Here at the church we have a number of growth groups - small groups of people who come together sometime throughout the week with the intent of drawing closer to the Lord as we draw closer to each other. I am part of our Young Adult Growth Group, which meets on Tuesday evenings, and as a group, we decided that this week we would discuss “pleasing God and pleasing man.”
Honestly, I was a little put off by the simplicity of the topic. I assumed immediately that it was a topic much too “black and white” for it to be a subject of good discussion; a topic of unanimity, yes, but not one of discussion.
I believe every good truth is one that demands a match; one that’s willing to be wrestled with. So I put our topic, “pleasing God and pleasing man,” in the opposing corner in my mind to see what might come from it. And much to my chagrin, I did notice some push back.
As human beings, we’re wired for pleasure. Many of us want. And therefore, many of us want to actualize those wants. Even more so than wanting things, though, I believe all of us want to be wanted. Many people, therefore, please their neighbors, especially that neighbor they’re fond of the most, because in their minds, if their neighbor is pleased with them, maybe their neighbor might at least want to be around them. Proximity often feels close enough to satisfy us.
Because of this desire, we become people-pleasers. It is somewhat necessary, it seems. For example, if I want to get hired, or maintain employment, I need to please my superiors. There are many professions in which you can’t just put your head down and keep your hand to the plow, but instead, in the words of Dale Carnegie, you need to learn how to “win friends and influence people.” You need tact, not just expertise; you need to win the people, not just the trade.
But then Christianity happens.
We realize there is a difference right away, because of the verses that are often quoted to us: that “if I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10), and that “whatever [I] do, [I am to] work heartily, as if for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23). We don’t necessarily change gears, but we do change our perspectives. We realize now that our focus can either be on men, or on God. We learn, like Soren Kierkegaard, that we must purify our focus - that “purity of the heart is to will one thing.” Diluted focus is no focus at all; it’s merely distraction. So we focus no longer on our superiors, but on the Superior behind our superiors. All that we do, we do for Him.
I believe this is where many of us end. Because we are highly pragmatic creatures, we are content with doing for the Lord. That’s why we’re so infatuated with the “will of God.” We say, “If the Lord would just tell me what to do, I would do it!” - as if the Lord simply created us for good works, not entirely for Himself.
By virtue of being God’s offspring, we are relational creatures, far before we are pragmatic. And as easy as it is to fall into, life cannot be about pleasing God before it’s about loving God. To please anybody, God included, is to base the motive for what I’m doing on the other person (or Person). Because it’s other-focused, it seems sacrificial; it seems altruistic; it seems right. But it really has to do with what they think of me. In the end, it’s still self-centered.
Love, on the other hand, bases its motive for what I’m doing on what’s inside me, and it’s directed towards the other. It deals with what I think of them, rather than what I want them to think of me. Rather than this sacrifice involving hesitation - “I wonder what they’ll think of me” - the love that’s deep within simply wants to expose itself because of the strength of its nature. It deals with something in me, not something I want to put in someone else, i. e., a love for myself.
It is utterly wrong to assume that we can act in a way that will make God love us more than He already does. God’s love for us is infinitely perfect. Always. We are not to do what we do to get Him to feel a particular way towards us. We do what we do because we feel a particular way towards Him. We actually love Him. This pleases God - not manipulation working itself out in making God feel pleasure towards us, but true love working itself out in expression.
When we understand that God just loves us, and that this love is gratuitous, gracious, and free, and we love God in return in light of His love, this is when we please Him - when we’re not even trying.
Director of Youth & Discipleship
Riviera Baptist Church