When I reflect upon the title of today’s post, it raises a clarifying question that brings the issue to the forefront. Here is the question: do I order my life and testimony according to God and his truth or to man and his version of truth? This strikes at the heart of the conflict within Christianity and its followers in today’s American culture and society. Now, let me add another layer of complexity toward the pleasing men or God topic. Jesus commanded his apostles to love one another as he loved them, which would serve as a sign of their allegiance to the Lord toward the culture around them (John 13:34-35, ESV). Who the Lord is and how he loved the apostles are facts, which represent truth that he demonstrated throughout his earthly ministry. Christ commands his followers to obey the truth that he taught and lived. It is their turn to teach and live it.
What is so important about pleasing God rather than men? It demonstrates where my allegiance lies. Back in the Old Testament, Moses challenges the Old covenant people of God with choosing life over death within the confines of obedience to the law (Deuteronomy 30:15-20, ESV). Now, it does not matter on some level that Israel’s obedience pertained to its adherence to the law. The overriding principle or lesson centers on the heart allegiance of this nation either to God or to themselves (aka men). Nearly one generation after Moses’ exhortation, Joshua puts forth a similar choice to the people of Israel before his death (Joshua 24:14-18, ESV). The believer’s focus on his God illustrates gratitude and reverence for who he is and what he has done.
Because pleasing God reveals a heart posture set on the Lord, it enables his people to resist accolades or praise from men. Another way to state this is that a person devoted to the Lord does not need approval from men for who he is and what he does. This is clear from the following passage penned by the apostle Paul with respect to his gospel ministry:
“For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but 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” (1 Thessalonians 2:3-4, ESV).
Regardless of the Thessalonians’ views toward Paul and his ministry companions, he knew that God approved them for the gospel ministry and entrusted the gospel message to them. From the apostle’s perspective, his companions and he received the greenlight from the creator himself. They did not need any letters of commendation or approval for their ministry work…the Holy Spirit confirmed God’s choice of them by empowering their ministry (2 Corinthians 3:1-6, ESV).
Lastly, the ultimate reality that believers must face is that God himself tests our allegiance to him (1 Thess. 2:4b, ESV). I can kick and scream all I want about how this is not fair, but God is God and I am not him. He dwells in heaven, but I live on earth. God formed me from the dust of the ground after his own likeness (Gen. 1:26a, 2:7, ESV). He has prescribed limits for me in this life. I am his vessel. When I chew on this point, I recall the words from Isaiah 45:9b, “…does the clay say to the one who forms it, ‘what are you making?’ or ‘your work has no handles?’ It seems to me that pleasing God is crucial to living a fruit-bearing life. Pleasing myself is the same thing as pleasing men or worshiping men and the culture. Instead of an earthly focus, I am to have a heavenly one (Colossians 3:1, ESV).