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  • Writer's pictureRevShirleyMurphy

You Cannot Please God and People!!!

People-pleasing is a well-worn scheme and trap of Satan. If we think people-pleasing began with self-esteem training, the tolerance movement, or social media, we have underestimated how interwoven this temptation has been with humanity. The sin of people-pleasing is as old as people. Since the fall, we have been tempted to live for the praise and approval of others. Man has always fallen into the fear of man.

Our stubborn, often subtle weakness for the esteem of others has roots that stretch far and wide — in society, in history, and too often in us. And God hates people-pleasing. The apostle warns, “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). No one can ultimately serve both God and man. And God knows whom we really serve (1 Thessalonians 2:4), whose pleasure we crave the most.

Jesus put his finger on the ancient fear of man when he confronted the proud people-pleasers of his day: “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). People-pleasing had blinded them to Jesus. Unchecked, it will cover our eyes as well. “They loved the glory that comes from man,” John 12:43 tells us, “more than the glory that comes from God.” That preference is the essence and danger of people-pleasing.

People-pleasing, approval-motivated leadership can be subtle, often counter-intuitive, and it will stifle a spiritual leader's passion and joy if left unchecked.

Luke 6:26 sounds the alarm: "There's trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them" (The Message).

It's often hard to know when we actually please God. So as a tangible way to please God, we try to please people through our service, preaching, and leading. When others approve, we assume God approves.

But here's where the challenge comes. We can play to the crowd and ignore the harder path of godly leadership. How do I discern if my motives were rooted in pleasing God or seeking the approval of others?

Paul puts it well. "Am I now trying to win the approval of people, or of God? … If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Gal. 1:10).

The antidote to the fear of man is not fearlessness but a better, healthier, more life-giving fear: the fear of God. To avoid people-pleasing, we must love people with fear and trembling toward God. Much of our captivity to the feelings and desires of others stems from our relative indifference to the eyes and heart of heaven. We’ve developed a devastating allergy to trembling — the vital tremors any healthy soul feels before the awe-inspiring wonder of God (Psalm 96:9).

Paul makes the same point in Colossians 3:22: “Obey in everything . . . not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” How many of us fear the disappointment or disapproval of others far more than we fear displeasing God? Subjecting our fears of one another to a greater fear of God will, over time, clarify and purify our motivations in relationships. Instead of constantly worrying what others might think or how they might respond, we need to spend more time meditating on the holiness, justice, and mercy of God.

None of us will know all that God wants and commands at all times, but we can commit to do, at all times, what we do know he has said to do.

The sin of people-pleasing, almost by definition, presumes duplicity. If we’re constantly angling to do what pleases others, it is almost impossible to remain consistent or maintain integrity (especially if we’re trying to please several people at once). That means one way we battle people-pleasing is to prize and protect sincerity.

Do we alter ourselves before certain people in order to make or keep them happy? Do we act or speak a certain way to fit in with one crowd, and then transform ourselves to fit in somewhere else (perhaps in neither place being honest about who we really are)? Insincerity camouflages weaknesses and embellishes strengths. It hides secret sins and parades virtues. It’s self-protective, self-congratulating, and always projecting.

The call to sincerity is the call to put off and forsake all superficiality. No one, believer or otherwise, wants to be known as superficial, so why do so many still fall into its trap? In part, because superficiality makes us feel safe, important, successful. If we can project the image to others we love and admire, then we will be loved and admired, we think. The problem, of course, is that we (and God) know who we are behind all the elaborate costumes and performances. And so, whomever the people love, it is not really us.

Sincerity, not superficiality, is the surer path to peace, love, purpose, and freedom.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them,” Jesus warns, “for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). The hypocrites, he says, announce themselves when they give to the needy, or pray, or fast “that they may be praised by others.” We hear the sobering severity in his next words: “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (Matthew 6:2). People-pleasers may enjoy the pleasure of earthly praise for a time, but if that is what they live to have, that is all they will ever have. A few more trophies at work, a few more compliments from friends, a few more likes on social media, a few more smiles and pats on the back — and then they lose everything.

To be done with people-pleasing, we have to see the shallow, short-sighted, ultimately empty rewards of people-pleasing. And we have to come awake to the enormous, never-ending, ever-escalating prize of pleasing God regardless of whether anyone else sees or not.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. (Colossians 3:23–24; Ephesians 6:8)

People-pleasers may enjoy the pleasure of earthly praise, but only at the expense of a heavenly reward. Every time we prefer the glory of man to the glory of God, we believe the terrifying lie that the stray crumbs of human praise will be more satisfying than the wedding feast that awaits us (Revelation 19:9). Against the tragedy of people-pleasing hypocrisy, Jesus encourages us.

When you give to the needy [or pray or fast or love one another], do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:3–4)

Now, pleasing God does not mean despising people. The Son of God himself “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He counted others and their interests more significant than his own (Philippians 2:3–5) — imagine that! He said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Pleasing God does not release us from relentlessly and sacrificially loving people. It does release us from the tyranny of needing their praise or fearing their rejection.

So, please God and love people, like Christ. “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits,” worrying about how well he will be received or remembered by men, “since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:4). Do all that you do before his loving, watchful, fearsome eyes. If we learn to rejoice and tremble before him (Psalm 2:11), the seduction of people-pleasing will wither and wane.

We will not always please people. Our days are spent to please God, bring him joy, and reflect the One who created us for his ultimate glory! When we turn our thoughts and actions from pleasing others to pleasing Christ, only then will we find contentment, peace, and freedom.


Pleasing God – Jack Kuhatschek

The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness - Timothy Keller

When People Are Big and God Is Small - E. Welch

Please Yourself: How to Stop People-Pleasing and Transform the Way You Live - Emma Reed Turrell

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