PLEASING TO GOD
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Probably the most magnificent estate in the Western World is the California ranch of William Randolf Hearst. It is not a mere matter of film like the Ponderosa, but it is a matter of fact. It covers a quarter of a million acres of land, and stretches for 50 miles along the coast of the ocean. Uncounted millions have been spent to purchase castles; ship them to America; erect them, and furnish them. Paintings of the most famous artists hang on the walls.
Dale Carnegie said his collection of wild animals makes Barnum's Circus look like a side show. Herds of zebras, buffalo, giraffes, and kangaroos roam over the hills, and thousands of exotic birds fly among the trees. Lions and tigers roam in his private zoo. With the 30 million he inherited from his father, plus the millions more he has earned by his own energetic labors, he has been able to do many extravagant things. Naturally such a man as this was well known, but the fact is, millions never heard of him until his daughter was kidnapped. That crisis thrust him into the public mind, and details of his life then became public property.
The point of this is that the same thing happened to Paul to make him the greatest of the Apostles, and one of the best known men in all of history. Like Hearst, Paul already had credentials that made him well known among a certain group of people, but crisis thrust him into the arena for the whole world to see. The attempt of those who opposed him to kidnap his churches, and turn them into modified Jewish Synagogues is what produced the crisis. Paul fought back to save his churches, just as Hearst fought to save his daughter. The Judaizers were brain washing the Gentiles, and they were persuading them that they must be Jews first to be Christians. Paul wrote Galatians as an antidote to that poisonous thinking.
The point is that crisis and conflict made Paul write, and by his writing give us details of his own life and character that have made him a household name throughout history. Had there been no crisis Paul may have disappeared into obscurity. Conflict and trouble is what made Paul famous, for he fought the good fight, and he became victorious. There is just no way to be a hero and a conqueror if you never face a conflict or battle. Out of Paul's conflict came this Epistle, and it gives us so much biographical information about Paul. It is the closest thing we have to an autobiography, for in Galatians Paul has to defend himself in order to defend his Gospel. The result is a delightful treasure of personal history, and insight into his character and conversion.
The first thing I observe in chapter one is Paul's stress on his death to self. He says it in 2:20 that he is crucified with Christ, but he reveals the reality of it in his attitude long before he wrote that. Here in 1:10 he asks two questions which tell us clearly that one of the basic areas of conflict was all about. He is asking, "Am I seeking the favor of men or of God?" The obvious implication is that Paul's opponents have charged him with being a men pleaser. They were saying that Paul makes the Gospel easier for the Gentiles, but he does not care about the law of God. They are saying to the Galatians, "It is winning your favor that really matters to him, and he will drop the law of God if necessary to win your allegiance." Paul is an ego-maniac is what his enemies are saying. He is all things to all men alright, because he wants to please everybody regardless of how he abuses the law of God.
This was a very serious charge against Paul's character and motives, and you can see why it was necessary for Paul to defend himself. The circumstantial evidence gave the Judaizers a fairly strong case, and the uninformed could be easily led astray. The Judaizers accused Paul of inconsistency and compromise in order to please men. He preached circumcision when he was among the Jews, and he denounced it when he was among the Gentiles. For they wanted exemption from this Jewish custom. We see this was a major charge in Gal. 5:11 where Paul is defending himself by writing, "But if I, brethren still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted?" Paul tells us that his enemies have accused him of preaching circumcision when it is to his advantage.
Paul is being called a false prophet who changes the Word of God to please men. If circumcision is repulsive to Gentiles, Paul just throws it out to win their approval. Paul is a "peace at any price" man say his accusers. Paul faced the same problems that all men of God have faced when they become widely used of God. Fame brings power, and because power can be so easily abused, it is presumed to be abused by opponents of the one who has it. Every great evangelist has been accused of pleasing men to make big money.
Paul had to face the same problem with the Thessalonians. He wrote in I Thess. 1:4-6, "But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, so we speak, not to please men, but to please God who test our hearts. For we never used either words of flattery, as you know, or a cloak for greed, as God is witness, nor did we seek glory from men, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as Apostles of Christ." Paul bent over backwards, and even made tents on the side, so as to rob his enemies of a basis for criticism.
It is impossible to please everyone, of course, and so Paul choose it as his master motive to please God. There is no way to get away from the paradoxical nature of life, however, when you get into the realm of trying to distinguish between pleasing God and pleasing men. The paradoxical nature of it makes it possible to use the evidence for or against you. Pleasing men can either please God, or displease Him. Pleasing God can either please men, or displease them. It gets as complex as the weather. The poet wrote-
People freezing long to burn up;
Burning up, they long to freeze.
No wonder weather's temperamental,
People are so hard to please.
Paul had to be something like the weather. He had to be something for everyone, and yet never pleasing to everyone. The very fact that Paul defends himself shows that he is trying to please the Galatians. He wants to satisfy their minds that the charges against him are false. In so doing he confesses that his past life was in fact basically an effort to please men. All of the versions I checked have Paul saying in the closing phrase of verse 10, "If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ." Knox has it, "If, after all these years I were still courting the favor of men..." Weymouth has it, "If I were still a man-pleaser."
