I grew up as an evangelical learning that there were two types of person: men-pleasers and God-pleasers. As Christians we were called to please God and not man.
It’s not hard to find this emphasis in the NT:
Gal. 1:10 Am I now satisfying man or God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Eph 6:6 obey your earthly masters…not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.
1Thess. 2:4 But as we were approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, who approves our hearts.
Lately, however, lately I’ve been struck by an emphasis in Paul that I was never taught much about: the importance of pleasing men:
Rom. 15:1 We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us must please our neighbour for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. 3 For Christ did not please himself…
1Cor. 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
We would never talk like this in my tradition: pleasing men is BAD. Only pleasing God is good.
So I want to ask some questions – that’s what we like to do at The Grit! Starting with, why have we been unreceptive to this strand of Paul’s teaching about pleasing men?
But also, how do these two apparently contradictory themes fit together: not pleasing men, and pleasing men?!
Maybe I’ll tackle them in reverse order. In Galatians 1 Paul is contending that his message came from Christ direct, and was not of human origin. His gospel ministry is initiated by God, for his purposes – Paul is not preaching to satisfy some human agenda. When it comes to the gospel message, Paul pleases God, not man.
In 1 Thess 2, Paul is making a similar point. He brought the gospel message to Thessalonica against strong opposition. And Paul accepted that – he never tried to ingratiate himself with his enemies by flattery. He just spoke in spite of them, because he was there as a servant of God, and so had to fulfil his commission. He had to please his own master, not someone else.
When it’s a choice between pleasing God and pleasing man, when the gospel is at stake, Paul thinks you have to please God not man. So far so good.
In Ephesians 6 Paul writes to slaves who are facing the temptation to be dishonest in their work, putting on the pretence of hard work when the boss is looking, but really slacking off. Paul says you haven’t only got your master to please – you’ve got Christ also. Think of him as the master you’re working for. Here it’s not a contrast between pleasing man and God – a not….but…. – this time it’s a not only….but also…. Nothing wrong with trying to please your master. Only bad if you try to trick him into being pleased, and forget to please Christ.
So when the gospel is not at stake, when you don’t have to choose, pleasing man is not considered a bad thing, it may actually be a good thing, as in this case.
Tomorrow we’ll consider the other side of the coin, the ‘please men’ instructions.