When conflict exists between what God wants and what people want, what choice should we make? What about obeying government when civil rulers require us to disobey the Bible? Or what about family members or business employers or even church leaders or members who expect us to do what is sinful?
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1 Thessalonians 2:4 – Paul said he spoke “not as pleasing men, but God.”
Pleasing other people is not always sinful. We ought to consider what will make for better relationships with other people. But our priorities should emphasize pleasing God.
In this study we consider circumstances where we must choose between pleasing God and pleasing people.
This is a more common problem than we may realize.
Consider the problem of pleasing God rather than men in the following relationships:
God says citizens should obey rulers (Romans 13:1-5). But sometimes rulers expect citizens to do what would displease God. Then, to obey God, His people must disobey the rulers.
Acts 4:18; 5:28,29,40 – Jesus had commanded the apostles to preach the gospel, but authorities commanded them to cease preaching (Mark 16:15; Acts 5:20). They chose to obey God and were beaten and threatened (4:19,20,31; 5:42).
Matthew 14:1-5,10-12 – King Herod imprisoned John the Baptist and eventually beheaded him because he rebuked Herod’s adultery.
1 Kings 18; 19:1,2 – When Elijah opposed the false prophets on Mt. Carmel and proved God was the true God, Queen Jezebel said she would kill him. He fled for his life.
Daniel 3:13-18 – Nebuchadnezzar required people to bow to his golden image or be cast into a fiery furnace. Daniel’s friends refused to bow and were cast in.
In all these cases, civil rulers required people to disobey God. God’s people had to decide whether they would please God or please people.
(Daniel 6:7-10; Acts 12:3,23; 24:27; 25:9; Esth. 5:11; 1 Samuel 15:24; Matthew 21:26,46; Mark 12:12; Acts 5:26; Deuteronomy 1:16,17; Exodus chap. 5ff; 2 Samuel 12; Acts 24:24f; 26:24-29)
Likewise today people must sometimes decide whether to please rulers or please God.
In other countries
In my Internet work I learned that faithful churches in Kenya are technically illegal because the government refuses to license them. To please God they must continue to meet.
Many Islamic countries outlaw the teaching of the Bible and persecute those who follow it. Moslems who attempt to convert are persecuted, imprisoned, and sometimes even killed.
Some Communist countries suppress preaching and seize Bibles. In China Christians often must meet secretly. Some who profess Christianity are placed in internment camps and subjected to physical and mental torture.
In this country
When people speak against abortion, homosexuality, pornography, or evolution, some rulers say we are a threat to society and compare us to Nazis or terrorists.
Parents who criticize immoral practices in schools have been investigated by the FBI.
Some who protest abortion have been sued in court.
Some who operate day-care centers have been told they would lose their license if they mention Jesus or even have a Bible in sight.
In the COVID pandemic, some government agencies attempted to force churches to stop meeting for worship or Bible study. The result became a serious hindrance to God’s work, and many congregations are still suffering.
Our freedoms in this country are constantly under attack, and there is no guarantee freedom will continue. What will we do when rulers deny our freedom to preach and worship? Will we seek to please men, or will we please God?
Acts 5:29 – We must obey God rather than man.
Family, Friends, or Neighbors
Our relationships with family, friends, and associates can be beneficial and can encourage people to do what is right. But sometimes people encourage friends or loved ones to sin. Then we must choose whether to please God or people.
Adam and Eve – Genesis 3:6
God had commanded them not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Eve ate and influenced Adam to eat. When God confronted Adam, he blamed Eve.
Verse 17 – Did God excuse Adam as though it were all Eve’s fault? No, He punished Adam because he listened to his wife instead of doing what God had said. How many of us will likewise incur God’s wrath because we choose to please a loved one instead of doing God’s will?
Herod, Herodias, and Herodias’ daughter – Matthew 14:6-11
Herod imprisoned John but was unwilling to kill him. Herodias’ daughter pleased Herod by dancing, so he promised to give her whatever she asked. Her mother said to ask for John’s head.
So Herodias’ daughter did what her mother wanted, even though it was sinful. And Herod did what Herodias’ daughter wanted, even though it was sinful.
Job – Job 2:9,10
Job’s wife told him to curse God and die. Unlike Adam, Job obeyed God rather than his wife.
Job’s friends claimed he was suffering because he had sinned and insisted that he must confess his sin. But again Job maintained his integrity.
This shows that we do not have to sin when others want us to. We can rebuke them and refuse to sin. We must please God rather than man.
Entertainment, recreation, and social activities
Sometimes friends or family members urge Christians to drink, gamble, smoke, take drugs, or participate in suggestive dancing, evil speech, immodest clothing, dirty music or movies, etc. Resisting temptation is not easy.
Sometimes children may pressure their parents or a wife may pressure her husband to allow objectionable activities. Or people may want us to approve of their sin, cooperate with it, or at least keep quiet about it. We need the courage to stand for what is right.
People may want us to provide them with something we know is objectionable. My favorite uncle asked me to buy cigarettes for him and almost ended our relationship when I refused.
Loved ones may pressure us to miss church activities to do other things with them. They may object to the time we spend studying the Bible, attending classes and worship periods, teaching others, etc. They may want us to participate in a false religious practice.
They may say, “Just this once,” or “It’s only for a few minutes.” But if we give in, it just encourages them to ask for more and more.
We must decide whether to please God or man.
Sometimes people object when a loved one decides to become a Christian. They may want us to join their denomination or may resent our conversion because it means their church is wrong.
If we become a Christian, loved ones may refuse to associate with us. My mother’s parents disowned her when she became a Christian. Or we may need to limit our relationship with people because they pressure us to do wrong (1 Corinthians 15:33).
