If God be for us, only fools would be against us. But if man, and not God, be for us, then we are in trouble.
Sly Stone was a big popstar. He was lead singer of the Sly and the Family Stone; an avant-garde soul and rock band of the sixties and seventies. He went about with a big entourage; lots of hangers-on who hung on his every word. Sly was clearly fed up with these people licking his boots at every turn. So he cracked a deliberately lousy joke. Then he looked round to see their reaction.
As usual, they all laughed hysterically at his joke, acting like it was the best joke they ever heard. Sly looked around at them with unfeigned disgust. Then he said to a side-kick: “These people are morons.”
However, there is a more scripturally appropriate description for Sly’s sycophantic entourage. They are “men-pleasers” who specialise in eye-service. The scriptures warn against such tendencies: “Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” (Colossians 3:22).
For God’s sake
Jesus, our good shepherd, is a God-pleaser. His righteousness is of God and not of men. Jesus says: “I always do the things that are pleasing to (God).” (John 8:29). Jesus came to reconcile us back to God. We learn from his example that, in every situation, we should say to God: “Not my will but yours be done.” (Matthew 26:39).
Jesus enjoins his disciples to be servants of men for God’s sake. He says: “Whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be chief among you, let him be your servant; even as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28).
Accordingly, God-pleasers are people who serve men out of love for God. They don’t expect gratitude from men and are therefore not disappointed when it is not forthcoming. They are content in the confidence that God is well-pleased with them. God-pleasers cannot be men-pleasers because they don’t expect men to love them. Jesus forewarns his disciples: “Everyone will hate you because of me.” (Matthew 10:22).
Men-pleasers, on the other hand, are not concerned about God. Because man is more immediate physically while God is invisible, men-pleasers are mindful of the things of men and not of God. Thus, they swear falsely because of the fear of men and in blatant disregard for God. Instead of serving men for God’s sake, men-pleasers use men even when pretending to serve them.
Men-pleasers are determined to be seen, recognised and approved by men. They justify themselves before men. (Luke 16:15). More often than not, they are hypocrites. They seek the approval of men through false pretenses. Inevitably, they get very frustrated because it is in the nature of the men they seek to please to be ungrateful. Jesus healed ten men of leprosy but only one had the decency to come back to say thank-you.
Because men-pleasers “appoint” the wrong people they end up getting disappointed. The same people who shout “hosanna” to them today will shout “crucify them” tomorrow.
God or man
It is not possible to be both a man-pleaser and a God-pleaser simultaneously. A man-pleaser can never please God. Jesus says: “That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15). But he that is acceptable to God is approved of men. (Romans 14:18). Accordingly, “Jesus increased in favour with God and man.” (Luke 2:52).
Solomon says: “When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” (Proverbs 16:7). This is because: “The king’s heart is in God’s hand like the watercourses. He turns it wherever he desires.” (Proverbs 21:1). In short, if God be for us, only fools would be against us. But if man, and not God, be for us, then we are in trouble.
Ask the Egyptians. They did not know how and why they gave the departing Israelites everything they asked for. The Israelites asked them for their cell-phones and iPads and they gave them to them. They gave them their Rolex wrist-watches and jewelleries. Everything the Israelites asked for, the Egyptians gave them without knowing why. So much so that the scriptures report that the Israelites “spoiled the Egyptians.”
Jesus had a healthy disregard for public opinion. He says: “I don’t care about human praise.” (John 5:41). According to him, one of the things objectionable about the Pharisees was that: “They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:43). Even when men were drawn to his gospel, Jesus remained wary of them. John says: “Jesus had no need that anyone should testify of man, for he knew what was in man.” (John 2:24-25).
When he walked into a synagogue, a demoniac loudly acknowledged him as “Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy One of God.” Jesus promptly shut him up and cast the demon out of him. This shows the praise and flattery of men is often satanic. When Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from the cross, Jesus chastised him sternly: “Get behind me Satan! You are an offense to me, for you are not mindful of the things that are of God, but those that are of men.” (Matthew 16:23).
Jesus healed people and then instructed them to tell no one about it. When he wanted to raise the dead, he would sometimes tell bystanders to leave. When the person is raised from the dead, he would tell onlookers to see that no one knows about it. Clearly, he did not seek the glory of men. He only sought the glory of God. God testified of Jesus: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17). That was enough for him.
Tested by praise
Be careful how you react to men’s praise. Men’s praise is devious. The devil uses it to lead men astray. When the Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus into treason against Caesar, they tried to set him up with praise. (Mark 12:14). But Jesus refused to take the bait. Solomon warns: “The purity of silver and gold can be tested in a crucible, but a man is tested by his reaction to men’s praise.” (Proverbs 27:21).
Don’t complicate your life by the desire to please men. The world makes unnecessary and ungodly demands on people. It will entrap you by insisting you get married by a certain date to a certain type. It will tell you to have a child by a certain time. It will dictate the number of your children. It will stipulate you should aspire to a particular position or drive a specific type of car.
Don’t give in or make ungodly compromises. Let your terms of reference always be God and the ways of Jesus. Jesus says: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). Let them see your good works and yet not glorify you. Let them only glorify your father in heaven.