Whoever we are it’s easy for us to contribute to a minister’s greatest temptation. It’s also a real temptation for all of us. Put simply it is people pleasing. Why is that so bad? We are meant to serve others. Surely it is right to put others first and love our neighbour as ourselves? But people pleasing makes others the standard of our actions and guiding principle: fearing their criticism, seeking their approval or a certain perception of us. The reality is we are not loving them we are loving ourselves. Faced with difficult choices it becomes clear we want our own comfort rather than their good when we simply take the option of just pleasing them. It is not the kind of self-sacrifice that pursues the good of others (1 Corinthians 10:33), people-pleasing is secretly about benefiting ourselves (Jude 16). It’s pride and idolizing ourselves and others when we pursue what pleases others rather than establishing what honours God most. It results in obeying others before God and against Him, valuing their favour and approval of man before or against God’s approval. Or it is fearing the displeasure of others more than God. The danger is that we put others in the place of God. When everyone thinks that the pastor’s job is to please everyone we ensure his greatest temptation. Perhaps the temptation is more to please fellow ministers rather than those in the congregation. People pleasing was a temptation to which the apostle Paul was alert, and we can learn much from this.
We may not think that we are people pleasers, but we easily succumb to the pressure to find the easiest way. The fear of man is a very subtle snare. Paul shows how it can be an occupational hazard in any calling (Ephesians 6:6; Colossians 3:22). Paul refers to this temptation on various occasions (Galatians 1:10; 1 Corinthians 4:3). In fact, he goes as far as to say that this kind of people pleasing stops him from serving Christ. The antidote to people-pleasing is honouring God first. In one passage it is clear how this affects Paul’s speaking and preaching (1 Thessalonians 2:3-5). James Fergusson helps us in this updated extract to identify and avoid a minister’s greatest temptation. But first we need to establish that not all people pleasing is wrong.
1. What is Commendable People-Pleasing?
The minister of Jesus Christ ought not to set himself on purpose, and without necessity to displease people. Nor should he by imprudent and discourteous conduct irritate and stir up their corruptions which will make the Word in his mouth objectionable to them. He ought to endeavour to please all people by avoiding anything which may be just ground of offence to them (2 Corinthians 7:2). He does this by restraining himself in the use of his Christian liberty in indifferent things so that he may be least offensive to them (1 Corinthians 10:32-33) and best win them over (1 Corinthians 9:20-22). He seeks to accommodate his public preaching to the case, capacity and state of all, by assigning to everyone what is appropriate (1 John 2:13). He is to please people for their good and edification (Romans 15:2).
2. What is Sinful People-Pleasing?
Yet, there is a sinful way of pleasing people which is inconsistent with fidelity in Christ’s service. This is when a minister conceals any necessary truth which he is otherwise called to deliver. He does this lest he displease people (1 Kings 22:13-14). It also happens when his highest aim is to gain applause from others (2 Corinthians 4:5). In general, he is so fearful of people that he will willing rather to venture the displeasure of God by omitting any part of His duty, than to irritate and displease the sinful preferences of men by faithfulness in the discharge of his calling (Acts 4:10).
A minister who sets himself so to please people in this way and who resolves not to meet with the displeasure of some, cannot be a faithful servant to Jesus Christ. A man cannot serve two masters, (Matthew 6:24; Galatians 1:10). A faithful servant of Jesus Christ will prize acceptance and approval with Christ and the testimony of a good conscience for fidelity in His service more, than all the favour, praise or advantage he can receive from others. Before he endangers the loss of the former, he will a thousand times rather gladly embrace the most certain loss of the latter.
3. How Does People-Pleasing Conceal the Truth in Preaching?
It is not enough for a minister preach nothing except that which is the truth of God. He must also preach the truth sincerely, not concealing any part of necessary truth, or misapplying truth so, as that thereby he may please the sinful affections, whims, and temperaments of others. He must aim solely to approve himself to God in doing his duty (2 Corinthians 2:17). It is not sufficient that a minister does not pervert the truth but preaches the pure word without error. He must also preach it sincerely, solely for God’s honour and the salvation of His people, without any worldly motives. Paul does not think it enough to purge corruption from his teaching, he must also purge insincerity in the delivery of it.
Paul’s preaching was not of deceit (1 Thessalonians 2:3). It was not suited to the corrupt opinions of men as the preaching of the false apostles was, who mingled the law with the gospel to avoid the hatred of the Jews (Galatians 5:11). It was not of uncleanness, indulging people in their filthy lusts as the preaching of the false apostles was (Jude 10). His exhortation was not in guile, that is, he did not deceitfully seek his own worldly advantage from them, under a pretext of seeking God’s glory in their salvation, as he more fully declares (1 Thessalonians 2:5-6). It is sincerity and faithfulness in a minister’s conduct that creates much trouble, strife and suffering for him from his unspiritual hearers. Such want ministers to preach as pleases their preference. Thus Paul’s faithfulness was the occasion of his trouble spoken of in 1 Thessalonians 2:2.
4. How is People-Pleasing Opposed to Pleasing God?
Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 2:4 that his purpose was never to please the sinful preferences of others, but to approve himself to God and to be approved by Him. He gives two reasons (a) the privilege of being entrusted with the gospel, and (b) God’s omniscience in knowing and trying the heart, (Jeremiah 17:10; 1 Samuel 16:27).
The sin of people-pleasing is inconsistent with sincerity and God-pleasing in anyone, least of all in a minister. Paul strove to please the Lord; he spoke not as one pleasing people but God. We must approve ourselves to the Lord, by doing not only what he commands (Romans 12:2) but also doing it in the way which He prescribes (1 Corinthians 10:31). We must seek after, and rest satisfied with His approval of what we do and how we do it without stepping a hair breadth off the way of duty to get praise or approval from others. Paul laboured to please God or approve himself to Him.
It is clear evidence of a minister’s call from God, when the conscience of his calling prevails with him to conduct himself in all aspects of his employment both as to what he does and how he does it. He does this so that he may approve himself to God who has called him. The conscience of Paul’s calling prevailed so much with him. He spoke of being entrusted with this work by God and so obliged to speak not as pleasing men, but God.
5. How is People-Pleasing a Kind of Flattery?
In 1 Thessalonians 2:5 Paul makes it clear that he did not use flattering words at any time. He did not use speech designed to please the worldly corrupt preferences of others in order to gain favour or some reward from them. The sin of flattery, at least when given way to and indulged is inconsistent with the grace of sincerity in a Christian (much less in a minister). Where a man enslaves himself to please the sinful preferences of people and will not upset them on any terms he will not avoid perverting the truth of God to make it serve his base purpose, by strengthening the hands of the wicked and promising them life (Ezekiel 13:22). Paul denies that he used flattering words, as being inconsistent with that sincerity previously spoken of.
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