Obeying the gospel may require us to leave an unscriptural marriage (Matthew 19:9). A lady in that situation said, “God does not require people to give up their family.”
Matthew 10:34-37 – Jesus warns that we may face exactly such decisions. We must make a choice. Will we obey the gospel and live faithful lives, or will we please loved ones?
It becomes a question of whom we love most: Jesus or people. If we love Jesus, we will obey His commands (John 14:15). If we please people instead of obeying Him, we are saying we love others more than we love Him.
Christians should work hard on their jobs, be obedient, and seek to please their employers (Ephesians 6:5-8). But business relationships may tempt people to disobey God.
Acts 19:23-27 – Silversmiths in Ephesus made “no small profit” by selling images of the goddess Diana. They were upset when Paul taught “they are not gods which are made with hands.” They feared their trade would be brought into disrepute. This led to a riot that endangered Paul’s life and compelled him to leave town.
Proverbs 11:1 – Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight.
Some people do sinful things as part of their business. They justify it as a means of making their living. “It’s just business.” They may become upset when others object to their conduct.
Do we sin so we can make more money, get a promotion, or otherwise please our bosses?
* Would we lie to make a sale or cover up illegal company practices? I have known Christians to be fired because they refused to lie on the job. (Proverbs 21:6)
* Would we produce, sell, or provide people with alcoholic drinks or dirty movies, TV programs, magazines, or music?
In the insurance company where I worked some employees were expected to buy alcoholic drinks to “wine and dine” customers.
In Illinois Karen saw a church member who worked as a clerk in an alcoholic beverage department.
* Do we give to the United Fund or United Way to please our employer? Many sinful organizations receive money through United Fund. No matter how you handle it, if you give money to United Fund, some sinful organizations will get more money.
* Would we neglect church meetings to please our supervisors when we could attend? Would we disobey God’s teaching to worship on the first day of the week? Are we seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33)?
* Would we cheat people to please our employer or make a sale? Would we shortchange a customer or misrepresent a product? I knew a grocery store clerk who said the managers expected the clerks to overcharge customers enough to make the amount of their own salary. (Proverbs 20:10,23)
* Would we affirm immoral conduct? Some companies require employees to agree to affirm or celebrate homosexuality or other sexual sins. Some have been fired for opposing such practices even in personal life away from the work site.
* Would we violate the golden rule to please our supervisors (Matthew 7:12)? How would you feel if someone you do business with treated you the way you treat people?
This does not justify disobeying employers simply because they are mean, grouchy, unfair, or stingy. But when people want us to disobey God, what do we choose? Do we please God or man?
(Exodus 1:15-17 – abortion)
We should expect church members to encourage one another to do good. But sometimes members want other members to do sinful things.
Members Sometimes Tempt Elders or Preachers to Sin.
2 Timothy 4:2-4
Some people will not endure sound doctrine. They want preachers to tickle their ears after their lusts. Elders and preachers face strong temptation to teach or allow what pleases people.
Members sometimes wonder why a preacher keeps preaching a view when they know members disagree. If you have a Biblical objection, discuss it with him; but do not expect him to change his doctrine just to please you.
1 Thessalonians 2:4,6
Paul determined to preach to please God, not man. Here are his reasons:
* Because God had entrusted him with the message.
He had a stewardship to deliver the message the way God gave it to him. To change the message to suit the hearers would be unfaithfulness as a steward.
Suppose the mailman read your mail and did not like what it said, so he changed it. How much worse would it be to change the message revealed from God?
* Because God tests the hearts of the messengers.
A steward not only should accomplish the master’s will, but he will be judged for his faithfulness. Whether or not a preacher receives eternal life will be decided, not by people in the audience, but by God. If a preacher pleases the people, his reward will be minor and temporary. If he pleases God, he receives eternal life.
Jesus warned His disciples to expect persecution from people who did not like the message. But He said to not fear those who can destroy the body, but fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Preachers and elders cannot afford to teach a message different from the gospel in order to please people.
People mocked Jeremiah, beat him, and put him in stocks (verses 1,2). He felt like quitting preaching. But God’s word in his heart would not let him keep quiet.
Like Jeremiah, all faithful elders and preachers at times become discouraged when people will not accept truth, especially people who are supposed to serve God and ought to know better.
They face the choice. Will I please God or men?
(2 Corinthians 10:12; Galatians 1:10; 2:12; Acts 18:9)
Elders and Preachers Sometimes Tempt Other Members to Sin.
The Pharisees were leaders among God’s people. Because they envied Jesus, they declared that anyone who confessed Jesus as Christ would be cast out of the synagogue. Many people knew Jesus was Christ but refused to confess Him because they wanted the favor of the people more than the favor of God. (John 9:22; 5:44)
Elders sometimes lead members into error. Many churches and members have gone into error because leaders advocated unscriptural practices. (Matthew 7:15ff; 1 John 4:1ff)
Sometimes members excuse themselves by saying, if the elders or preacher teaches error, God will blame the leaders but not the people who follow them. But Jesus said, if the blind lead the blind both fall into the ditch.
Much as we may like or respect men, if they lead people to practice error, we must please God rather than man.
This does not mean people should create strife over personal opinions or preferences. Some people are determined to have their own way. Others make issues mostly to prove their independence. Christians should respect leaders and submit to the elders. But when leaders or members want us to sin, then we must please God rather than men.
(2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 1 Corinthians 1-4)
Romans 2:29 – One who is a true Israelite – circumcised in heart – will seek the praises of God, rather than men.
Whom have you been pleasing? God requires us to love Him enough to put Him first in our lives. Are you willing to become His child by obeying the gospel and then remain faithful in His service, regardless of any opposition you may face?
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2023; gospelway.com