The Pressure to Please People

For the average person, the list of people to please gets longer by the year.  A baby is just concerned with pleasing self.  That is what babies do.  The young person learns that pleasing one’s peers can be very rewarding in terms of self esteem and social status, but it often contradicts the demands of parents and teachers.  By the time you reach college, you are trying to please yourself, parents, peers, professors, bosses and the parents of your significant other.  Get married and the spouse jumps up the priority chain, bringing the in-laws with them.  Enter the ministry or your career and you can add to the growing list, your pastor, church members, preachers with whom you fellowship and your neighbors.  If you enter a secular career, the demands are similar with different industry nomenclature.  By the age of thirty you can become exhausted with people-pleasing.  Or, bitter with resentment.  Or, tormented with anxiety.  Or, addicted to any number of desensitizing influences.  Or, just ticked off.

Enough with these unnecessary frustrations.  I do not mean, enough with being nice to people.  Or, enough with obligations to people that are important to you.  Or, enough with compassion and kindness.  Of course not.  I mean, time to grow up by understanding who and what comes first and arranging your own self-expectations accordingly.

In Galatians 1, the apostle Paul was writing the churches that were organized throughout the large area known as Galatia, just north of the Mediterranean Sea.  Most of the believers in this area were Gentiles who were being intimidated by the Jews to abandon their faith.  Paul was writing to strengthen them to stand fast” (Gal. 5:1).  In doing so, it was necessary for Paul to answer some attacks against his own apostleship, the very thing that gave his message authority.

Paul took a great stand against these traditionalists of his day and as he did, his sanctified motives came shining through!  It was Paul’s desire to please God, not man.  Paul asked, rhetorically, in Galatians 1:10, “ I seek to please men?”

People who seek to please God and not men:

1. Seek to be servants, not celebrities.

Paul said, “...for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).  In his effort to defend his apostleship, he refrained from exalting himself as a “big deal.”  Instead, he identified as a servant.  If we are oppressed with the pressure to please people, it is always intensified when we go about it by puffing ourselves up.  We build up our image and correspondingly, expect others to be impressed with it.  You will help people more by serving them than by sending them your latest press release.  Carry their bags, shine their shoes, remember their special days, match their emotions by weeping when they weep and rejoicing when they rejoice and they will notice.  You will not have to point to your reserved parking space or refer to yourself with your title in front of your name.  Just wash someone’s feet.

2. Seek to be serious theologians, not sycophants.

In verse 11, Paul makes it clear that the word that he preached, the gospel, came from God and not man.  He said, “For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (v. 12).  While no one would recommend being disagreeable and argumentative; to exchange your allegiance to Christ as Lord, for a lock-step compliance with men, denominations, fellowship groups, faith or family traditions, is tantamount to idolatry.  

I am often amused by people who declare their commitment to the word of God, and then champion some fraternal ideology that is not biblical.  Too many Christians are willing to make room for any impulse that comes dressed in religious garb.  By learning what God expects of you from scripture, you can eliminate a host of crippling expectations, and emancipate yourself from a long list of legalistic demands.  In summary, “...let God be true, but every man a liar...” (Rom. 3:4).

3. Seek to be submissive to truth, not stuck in tradition.

Sometimes, “what you’ve always been taught” can be your problem.  Paul understood that in order to follow Christ, he would have to forget “...those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, ... press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 13,14).  He said, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ” (Phil. 3:7).  He was leaving behind the unreasonable and incorrect teachings of his past, so that he might follow Christ.  Many Christians will never move forward in pleasing God because they are bound by error, by things “they always believed.”  Many preachers will never grow because they have drunk the Kool-aide of pride which says that change is compromise.  Sometimes, change is repentance.  Sometimes, we have to admit that we have clung to error for too long.  

People who want to please God will often be forced to depart from their most cherished traditions because those traditions are wrong.  In a perfect world, we would all grow up believing and understanding truth with a perfect knowledge.  Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world and we all see through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13:12).  Paul was willing to leave behind what he called “...the zealous traditions of my fathers” (Gal. 1:14).

People find themselves stuck in tradition because it is hard to admit that you have been wrong, and wrong so passionately.  As Paul said, “beyond measure I persecuted the church of God and wasted it” (Gal. 1:13).  How do you think Paul felt when he thought back on the people that he had hurt in his ignorant passion?  Do not live the rest of your life in error because you cannot bear to face the pain of admitting you were wrong.  Also, realize that many of the people you are striving to please could be wrong as well.  

You might also notice that Paul said that he “...profited in the Jews’ religion...” (Gal. 1:14) above his equals.  He was giving up all the advancement, opportunity, prosperity and prestige that came with his position.  He did so because he was submissive to truth first.  

There may be some dominant person in your life that is demanding that you do, believe or feel something that is wrong.  It may be time to stand up for what you know is right and leave the consequences to God.  You can learn to live freely, delivered from the unscriptural expectations of man.

4. Are consequently stupefied by the gospel priority.

Paul said:

But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood”  (Gal. 1:15,16).

All of the loss, the sacrifice, the marginalization, the resentment of those who expect you to live life their way will vaporize amid the inexpressible, stupefying wonder of living for the gospel priority!  That priority will effect your schedule, alter your budget, consume your heart and mind, challenge your theology and enrich your future by helping others.

This is much better than running around trying to please people.  Love them? Sure.  Serve them?  Absolutely.  Suffer long with them?  Without a doubt.  Allow them to push you to distraction with conflicting expectations and contradictory ideas?  Not a chance.

Remember Ecclesiastes 12:13...

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
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