Contrary to what our initial reaction may be, not all people-pleasing is wrong. Consider Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10, “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (32–33). But there is a danger to people-pleasing. People-pleasing can lead us away from faithful service to Christ. Even worse, people-pleasing can lead to apostasy. Consider what Paul said to the churches in Galatia:

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Galatians 1:10

Clearly, Paul was not willing to compromise the message of Christ crucified when others were questioning the very heart of that message. Here’s a condensed exposition of this verse by the late pastor and theologian R.C. Sproul from his Expositional Commentary Series.

People-Pleasing and “Love Lines”

For the most part, people are convinced by some authority they trust, and they believe something without examining the arguments in a critical way. We call these “love lines.” We call them this because we tend to trust people we love and admire. If they say something to us, even without proving their assertion, we nevertheless take it on faith. You’ll see that the vast majority of people who are Baptist are Baptist because they grew up in a Baptist family or those who are Methodist grew up in a Methodist family. They say: “That’s the way I was raised. That’s how I was born and reared. It was good enough for my father. It was good enough for my grandfather. Therefore, it’s good enough for me.” Whatever we were taught by someone we admire, a trusted teacher or parent, becomes the final recourse of our proof.

The problem that this tendency produces is a failure to examine those things that we hold with great tenacity. We hold on to things without really subjecting them to critical analysis. This is what Paul was facing among the Galatians. He was astonished that they had so quickly moved from what Paul had taught them with respect to the gospel. You recall what we’ve already read in the Apostle’s statement in verse 9: “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

People-Pleasing and the Power of Tradition

Now, the question I ask is this: How is it possible that so many of these Galatians had been seduced by the Judaizing heresy, which teaches that to be saved, one has to maintain the law of the Old Testament? How is it that after hearing the beautiful gospel of Christ, of the finished work that He has performed in His atoning death, of a death made once for all, that anybody would move away from that glorious gospel? I think the answer is love lines.

You can hear the discussions among the Galatians: “Every year for forty years, I’ve gone to Jerusalem for Yom Kippur, for the Day of Atonement. I went through the rituals of sacrificing the bulls and the goats for my sins. Now this Apostle tells us we don’t need to do that anymore? Everything has changed. Some person, Jesus, died once and for all, giving a perfect atonement. No, no. I like the tradition. I like trusting in the rituals of my faith and celebrating the Passover. Maybe Jesus thought it was nice in the upper room to change the liturgy of the Passover, but we’ve been doing this Passover the same way every year for centuries. My father did it, my grandfather did it, my great-grandfather did it, and I’m going to continue to do it as well.”

These ceremonies were designed by God to point forward to the fulfillment of the person and work of Jesus Christ. However, once they were fulfilled in Him, the people didn’t want to let them go. They wanted to rest their confidence in the tradition, in the sacred rituals and ceremonies they had performed for centuries. For them, it was not finished by Jesus.

People-Pleasing and the Power of Popularity

There’s an informal fallacy that we find constantly repeated in the world throughout the press and on TV. We call this the informal fallacy of the argumentum ad populum. This fallacy means an argument “to the populace” or “to the people.” In simple terms, it’s something like this: Sixty thousand people can’t be wrong. We determine truth not only by love lines but by taking a poll. You count noses. You determine the truth on the basis of the majority view.

We have a problem when truth is so often determined by polls. John Calvin made this comment: “Let us boldly despise the whole world.” Now, did he mean that we should hate everybody in the world? No, what he meant is that ministers of the gospel, those who are entrusted to preach the Word of God, must learn how to shut their eyes.

Lady Justice

We have a symbol in the U.S. Justice Department: it’s Lady Justice, carrying a sword and scales. The thing that is so peculiar about Lady Justice is that she wears a blindfold. Why? She’s following Calvin’s sage advice in the juridical arena. Calvin was saying that justice must be blind; justice must not be distributed on the basis of people’s standing or resources; rather, people are to be treated with fairness according to the law.

We know that all too often, Lady Justice peeks and checks out the polls to see who’s for her and who’s against her. Even the justices of the Supreme Court are extremely influenced by popular opinion. How else could you explain the Dred Scott decision? How else could you possibly explain Roe v. Wade? The error was that the most fundamental right of all, the right to life, was denied in Roe v. Wade because Lady Justice took off the blindfold and looked at the groups that were strongly and vehemently asserting their agendas.

Living for the Approval of God

When Paul addresses the crucial issue of justification by faith alone, he asks, Am I now seeking the approval of man? (v. 10). Seeking the approval of man and going with popular wisdom rather than against it was his nature. When he was persecuting the church violently and dragging Christians to prison, he received the applause of men who were encouraging his actions until the Son of God knocked him to the ground and blinded him, saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). Paul had heard the applause and cheers of men when he was attacking Christ. Paul asked, “Am I still going to count noses in Galatia to see what the popular view is there?”

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? (v. 10). Paul adds a rhetorical question to the threat of the curse. He tells us elsewhere to try, as much as is in our power, to be at peace with all men, to try to get along with people (Rom. 12:18). We’re not supposed to go out of our way to be obnoxious, to add scandal to the gospel. There’s plenty of scandal already built in to the gospel. We don’t need to add to it; nor are we allowed to subtract from it in order to please men.

Every one of us faces this kind of pressure, this kind of choice, at one time or another, when that which is popular will receive the applause of men. However, no matter how much applause we get from man, if we don’t get the approval of God, it is nothing. If you want to be a Christian, you can’t be a man-pleaser.

Being a people-pleaser and a servant of Christ are two incompatible options. It’s either/or. You please the Lord or you please your friends. If you have to cut every love line on this planet, get out your scissors for the sake of Jesus and for the sake of His kingdom.

The Expositional Commentary Series by R.C. Sproul

The Expositional Commentary Series features nine volumes of sermons pastor and theologian R.C. Sproul preached at St. Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida. The volumes cover all four gospels, Acts, several of Paul’s letters and Peter’s epistles. Each of these volumes are pastoral, applicable, illustrative, and faithful expositions of Scripture. Follow the link below to our store to purchase them for use in the Olive Tree Bible App!

1 Comment

  1. I love this read. I thank you God for people you worked through like Dr. R.C Sproul. May he rest easy in your loving arms.

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