One lesson every Christian needs to learn, and learn soon, is this: just who are we seeking to please? There are only two options here: men or God. To please the one means you cannot please the other. It is that simple. Yet far too many believers and Christian workers think they can somehow coddle up to both.
We see this so often in what comes out of so many pulpits today. The temptation to tickle the ears of the listeners, and offer them what they want to hear instead of need to hear is all too common. But Scripture warns us often about seeking to please men instead of pleasing God.
Consider just one such passage: 1 Thessalonians 2:4-6. It says: “We speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority.”
Preachers and teachers especially need to take note of this passage. Paul twice emphasises this truth here: “We are not trying to please men but God” (v. 4) and “We were not looking for praise from people” (v. 6). His goal is simple and unadulterated: to always please God, and him alone.
As John Stott remarks, “We speak, therefore, writes Paul, as men who are tested by God, approved by God, trusted by God and are seeking to please God. No secret of Christian ministry is more important than its fundamental God-centeredness. The stewards of the gospel are primarily responsible neither to the church, nor to synods or leaders, but to God himself.
“On the one hand, this is a disconcerting fact because God scrutinizes our hearts and their secrets, and his standards are very high. On the other hand, it is marvelously liberating, since God is a more knowledgeable, impartial and merciful judge than any human being or ecclesiastical court or committee. To be accountable to him is to be delivered from the tyranny of human criticism.”
Of course all this does not mean that we go out of our way to displease people. No, the point is to be true to God and the gospel, even if it means upsetting people. But Paul did try to please people in the sense that he sought to win them for the gospel. As Charles Wanamaker puts it:
“He consciously sought to please God with whatever he said because he was commissioned by God for his task, and God continually tested his motives. . . . This does not mean that Paul was insensitive and unbending to the needs of his audiences, as 1 Cor. 9:19-23 demonstrates. To the extent that he sought to please people, it was to win them for the gospel, thereby gaining the approval of God.”
Or as D. Michael Martin comments: “A person obligated to speak for the one who can judge the heart would be foolish to change the message in order to please his hearers. Such an act would compromise a breach of trust. Thus it was impossible in the mind of the apostle to be a person pleaser and a God pleaser at the same time (cf. Gal 1:10).
“This does not mean that one must be insensitive or offensive when dealing with people. Paul elsewhere made it clear that he attempted to present the gospel so as to enhance its appeal to a variety of people (‘all things to all men’ in 1 Cor 9:22). But he was obliged to do so without altering the message entrusted to him.”
And as verse 6 makes clear, he had no interest in the praise and applause of men. His aim was to simply proclaim the gospel and lift up Jesus. This was in stark contrast to so many other speakers, orators and preachers of his day. As Gene Green remarks,
“The praise to which Paul refers is the honor, prestige, or fame that so many rhetoricians and sophists sought in those days before Hollywood. Orators were akin to the rock music legends or Hollywood stars in ancient society…. Paul and his followers did not come to Thessalonica in order to gain this type of public praise from anyone. They were not looking for cheering crowds who would be awed at their oratory.”
Wow, a lot of modern-day preachers and tele-evangelists come to mind after reading that paragraph. How Paul would shudder if he saw the theatrics and smooth-as-silk messages of so many Christian celebrity preachers today. He would be aghast at how the praise and worship of men seems to characterise so many current big time preachers.
Of course it is not just big cheese preachers and other Christian celebs who need to be reminded of these basic biblical truths. We all need to take stock here: are we more concerned about what men think about us than we are what God thinks?
The temptation is great for all of us. Thus we must stay on our faces before God, and allow him to burn away all base desire for men-pleasing and men-fearing. We should fear only God instead. As we are told in Proverbs 29:25, “the fear of man brings a snare”.
Or as A. W. Tozer once said, “The only fear I have is the fear to get out of the will of God.” Indeed, Tozer spoke much about men-pleasing and God-pleasing. Let me conclude with another quote from this great man of God, as well as from a few other great saints:
“The desire to please may be commendable enough under certain circumstances, but when pleasing men means displeasing God it is an unqualified evil and should have no place in the Christian’s heart. To be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men.” -Tozer
“We must give up the vain idea of trying to please everybody. That is impossible, and the attempt is a mere waste of time. We must be content to walk in Christ’s steps, and let the world say what it likes.” -J.C. Ryle
“This shall be an infallible test to you concerning anyone’s ministry. If it is man-praising, and man-honouring, it is not of God.” -Charles Spurgeon.