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Audio Transcript

We love receiving emails that crystallize abstract thoughts into concrete questions. Today, we have an intriguing question from Jacob about the importance of popularity and likeability in our gospel witness. Jacob wonders if being disliked by others makes him a bad representative of Christ. Here’s his email: “Pastor John, am I wrong if people around me don’t like me? Does being unliked by others make me a bad representative of Christ? We can’t be people-pleasers all the time, or we will be pushovers. At what point does our seeking to be accepted by people compromise our faithfulness to God?”

I think what might be helpful to do in answer to Jacob’s question is to illustrate how he might go about answering his own question from Scripture. I hope, in doing it this way, that one hundred questions of this nature might be answered, in the sense that people will realize that all John Piper does to get ready for these little ten-minute talks is to open his Bible, find some Scriptures that come close to relating to the issue, think about them, and then put his thoughts down.

Frankly, I think most people who listen to APJ, which is a particular kind of people, could do this if they were encouraged to work at it. So, that’s what I’m doing — I’m encouraging you. You could do this. You could have your own little APJ. I’d like to empower you to do that.

How to Ask Scripture

The first thing I did was to type the word please, because we’re talking about when it is right to please people and when it is not right to please people. So, I typed the word please into my Logos. There are a lot of different Bible programs out there. I happen to use Logos. I told it to find all the places where please or pleased is used in Paul, because I knew that there are a bunch of places in Paul that I couldn’t think of where this very issue is dealt with — of sometimes pleasing people and sometimes not pleasing people.

A bunch of uses of please, not all of them relevant, came up. I picked out the five that were relevant, isolated them, and began to read them. And as I read them, I circled, and I underlined, and I emboldened words that seemed relevant for answering the question.

Now, when is it right to please people? When is it wrong to please people? Is Paul tipping me off in these verses as to when he does it and when he doesn’t do it? I assume Paul is not contradicting himself, so here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to read you these five verses and show you what I saw. Because I think if you could see it for yourself, then you wouldn’t have to write APJ. We’re into empowering people to go to the Bible and to find God and help there, not to be dependent on me.

Galatians 1:10

So, here we go — Galatians 1:10. Paul has just said some unbelievably harsh things about those who are bringing a different gospel. He says, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” — damned (Galatians 1:9). Now, those are not pleasing words to the false teachers, I dare say. Should Paul worry about that? He has just displeased somebody, big time. My guess is that lots of contemporary readers don’t like his words either.

Then he says in Galatians 1:10, “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.” The least we can conclude from these words is that sometimes, when the gospel is being corrupted, being a faithful servant of Christ will require harsh words. We should not let that stand in our way, that those words are displeasing to some people.

1 Thessalonians 2:4–6

Number two is 1 Thessalonians 2:4–6. Here’s what Paul says:

Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed — God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others.

That seems to me to be really helpful, because Paul mentions three things (at least) that he is trying to avoid when it comes to pleasing other people in the way he talks. He’s avoiding flattery, he’s avoiding giving a pretext for greed, and he’s avoiding trying to get glory from people. In other words, what Paul was opposed to here was trying to please people by buttering them up in the hope of getting money or getting praise and glory.

The key issue in 1 Thessalonians 2 is not primarily whether somebody likes or doesn’t like what you say. The issue is, Are you self-serving, or are you others-serving? Are you manipulating the relationship to try to say what they want to hear because you want money, or you want glory, or you want something that they don’t expect you to want, given what you’re saying?

Colossians 3:22

Here’s the third text, Colossians 3:22, which says, “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” It seems to me that what Paul means by “eye-service” is that the goal of somebody who talks or acts with eye-service is not to go any deeper than what meets the eye, which is why Paul contrasts it with “sincerity of heart” and “fearing the Lord.” In other words, pleasing someone might be fine if it is not insincere and if it doesn’t compromise fearing the Lord.

1 Corinthians 10:31–33; Romans 15:1–2

Really quickly, the two passages that tell us Paul does try to please people are 1 Corinthians 10:31–33 and Romans 15:1–2, which go like this:

Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 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.

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of [you] please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

When Paul is trying to please others, he says five things that make it good:

  1. I’m not seeking my own advantage.
  2. I’m seeking their advantage.
  3. I’m trying to bring them to salvation.
  4. I’m seeking their good.
  5. I’m seeking to build them up — that is, in faith and holiness.

On to the Answer

In summary, I think the answer to Jacob’s question about when it’s right and when it’s wrong to please people would go something like this. Again, all I’m doing now is trying to summarize. This doesn’t come out of nowhere. I’m just trying to summarize what we’ve seen in these verses.

If you are not motivated by flattery, and if you are not motivated by trying to manipulate people to get money, glory, or praise for yourself, and if you are not speaking or acting insincerely, but in the fear of God, and if you are seeking their advantage, their good, their salvation, and their upbuilding — if all those things characterize your behavior and your speech, then yes, seek to please people. Your effort to please them will be protected from sin, and it will be used for righteousness and for the glory of God.