No wonder Paul gets so personal in this Epistle. The Judaizers knew his past, and they knew he was a self-centered egotist as a young Pharisee. They knew he cared only for his own reputation, and his chief motive was to get ahead by pleasing men. It is no wonder that Paul makes so much of his counting all his prizes of his former life as so much garbage or dung compared to knowing Christ. Paul had a radical conversion of his nature. He use to be everything his enemies said he was, and Paul had to work hard in life, and in his writings, to overcome the record of his past. He was a man pleaser, and that reputation clung to him and haunted him as a Christian.
Paul says here, however, if I were still what I used to be, I would not be a servant of Christ. This is not to be misconstrued to mean that a servant of Christ does not please men. The fact is, Paul pleased millions, and he goes on doing so just because he was a faithful servant of Christ. The point here is, Paul is defending himself against the charge that he modifies the Word of God to fit the situation. He is charged with being the author of situation ethics where you mold the demands of God to fit the weaknesses of those you seek to reach. Paul says, if I was really like I use to be, I would not be a servant of Christ. I never would have left Judaism to be a Christian if self-glory was my motive for serving Christ, for he has made me hated and persecuted by Jews and Gentiles alike.
Paul just let the most severe words that ever flowed from his pen lash out at the Judaizers. He said, "Let them be accursed." He is being severe to both his foes and friends in this letter to demonstrate that pleasing men is not his motive. He cares not for anything but to please God. He will speak the truth as it is in Christ whatever the cost to himself, for pleasing God is all that matters to him now. Paul persecuted the Christians in order to win approval from his superiors, and gain social status, but he is not now fighting the Judaizers for the same reason. His motive is to defend the Gospel of Christ, and to please God whatever it does to his own reputation.
All through the New Testament we see Paul as a man of suffering. He was hated, stoned, imprisoned, and had to depend upon others for his support. He could have gone off on his own in the world, and he could have become a man of independent wealth and fame, but he gave up all that to be a servant of Christ, and this meant a cross, and a daily dying to self. This life of Paul was a necessity to reveal how real his conversion was. No one can say so literally as Paul when he said, "I am crucified with Christ." The paradox is that by not pleasing men, and pleasing Christ instead, Paul became more famous than he could have ever dreamed. He has pleased more men than all of the Apostles put together.
St. Jerome said, "If it is possible to please both God and men as well, we should please men as well; but if we cannot please men without displeasing God, we should please God rather than men." When Peter and John were charged not to preach in the name of Christ they had to choose to obey men or God. To please their own rulers, or to please their Maker and Redeemer were their options. They chose to please God and suffer the displeasure of men. Both of them, however, urged Christians to live in peace with all men. We need to make it clear that it is no virtue to make men angry at you, and displease them, or be in conflict with them. It is only a virtue when doing the will of God is the cause for the conflict. When there is no conflict with God's will, the Christian in under obligation to please men, and to live peaceably with all men in so far as he can. Paul is famous for both his conflict with men, and his cooperation with men. Both are legitimate, for both can please God, and pleasing God is to be our goal.
Dr. A. J. Cronin was a practicing physician in a small Welsh community. He worked with a nurse who for 20 years gave of her life to serve the people. The doctor was somewhat disgusted at the small salary she received for her selfless labors. One night after a strenuous case he sat with her drinking a cup of tea. "Why don't you insist on a extra pound a week at least," he said to her. "God knows you're worth it." She smiled and replied, "Dr., if God knows I am worth it, that's all that matters." Dr. Cronin said in a flash, "I suddenly realized that her whole existence in its service and self-sacrifice was a dedication, a perpetual testimony to her belief in a Supreme Being. And in a flash of understanding I sensed the rich significance of her life and the comparative emptiness of my own."
Her master motive was to please God, but in so doing she did much to help and please men. If we dedicate our lives to be pleasing to God, we will, like Paul, be constantly both pleasing and displeasing to men. We ought, therefore, not be moved by either of the criticism or the praise of men. We need to examine our lives daily to be sure we are pleasing to God, and make that our master motive. It is easier to please God than to please men, for what is good and right will always please God, but doing what is right, and doing your best, will never always please all men.
John Woolman in his journal records a conclusion he came to as a servant of Christ. "I saw at this time that, if I were honest to declare that which truth opened to me, I could not please all men." Herbert Swope wrote, "I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure which is: Try to please everybody." Men of wisdom, however, have learned to listen to those whom they do not please, and often they have found that they needed correction, for what displeased men was not pleasing to God either.
A. W. Tozer in his book The Divine Conquest writes, "The way it works in experience is something like this: The believing man is overwhelmed suddenly by a powerful feeling that only God matters; soon this works itself out into his mental life and conditions all his judgments and all his values. Now he finds himself free from slavery to man's opinions. A mighty desire to please only God lays hold of him. Soon he learns to love above all else the assurance that he is well pleasing to the Father in heaven."
If I could heap up treasured store
From every foreign strand,
And all the prizes of success
Retain within my hand,
Unless my Father's smile I know,
I'm still a pauper here below.