I'm a recovering people pleaser.
And I'm not just saying that so you'll like me.
I was recently reading Scripture, and this particular verse stuck out to me:
Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. (Galatians 1:10, NLT)I nodded in approval, remembering my personal value to please God, not people. My heart and desire must be motivated by God’s calling and mission for me, not by my own agenda or desire to look good for others. This calling and mission go beyond job description or cultural expectations; this is about being obedient to the Lord before all other authorities, about finding my self-worth and identity in Christ, not in the approval of others.
Later, I read a passage in 1 Corinthians where Paul describes how he would become like the Jews to win Jews, then become like Gentiles to win Gentiles, etc. The paragraph ends with this:
I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:22b-23, NIV)On an initial glance, this looks like Paul trying to fit in and find approval from a particular clique or faction or demographic in order to share the gospel with them. Is he trying to please people here, trying to make them happy in order to feed them the gospel?
He's choosing the way of self-sacrifice, of putting aside his own preferences and desires and natural tendencies and social norms in order to share the gospel with everyone. For Paul, the gospel is everything. He set aside his freedom for the people in Corinth so they might hear and respond to the gospel. He wasn't trying to win the approval of people in Galatia; he was trying to win people to the true gospel of Christ, even if it caused conflict between him and the preachers of a false gospel.
It's a natural temptation to do ministry out of a motive of people-pleasing. We want people to feel comfortable with church, to have fun at the youth event, to make it as easy as possible for them to join a small group. We can end up avoiding potential conflict and gracious truth-telling and the preaching of the gospel out of a sake of propriety, a desire for others to like us, a fear of rejection or disapproval. I like it when people like me, and I hate it when they disapprove or seem disappointed.
Yet Paul seems to think that the sharing of the true gospel and the pursuit of discipleship will not make everyone feel happy. It won't win the approval of the masses or make everyone like us. People might disagree with us, at best, or outright reject us, at worst. Deep down, we all know this. We'll never actually please everyone; and if we do, we're probably doing something wrong, dishonest, or being ineffective. (But at least we kept everyone happy, right?)
The questions arise: am I willing to sacrifice myself--my preferences, my agenda, my approval rating--for that which is greater, the gospel of Jesus? Am I willing to say "no" to people's approval in order to say "yes" to the call of Christ in my life? Do I believe the gospel is worth it?
In the end, who do I want to be giving me the thumbs up, saying "well done, good and faithful servant?"
Whose thumb matters most?