January 13, 2014

Perils of people-pleasing

Politicians haven’t changed much over the centuries. After reading the accounts of Pilate trying to please his Roman counterparts, the Jews, and the demands of the crowd rather than do the right thing and free Jesus, I’m reminded of today’s demands on politicians. Voters, big business, and other political members have an agenda and expect their leader to meet their demands. It is no wonder that a few years in office a president or prime minister turns gray and gains far more years of wrinkles on his face than he would have otherwise.

At the end of Jesus’ ministry and after his arrest, Pilate examined the accusations and evidence brought against Him and thought Jesus was innocent of any crime. Pilate’s wife even had a dream and warned him not to touch this man. But Pilate’s political position was at stake. He based his decision on what would get him the most votes and retain his position.

King Herod did the same regarding John the Baptist. He feared John and although he didn’t understand this prophet, he knew John was “a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe” (Mark 6:20). However, he also wanted to impress the nobles, military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. He invited them to a banquet on his birthday, had his wife’s daughter dance for them, and then made a rash promise to her, offering up to “half of my kingdom.”

The girl asked her mother. The mother had been a target for John as she was actually the wife of Herod’s brother before Herod took her. John publicly said this was a sin, so she told the girl to ask for John’s head . . .

And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. (Mark 6:26–28)

Idolatry involves putting anything else before God and the will of God. Pilate and Herod were idolaters. Their own position was more important than even their own conscience, certainly more important than God’s laws of love and justice.

Our modern politicians struggle with idolatry too. They are subject to pressures that appeal to their desire to please people, win support, and look good in the polls. But before I become too carried away with finger pointing, how does their ‘disease’ affect me? Does fear of ‘what others think’ affect my words and actions?

One area where I am guilty is in sharing Christ with others as God says I must do. I can act in Christlike ways, but verbally telling others the good news of redemption through faith is not as easy. I’m often frozen by fear that they will not only reject my message, but shoot down the messenger. Is that any different from a politician who hedges over doing the right thing for fear of not being reelected?

Some will adopt the attitude, “I don’t care what anyone thinks” to correct this sin of people-pleasing, but I don’t think this is what God has in mind. I’m supposed to care about people and what they think, just not be anxious of what anyone thinks of me above what God thinks and expects of me. He loves me even when I make mistakes and refuse to open my mouth, but when I do those things, it reveals that I am not loving Him as I ought. Like Pilate and other politicians, I can make idols out of other people and put my own popularity above doing the right thing.

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