For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
This showed up on my phone as my ‘verse of the day’ earlier this week. This is one of those verses that I’ve read a countless number of times, but with current events happening, it stood out more than usual. Whether you want to call it chance or fate is an argument for a different day. For today though, there’s a lot that can be gleaned from this verse.
Lets look at the context it was written in. There was a time in the early church when there was a debate as to whether or not Jewish Christians and Gentile Christian converts should be required to follow all of the mosaic laws of the Old Testament. (I’m aware this argument still persists today with Messianic Jews and Torah Observant Christians, but again, that’s an argument for another day.) James, the brother of Jesus (James the Just) held the position that everyone should adhere to the old law. Paul (Saul of Tarsus), a former Pharasi, argued instead that Christians are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus alone (Solus Christus). The friction between these opposing ideas was so great that it almost changed what is now considered ‘cannon’ in the bible.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. James 2:18
Full disclosure, I must point out that while I hold to Paul’s interpretation of salvation, I have on numerous occasions evoked James 2:18 when people have claimed that they can behave however they want because they believe in Jesus, and are therefore saved no matter what actions they take. My argument has always been that a person of faith should act in a way in keeping with scripture not by force, but by nature. I also feel that following Christ is an active role, not a passive one. It’s something you have to do. It requires effort, interaction, introspection, sacrifice. People in philosophy circles can debate the nature of ‘the self’ ad nauseum. But, to be a follower of Christ, you have to sacrifice ‘the self’ so that it is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives through you.
Now, to go back to our verse at hand. Paul wrote to Galatia to argue his belief that salvation was by faith alone. This position put him at odds with many people in his life. As stated, Paul was a Pharasi. Becoming a Christian immediately alienated his from his colleagues.
Paul’s father was also a Pharasi. In the book of Acts Paul’s nephew (his sister’s son) hears of a plot to have Paul killed. Some argue that if his nephew was in proximity to have heard of said plot, then his nephew was likely not a Christian convert. So, he would also have been alienated, at least in part, from his family.
The wider Jewish audience Paul was trying to spread the gospel to weren’t always receptive of him. Many of them would have seen him as another follower of the many false messiahs of the time. The Greco-Roman Gentiles Paul tired to convert were followers of polytheistic Pagan religions, most of which had practices that were as far from in keeping with Christianity as one can get. They too weren’t fond of Paul’s notion that they should abandon their way of life and religions of old to follow this man he calls the Christ. The Roman world was rife with self-centeredness, drunkenness, orgies (both religious and recreational). In later years, Christians were sent to the arena to be executed so as to dissuade anyone from following Christ. (It didn’t work) This was an everyday part of Roman life.
So, Paul set himself apart from his colleagues, his family, his ethno-religious group, and many of the cultures he spread the word to, all the way to the heart of the Roman empire which ultimately lead to his execution. At no point was he concerned with the thoughts and opinions of men. He was working for something greater. He worked not to please men, but God. He served not himself, but Christ.
How can we apply Paul’s outlook from this verse to our own lives? As is often said ‘You can’t please everyone.’ But, should you even try to? If you are a follower of Christ, should you not only focus on pleasing God? If you do, no doubt people will eventually be unhappy. They may alienate you, persecute you, and mark you as ‘other.’ Should you care? If you live a life that pleases God, and men are unhappy, is that not their problem? It’s not your friends and family who formed the heavens and the earth. No politician has (or likely would) hang on a cross for you.
Lets say a group of your friends invite you to a stripclub. Do you go with them so they won’t tease you, and you can feel like a part of the group? Afterall, you can ask for forgiveness on Sunday, right? Or, would you tell your friends to be damned, and that you’ll pray for them on Sunday instead?
If you want to go to church and walk the narrow path to salvation, but your family says that it’s stupid and you shouldn’t waste your time; Do you stay home and worship in your bedroom free from the sight of others, or do you testify to them and pray that wisdom would befall your house?
These are the things we should stop and consider in our daily lives. Everyone wants to have things their way. Even our own inherent narcissism wants us to do things the way we want. Are we servants of others? Of ourselves? Are we not called to be servants of Christ? We have to remember who it is that we should be worried about as we walk by faith.
You can’t please everyone. But, you can please God.
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