“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?” ~ Galatians 1:10
At this time of the year many of us see an opportunity for a new start. Whether you are one who makes New Years Resolutions or not, there seems to be a sense of “Do Over” that comes almost as soon as that ball drops in Times Square, and as the pigskin begins to make way for the roundball and puck.
The question cited at the top of this post was posed by the Apostle Paul. His question raises another, more fundamental question: Who are we supposed to live to please? I hope that question will be given consideration in this new year (and every year).
It would not be appropriate to suppose Paul is suggest that receiving affirmation from the people around us is a bad thing. On many occasions Paul expresses his thankfulness for having been well received, for the friendships with many among whom he lived and ministered. So clearly, Paul is not indifferent to the benefits of healthy affirming relationships. Yet I hope Paul’s question will remind us that, as the Westminster Catechism says, “The primary purpose of man is to glorify and enjoy God”. In other words, as good as it is to please those around us, and especially those closest to us, the one we exist to please is the One and only God. And while earning esteem at work, in your neighborhood, or among family members is often a good thing, Paul reminds us that when pleasing those around us is our driving motivation we are then likely to be out of accord with the very purpose for which we are created – and for which we have been redeemed.
So how do we know when we are falling into this pattern of people pleasing? (Yes, when, not if.)
The great English Puritan, Richard Baxter, provides us with some thoughts, and exhorts us: “See therefore that you live for God’s approval as that which you chiefly seek, and as that will suffice you.”
You may discover yourself by these signs:
1. You will be careful to understand the Scripture, to know what pleases and displeases God
2. You will be more careful in the doing of every task, to fit it to the pleasure of God rather than men.
3. You will look to your hearts, and not only to your actions; to your goals, and thoughts, and the inward manner and degree.
4. You will look to secret duties as well as public, and to that which men do not see as well as those which they see.
5. You will revere your conscience, paying close attention to it, and not slighting it; when it tells you of God’s displeasure, it will disquiet you; when it tells you of His approval, it will comfort you.
6. Your pleasing men will be charitable for their good, and pious (holy) in order to please God, not proud and ambitious for your honor among men, nor impious against the pleasing of God.
7. Whether men are pleased or displeased, how they judge you or what they call you, will seem a small matter to you, as their own interests, in comparison to God’s judgment. You don’t live for them. You can bear their displeasure, and comments, if God is pleased.
These will be your evidences.