It’s always about the heart—the motives. Over and over again, I find examples in the Bible—that without an emphasis on the condition of the heart and the desires of the motives—would seem contradictory. Here’s one example.

Paul writes, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law;” (I Corinthians 9:19-20).

But in another place, he writes, “For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts” (I Thessalonians 2:3-4).

On the one hand he wants to please men by becoming like them, but on the other hand, he says he doesn’t want to please men. 

The key is the motive of the heart: do we want to please others to represent the Lord or do we want to please them to protect ourselves—from embarrassment, rejection, contempt, or whatever we fear?

Paul stressed that his motive was to win them. His desire to please them was pure because he knew God would examine his heart for the reasons he was doing it. And we know that in many instances, because he courageously stood up for the Gospel, he experienced embarrassment, rejection, and contempt, even physical harm.

Paul was like Jesus, who did not allow men or their opinions to flavor or color His actions and choices.

John 2:23-25 tells us, “Jesus also knowing the motives and hearts of men, didn’t subject Himself to them. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”

In contrast, the disciples were sometimes nervous about the responses of other people. In Matthew 14:1-11, we’re told about the time after Jesus called the Pharisees and scribes “hypocrites,” that the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” 

Jesus replied, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted” (Matthew 15:1-11).

The disciples hadn’t yet learned to resist wanting to please others. Their response was based in fear. In time after Jesus’s resurrection and the Day of Pentecost, they would be empowered to resist the approval of others and even die for their stand.

Our own hearts can be rightly and purely motivated. We can choose to “please” others as Paul did at the right time and in the right way. Like Jesus we can stand against persecution and misunderstanding and not “entrust” our images and reputations to others. And like the disciples, we can be empowered to risk all to represent Jesus. Yet knowing none of us will reach a level of perfection.

Here’s a few thoughts gleaned from the above verses that might help us.

  • People are fickle. We may please them one day but not another. Why depend upon their approval?
  • Pleasing others does not guarantee their salvation; only God’s work does.
  • Sometimes God will guide us to try to “please” others (at least it seems like pleasing them). But He will never want us to depend upon their reaction for our own value.
  • Only our heart’s motives can tell us if we’re entrusting our hearts to others or remaining purely desiring God’s stamp of approval.
  • If we are held captive by the opinions and responses of others, we need to identify the core fear that is at the foundation, in order to be set free. 

I wish I could say I’ve reached the level where I’m never tempted—and give in—to please people, but I haven’t. But I am motivated to seek it more and more. Will you join me?

Give me your ideas of how you resist People Pleasing and instead serve God out of a pure heart (even if imperfectly). I’d love to hear.