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.
As I read this verse this morning there was the initial flood of accepted interpretations of this verse rushing through my thoughts. I’ve heard for a long time that we can’t expect to be “people pleasers” and grow and mature in Christ (though this blog by the genius pastor David Kemp 🙂 balances some of that perspective). There is the traditional notion that we must reject the “world” in its entirety because any acquiescence to popular opinion MUST be horribly wrong (note the sarcasm).
So in the midst of all of these ingrained ideas the Spirit of God somehow cut through it all and a question arose in my mind. “Who is the man who you most often try to please?”
I was frustrated by the answer because of what it meant, but honesty and maturity demanded that I answer truthfully. I am the man who I most often try to please, of course. I am the number one driving force in the mission to make myself happy and satisfied. There is literally no other person on earth that I am more instinctively inclined to gratify than myself.
The most troublesome relationship that any of us will ever face is not with our spouse, parents, children, friends, or boss but it is with ourselves. We spend quite a bit of time with ourselves, so much so that we know every sordid detail of our own lives. We see the ugly thoughts in a way that no one else, other than God, sees. We feel the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual hungers that we have uniquely. And we know exactly when out actions, thoughts, and motivations have gone astray. None of these things are generally shared with the public. Most of these things are only rarely shared with a spouse or close friends.
I say all of that because just like any good blackmail story we can easily fall into the trap of giving ourselves whatever we want (pleasing “the” man) to keep the feelings of inadequacy and guilt to a minimum. The Bible says that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end that way leads to death”. The reason it “seems right” is because it feels right. There is an appeasement in sin and self-pleasing decisions. But it is a dangerous appeasement with a treacherous end.
Today we will be tempted, particularly in American / Westernized thought, to utter some kind of excuse along the lines of, “well, you can’t please everyone”. And while that’s true, we should be very careful that we aren’t really saying, “well, I’m just going to please myself”. Ultimately our goal, as Christians, is to please God, and the most notorious contestant that will compete for that position of ultimate is not “other men”, but ourselves.
In fact, maybe, after we have read what Paul says here, we should go back and read it again like this: “For now am I seeking the approval of myself, or of God? Or am I trying to please myself? If I were still trying to please myself, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
The reason this matters is not because we don’t authentically desire pleasure, but because the type and kind of pleasure we desire can ONLY come from serving, not from being served. The Psalmist sang these words:
You will make known to me the path of life;
You will fill me with joy in Your presence,
With eternal pleasures at Your right hand.