Pleasing Man or Pleasing God?
Who are we supposed to please, God or man? Our inner Sunday School rushes to the surface on a question like this: God! We should please God. But the question isn’t quite as straightforward as that. The Scriptures speak about pleasing God and pleasing man.
Look at these passages that speak of pleasing people.
- Romans 15:2 Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.
- 1 Corinthians 7:33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife,
- 1 Corinthians 7:34b but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.
- 1 Corinthians 10:33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.
- Titus 2:9 Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative,
Those who are naturally inclined to people-pleasing see these verses and smile. Doing what God wants never felt so easy.
At the same time we are told not to be man-pleasers.
- Galatians 1:10 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.
- 1 Thessalonians 2:4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.
- Acts 5:29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. Now the ones smiling are the tell-it-straight kind of people.
So the critical question is: which do we do at what time? The answer emerges out of a clear understanding of authority, and out of understanding love for neighbor.
First, let’s consider that obeying authority is always pleasing to the one in authority. It is no fun (thus displeasing) having followers who do not follow. So where does authority come from? Always from the top down; someone with more authority is giving someone below them some degree of authority. But there has to be a top dog. There must be someone at the top of the pyramid that it is all flowing from. As Jesus told Pilate, “You would have no authority over me unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19:11) Therefore, we are to please our authorities, unless those authorities have stepped out from under the ultimate authority over them, doing or commanding things against the highest authority of God and his Word. We are to please our authorities unless it displeases God.
But what about peer relationships where there is no authority in play? Can we do what we want because another person has no right of authority over us? No, because our highest authority is pleased when we seek to please other people. God wants us to be a blessing to others. He wants us to be like himself, giving good things, meeting needs and bringing joy. But should we always do that? It should always be our desire, even while we know we can’t please everyone. When we can’t please everyone, we have to ask a couple questions. First, how am I using my time, talents and resources? There is only so much and we need to prioritize how we use what we have for blessing others. To do this well, you need to strive to internalize what the Bible says are priorities and you will need wise counselors to help you think through how you use what you have. Secondly, is there people-pleasing that would actually do them harm? Yes, there is. And how can we determine that? Only by God’s Word. God’s Word alone authoritatively tells us what is good for people. People are often pleased by things that are not good for them. For instance, are people pleased when you give them money? Usually. Is giving money to people good for them? Usually not. Scripture says that money is normally to be earned. And so in the name of love, with the Scripture defining and guiding this true love, we do and say what they need and not what pleases them.
So, we are to be people-pleasers and God-pleasers. They can often happen simultaneously because God is pleased when we please people. But when one action does not align with the other, we have to choose to please God, doing it for the good of that person. Also, we need to realize that being a God-pleaser never means bring a people-despiser. It means doing what they need instead of what they want, and doing so out of love for them. So let us grow more and more to be pleasing. We pray that normally we will please both God and man. But when both can’t happen, let us please God in our obedience, along with a burdened desire that our obedience to God really is best for man in the long run.