periods of life where I felt the need to fight for approval. Tragically, even today, I feel the need to. It is ridiculous when I think about it, however. As my wife has lovingly reminded me, not only does the Lord cherish me, but so does she and many others! So why do I get so caught up in the what ifs?
The key question that needed to be asked is this: For whose glory is my people-pleasing? As believers in Christ, it is important to search God’s Word for what He has to say on the subject. Paul writes, as he’s carried along by the Holy Spirit, “I try to please everyone in everything I do” (1 Corinthians 10:33). There, aha! It is good to be a people-pleaser. Yes, Paul strives to please people, but as well-tuned readers of God’s Word, we always read on–for what purpose is Paul’s people-pleasing? Paul goes on to say: “not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” For Paul, his primary focus on people-pleasing is not for self, “not seeking my own advantage”, but for the purpose of seeing lost souls being found.
The same apostle writes these words: “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” (Galatians 1:10). Wait, back up Paul. I thought we were striving to please man? Allow me to make Paul’s point clear: We must persistently strive to please people, and we must passionately avoid striving to please people. Clear as mud, right?
God is not contradicting himself in His Holy Word, but rather He is making a distinction between “God-Despising People-Pleasing” and “God-Pleasing People-Pleasing.” Marshall Segal in his article from Desiring God offers up these distinctions to us and explains them well. Essentially, “God-Despising People-Pleasing” is being totally captive to the desires of others. It leads us to submit to man, fully, and not to Christ. Sadly, this mindset has led many churches and institutions to sacrifice the Gospel for the sake of pleasing others. Jesus makes it clear for us in the Gospel of Matthew that “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). Of course I don’t want to go against my own rule. Jesus finishes this verse by saying, “You cannot serve God and money.” Jesus was simply offering an example, but the principal is the same despite what goes in that blank. It could indeed be money or also pleasing others, self, career, spouse, or anything else we decide. Regardless, the point is the same: All else fails in comparison to the glory and satisfaction found in Christ.
The second is “God-Pleasing People-Pleasing.” It is also clear that we cannot follow Christ and not strive to please others. The key-question we must answer here is the one I mentioned earlier: For whose glory? As a student pastor, there is temptation to be “hype” or “popular.” These goals can be costly to our ministry as many, as said before, have sacrificed the gospel to earn these qualities. It is important to remember that “We cannot consistently herald the truth and not be hated for it” (Segal). So, am I, are we, doing Gospel-centered ministry for self or for God? It is good to remember that we are not the ones who save, but it is Christ.
May we be a people who strive to please others, as servants of the Gospel of Christ, and not as ones who seek to please self.