December 7, 2009

Who am I pleasing?

I’m told there is a dearth in North America of biblical preaching. Even some of the giants are falling, men who normally held fast to the truths of Scripture are now waffling and trying to make the message more “appealing” to their listeners.

My sister told me yesterday that her pastor preached a sermon on a particular sin and said during his message that he knew only two other preachers who would dare to preach on the same topic. Can this failure to proclaim what the Bible says about this or any sin be stamped “people-pleasing” or are the reasons behind it more complicated? I don’t know. I do know that this is not a new thing.

Today’s devotional verse is insightful. Paul is in prison for preaching the gospel. He writes about his experience and says that he is glad the gospel continues to be preached even though,

Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: the former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains. (Philippians 1:15-16)
Even in the early church, some were jealous of Paul. They thought if they took over his job, they would “win” some sort of invisible competition and make themselves look better than the apostle, as if they were better because they never wound up in jail like he did? For them, it was more about looking good and being popular than proclaiming Christ.

After reading another chapter in Lou Priolo’s book, Pleasing People: How not to be an “approval junkie” I spent some time thinking about his topic and my own motivations. I came to the conclusion that, for me at least, pleasing-people is not an accurate description. I’m more interested in pleasing myself. At my sinful worst, I really don’t care what people think as long as I look good, and apart from Christ, I will not go out of my way to do anything to make them happy.

Of course Jesus died to redeem me from that attitude. He offers me His life and the Holy Spirit to change that selfishness into “love thy neighbor as thyself.” While doing so requires my cooperation, His kind of selfless love is His doing. I am not up to it without His grace and without that new life He gave me.

In our many relocations, we have gone to many churches and experienced many kinds of preaching and preachers. Some are gracious and like Jesus most of the time. They know how to speak the truth, surely in love, but without waffling. On the other hand, some have been an on and off mix of flesh and Spirit, confusing the congregation when selfish ambition or arrogance gets thrown into their ministry.

If the preacher is using the Bible and faithful to declare what it says, God is honored and the church enjoys a measure of health. When this does not happen, me-ism, and self-pleasing that looks like people-pleasing are usually present too, and in the long run, no one is pleased.

This is a warning to me and to everyone. Putting my own interests first can take many forms, but if left unchecked, it will have an impact on all that I do. God put me here not to please myself, not even to be a people-pleaser, but to please and glorify Him.

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