photo by Laura Evans
It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised.
Galatians 6:12 ESV
Dear ICB family,
By my count, at least five times in the book of Galatians Paul highlights the fact that the false teachers were people pleasers.
In 1:10, responding to those who were teaching another gospel, Paul asks, "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."
In 2:4–14 he describes how, when Paul finally came to Jerusalem and met James, Peter, and John, the pillars of the church (today we might call such people the movers and the shakers), far from placing them on a pedestal, he ended up challenging Peter to his face. His example stands in stark contrast with the behavior of the false teachers, who never would have done anything to offend such important people.
In 4:17 he tells the Galatians that the false teachers "make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them." Apparently they buttered the Galatians up so that the Galatians would return them the favor.
In 5:11, in contrast with the false teachers, Paul speaks of the persecution and offense that he's endured. All he had to do to escape persecution and offense and get back on the false teachers' good side was to preach their version of the gospel, the very thing he wouldn't do.
And finally, in 6:12–13, Paul mentions the same idea. He says that the false teachers "want to make a good showing in the flesh." In other words, they wanted to look good in front of their friends.
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.
Beneath the religiosity of these false teachers raged their desire to please people and win their approval. They wanted people to look at them and say what faithful gospel workers they were! What great things they were doing for God! How godly they were! How holy! What great people worthy of admiration and imitation!
Apparently such a desire had become ultimate for these false teachers. And just look at where it took these them. Their desire to put on a good show and win friends caused them to jettison the true gospel and begin preaching a false message that would only condemn their hearers to eternal separation from their only hope of reconciliation with God.
It is a terrifying prospect. At least it should be. And not a one of us is immune to the temptation.
What is a people pleaser to do? Through his example, Paul gives us at least three answers to that question.
First, Paul only sought the approval of God and only sought to please God (1:10). At first glance, this may jar you. Wait, we have to seek God's approval? We have to try to please him? Doesn't that sound like works-based salvation? It's not, and here's why. Paul is not saying that his good works made him his Father's son. He wanted to please his Father because he already was his Father's son. It was no slavish, fearful desire. Only now that he had become a child of God could he please God, and because of the new heart God had given him, that was the only thing he wanted to do.
Not only that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that was the very thing that he was now capable of doing whereas before he had been unable. It was Paul's joy to bring a smile to his Father's face, and that smile was more important to him than the smile of any mere human being.
Paul only sought the approval of God and only sought to please God.
Second, Paul had a single master (1:10). He was a servant of Christ alone. No one else held his allegiance. He would let no one but Christ pass judgment on him. It was before his own master that he would stand or fall, and Paul knew that he would be upheld, for his master was able to make him stand (Romans 14:4).
If your master is looking down on you and saying, "Well done," why do you need others to puff you up?
It was before his own master that he would stand or fall, and Paul knew that he would be upheld, for his master was able to make him stand (Romans 14:4).
Third, the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross for sinners was so immense in Paul's mind that it became the sole thing that he boasted in (6:14). To boast in something means to brag about something or to talk about it with extreme enthusiasm. It means to praise that thing in an extravagant way. It means to glory or exult or rejoice in that thing.
Jesus Christ and his gift to the world as represented by his cross was so bright in Paul's mental and emotional sky that the praise of man was like a distant star competing with the full strength of the sun at noonday.
The completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross for sinners was so immense in Paul's mind that it became the sole thing that he boasted in.
Just think of it: God the Son, the eternal Word of God the Father, descended from the throne of heaven, became flesh, lived among us, and then demonstrated to us the depths of the Father's love for his creation by dying in perfect obedience so that humanity could be reconciled to God forever! What other thing could you possibly find to rejoice in? That you just got a record number of likes on your Instagram picture? That mere people esteem you? Be free. You've got bigger things to boast about. God has saved you.
When you've grasped the love of God for you as demonstrated in the cross of Christ, the praise of people is a raindrop that hits your face when you're standing up to your chin in the ocean of God's love. You probably won't even notice.
And only in so orienting your values and desires will you end up being of any good to anyone else. That alone will keep you faithful to the gospel when other people pleasers exchange truth for applause. You won't be focused on raindrops because you're swimming in the ocean. Let rain drops fall. Or not. It doesn't matter. You've got the ocean.
Pushing farther out into the surf with you,