It is perhaps a sobering thought, but nevertheless true, that during most of our lives we are trying to please someone. From the Scriptures we notice that we can be:
pleasing our “Neighbour".
Pleasing Self. We are born with an innate tendency and powerful capacity to please ourselves. As babies we were the natural centre of our individual worlds and instinctively demanded the satisfaction of our basic needs of food, security and love. As growing children we needed to be taught the principle of sharing with others and to become less self-centred. Unfortunately, all too many of us reach adulthood still having self-gratification as a prime motive and objective in life. In the world we see people power-seeking, pleasure-seeking and possession-seeking, as patent evidence of self-interest. Alas, even in the church, while not often blatantly, we may sometimes be guilty of self-pleasing.
Hence the need for the apostle’s injunction that we “ought … not to please ourselves”, Rom. 15. 1. He directs our attention to Christ, the supreme Example,"even Christ pleased not himself”, v. 3. Here was One who did not take upon Himself the right to please Himself, even though “all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist”, Col. 1.16-17. But the stupendous fact is that He “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant (bondslave) …”, Phil. 2. 7-8. His was the most selfless life lived on earth.
One of the root causes why God forsook His people Israel was that they pleased themselves, Isa. 2. 6. From God’s standpoint, it is a heinous thing for any believer to say in his or her private life, “I shall please myself”. Such sentiment expressed and acted upon in the context of the local assem-bly could cause havoc, for this is essentially the sphere where godly order and discipline must be main-tained, and true humility exhibited through being “subject one to another”, 1 Pet. 5. 5.
Pleasing Men. Right and wrong motives are spoken of in the Scriptures, when referring to matters of secular employment and to Christian witness and service.
Employment. Paul, writing to the Ephesians, says, “be obedient to them that are your masters … not. . , as men pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men”, Eph. 6. 5-7. To Titus, however, he writes, “Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things”, Tit. 2. 9. Where is the key to this apparent contradiction? We must examine the underlying motives. In Titus, Paul is saying that the employee should act purposefully (honestly, conscientiously, and sub-missively), so as to be a living testi-monial to the gospel, a commendation of Christ his Saviour. Are we caught up with the spirit of this rebellious, complaining age, or do we seek to please our employer (or those to whom we are responsible) in all things? In Ephesians, Paul warns against selfish motives in pleasing employers. It is possible to act purely for personal gain or advancement, rather than to honour God’s will in our words and actions.
Witness and Service. In 1 Thessalonians 2. 4. and Galatians 1. 10, Paul speaks of his stewardship, proclama-tion and defence of the gospel – not as pleasing men, but God. He does not tickle “itching ears" with flattering words, but propagates truth, however unpalatable it may be to his hearers or readers. On the other hand he endeav-ours to “give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles nor to the church of God; even as / please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved”, 1 Cor. 10. 32-33. It is evident that he seeks to be win-some and faithful in upholding the gospel, not deliberately offending folk, but “speaking the truth in love”, Eph. 4. 15. Do we try to maintain that same essential balance?
Pleasing God. Direct and un-compromising statements on this topic are found in Romans 8. 8 “they that are in the flesh cannot please God”, and Hebrews 11. 5-6 “without faith it is impossible to please” God. Carnality and spirituality are not only contrasted, but shown to be diametrically opposed. As we have already seen, the natural man, even in his best and highest intentions, has self-interest and self-approbation at heart.
It is even possible to be fanatically religious and yet not to please God, 1 Thess. 2. 15-16. Without adopting the stance or position of Judaism, Mohammedanism, or any other ‘ism, we too, with misplaced zeal, can oppose some of the servants of God, thus hindering His work and dis-pleasing Him.
How then can we please God? Un-doubtedly, sacrifice is very important, but note Psalm 69. 30-31, “I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanks-giving. This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock”, and Hebrews 13. 15-16, “to do good and to communicate (share) forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased”. Spiritual worship and practical fellowship with others are thus reckoned superior to ritualistic or materialistic giving. The giving of our substance, of course, should be an outflow of a right relationship with God.
Enoch “had this testimony, that he pleased God”, Heb. 11.5. What did he do to merit such commendation? It is recorded that he “walked with God”, Gen. 5. 22. The Septuagint translators, however, render that verse “he pleased God”. The striking thought here is that the terms are synonymous; to walk with God is to please God and vice versa! But “Can two walk together, except they have agreed?”, Amos 3. 3 r.v. Walking with God infers daily living in concord with the mind, will and ways of God. Only as a conscious effort is made towards this objective shall we truly please Him. May we seek to emulate the One who could say unequivocally, “/ do always those things that please him’, John 8. 29.
Pleasing Christ. On account of His special relationship with us as Saviour and Lord, it should be our particular desire as His blood-bought people to please Christ. In dealing with the subject of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, the Holy Spirit guides the apostle to draw a distinction between the ap-proach of married and unmarried believers. Potentially, single brethren and sisters can set their heart on pleasing their Lord in a way not pos-sible for those who are married, vv. 32-34. If those believers who remain single accept it gladly as the will of God for them, what great possibilities exist for them to please the Lord! That is not to suggest, of course, that those who are married cannot also please Him. As “one flesh" in Him, and with a harmonious desire and intent so to do, the Lord is pleased to use and to bless those united in the marriage bond.
In using the metaphor of the believer as a soldier, Paul is able to illustrate to Timothy how the earnest Christian seeks to please Christ, who hai- en-listed him in His army – he does not entangle himself with civilian matters, 2 Tim. 2. 4. The word means “to weave in”; a soldier in the front line of the battle cannot be woven into the fabric of civilian life, or he will become in-effective. A Christian who truly desires to please Christ will avoid unwise and unnecessary associations in non-Christian matters. For many of us, secular employment provides a means to an end, but peripheral activities can prove a snare to hinder spiritual effectiveness. Are our lives so woven into the fabric of this world, domestically, in business, or in any other way, that our warfare has lost its edge? May the Lord Himself help us to put matters right, so that we may indeed please Him for the remainder of the battle!
passage to which we have already referred, Romans 15. 1-3, we notice that the antithesis of pleasing ourselves is to please our neighbour. The empha-sis is towards his spiritual progress and development. “To please my neigh-bour is not weakly to comply with his desires, but to act with a view to his lasting benefit",(W.E.Vine).With what care and concern should those who are spiritually strong and mature act towards those who are weaker in the faith! There is need for nurse (mother)-like and father-like love, as demonstrated by the apostle at Thessalonica, 1 Thess. 2. 7-12.
There is a much wider significance in the term “neighbour" than our Western limitations put upon it today. In the Jewish context from which our Lord quoted and illustrated, namely Lev. 19.18; Mark 12. 31 ; Luke 10. 30-37, it is clear that anyone in need, whom we meet in the circumstances of our lives, is our neighbour – and we should love our neighbour as our-selves.
Each of us must interpret for our-selves, therefore, the spiritual and practical implications of pleasing our neighbour, that we may act consist-ently for his edification and well-being.
Benediction. "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shep-herd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen”, Heb. 13. 20-21.
The following verses may also be considered in the light of this article, the contexts being those of repen-tance, blessing God, and of answer to prayer. “Ye have transgressed. .there-fore make confession unto the Lord God of your fathers, and do his pleasure”, Ezra 10. 11. “Bless ye the Lord, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure”, Psa. 103. 21. “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his command-ments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight”, 1 John 3. 22.