In our daily lives, should we do our best to please the Lord or please humans? In spiritual matters, should our top priority be to please the Creator or His created beings? In our worship, should we put a premium on pleasing God or on pleasing our fellow-worshippers? What about in our preaching? Should it be our desire to proclaim what God wants to hear or what men like? Our approach to these matters is the difference between spiritual life and death!
Since God’s children are supposed to have the mind of Jesus (Philippians 2:5), we ought to consider His mentality. His obvious priority while living on the earth was to do the Father’s will. He said that such was His “food” (John 4:34). He also said, “The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him” (John 8:29). The Christ continued to live His life in that fashion right up until the time of His death, even in that darkest hour submitting to the Father’s desire (Philippians 2:8,9). We need to imitate Jesus’ approach and make a commitment to try and please God in all things.
Is it really possible for flawed humans to please the God of heaven? Those who do not believe in Him cannot please Him (Hebrews 11:6), nor can those who are “in the flesh” (Romans 8:8). But what about those who sincerely seek to please the Lord? They certainly can achieve such a goal. Paul prayed for the saints to please God (Colossians 1:9,10), and he gave inspired instruction to the brethren in Thessalonica about how they “ought to walk and to please God” (1 Thessalonians 4:1). So, yes, it is possible to please God. How does that happen? By submitting to His will (Matthew 7:21).
Would there ever be any situations in life when it would be acceptable to do things with the intention of making another human happy? Jesus said that parents know how “to give good gifts” to their children (Matthew 7:11), and He made that statement in such a way that it is obvious that giving gifts to another human is not an inherently sinful activity. So, husbands, if you want to be thoughtful and buy a gift for your sweet wife on your wedding anniversary, go right ahead. Seriously, there are times when it is appropriate to do things with the thought of pleasing others. In a context in which Paul spoke of the need for those who are strong to bear with the scruples of the weak, the instruction given was, “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification” (Romans 15:2).
There were circumstances in which Paul attempted to please others. He said so: “Just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of man, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:33). He made that statement in a context in which he was speaking about eating foods offered to idols and giving glory to God in whatever we undertake. Why did Paul want to please men? In order to save them. From Paul’s pen we also learn that he tried to “become all things to all men” (1 Corinthians 9:22), which surely would include doing those things that appealed to humans. His intention? Do whatever he could to help lost people be saved.
On the other hand, there are some instances when choosing to please people is wrong. When Pilate, “wanting to gratify the crowd,” gave the order to kill Jesus, he sinned against the holy, sinless One (Mark 15:15). When a married Christian man seeks to please his wife, and in the process such action hinders him from pleasing the Lord, he sins against God (1 Corinthians 7:32,33). When a member of the church forsakes the services of the church in order to make family members happy, that person has transgressed God’s will (Hebrews 10:25). We must be committed to doing boldly what pleases our Lord, regardless of how humans might respond to our choices. Sometimes we fear the consequences of putting God’s affairs first in our lives (Matthew 6:33), and we shrink back from doing the right thing. Shame on us when we think and act like that.
Let us read and meditate on the courageous choices of Daniel and his friends (Daniel 1,3,6), as well as Jesus’ apostles (Acts 5:27-29), all of whom chose to please God instead of pleasing men. If they made such godly decisions in the face of danger, knowing that their course of action would not please others, we can, too! No, we should not offend others intentionally. Yet, our top priority should be to please God – that is more important than pleasing other humans, right? How was it that Paul made this point? He wrote, “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
One special application of the please men versus please God question would be in our approach to teaching God’s word. While it is pleasant when those whom we teach agree with and enjoy our message from the Bible, we must not fall into the trap of teaching what we think makes people happy. Again, it is never right to irritate or offend people purposely. But, let us be realistic. The truth is offensive. Some in Isaiah’s day cried for “smooth things,” but what they really needed was God’s truth (Isaiah 30:10). Some have itching ears that they want teachers to tickle (2 Timothy 4:3), but what they need to hear is the pure gospel. Like Paul and other faithful servants of Jehovah, we must say and practice: “. . . we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4).
Life is filled with choices; some are easy, while others are pretty tough. Let us resolve in our hearts that we will always try to do what pleases the Lord.
— Roger D. Campbell