Quality #5: A Godly Leader Labors to Please God, Not Man


Editor’s Note: You can read our previous articles in the series “Genuine: Essential Qualities of a Godly Minister” below!
Genuine: Essential Qualities of a Godly Leader
Quality #1: A Godly Leader’s Ministry is Confirmed by the Church

Quality #2: A Godly Leader Perseveres through Suffering for the Gospel’s Sake
Quality #3: A Godly Leader Preaches the Truth from Right Motives
Quality #4: A Godly Leader is Approved by God

“The fear of man lays a snare,” Solomon wrote centuries ago, “but whoever trusts the Lord is safe” (Prov 29:25). The sage of Israel knew that a heart gripped by the fear of man would soon become entangled in other troubles and dangers. The apostle Paul was also aware of how an ungodly concern over man’s favorable opinion might derail his ministry, which is why he determined that he would not capitulate to man-pleasing. In his first canonical letter (c. AD 48), Paul declared to the Galatians that he didn’t shape his ministry according to man’s approval or disapproval. When it came to accurately proclaiming the gospel, Paul’s aim was to please Christ and him alone. “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” (Gal 1:10).

Laboring to Please God in Thessalonica
With the firm conviction that God had entrusted him with a gospel ministry, Paul also labored in Thessalonica with the single intention to only please God.

…but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.

1 Thessalonians 2:4-6

How did Paul’s commitment to only please God affect his ministry? First, this commitment meant that he didn’t take notches off the gospel out of fear that it might offend his listeners: “…so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” Paul and his associates didn’t craft their message for the sake of merely gaining followers. No, they courageously called sinners to repentance, declared that Jesus Christ was Lord and Savior of all men, and trusted God with the results.

The gospel is offensive to the natural mind (1 Cor 1:18; 2:14; Eph 4:18), so a minister who craves the approval of people will quickly become disillusioned when they find their message met with scorn rather than praise. Paul, however, was not guided by the spiritual preferences of fallen humans. His aim was to please God in how he conducted his ministry and to trust God’s wisdom. Besides, Paul knew that saving faith requires a supernatural work of God in the heart, so diluting the gospel message was a pointless venture (2 Cor 4:1-6).

Second, Paul and the other apostles didn’t resort to insincerity in order to gain emotional advantage over the Thessalonians. “For we never came with words of flattery…” When a man derives his joy in ministry from people’s approval rather than their spiritual good, he will often resort to flattery to get people to like him.

Flattery is a powerful weapon because it creates an emotional bond between the flatterer and the one receiving the disingenuous comments, and the one being flattered is now more likely to follow and speak well of the one who offers them adulation. Flattery is the currency of the man-pleasing minister, and he uses it to purchase the approval and affection of his people. Paul would have none of these sordid tactics. To succumb to such motives would have been to labor out of an ungodly fear of man and a love for praise.

Finally, Paul and his associates didn’t seek glory from the people to whom they ministered: “Nor did we seek glory from people.” Paul implies that they could have used their status as God’s chosen ministers to gain notoriety and honor among the Thessalonians. But personal glory was never their aim. They did not preach or wield their apostleship in order to bask in the admiration of the people. These motives are opposed to the gospel itself which is designed so that God alone receives all the glory (see 1 Cor 1:18-31).   

But Didn’t Paul Try to Please Everyone?
Someone might question a few of these strong statements and note how Paul himself said that he sought to please everyone. To the Corinthians, for example, Paul wrote, “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved (1 Cor 10:32-33). The problem with this objection, however, is that it doesn’t reckon with the different contexts of Galatians, Thessalonians, and First Corinthians. In Galatians, Paul’s unwavering commitment to please only Christ was in relation to the content of the gospel message. No man on the planet could make the apostle tamper with the good news and preach a sub-biblical message for itching ears. That was the conviction he took to Thessalonica.

In Corinthians, Paul’s willingness to please all people was a willingness to remove any non-doctrinally related stumbling blocks that might deter someone from listening to his gospel message (e.g., refraining from certain kinds of foods for a season). In both cases, Paul sought ultimately only to please God with his ministry (see 1 Cor 10:31) and never resorted to flattery to garner people’s praise. Indeed, Paul’s labor to “please everyone” was for the sake of their salvation, not to fill an emotional need for man’s approval: “…just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of the many, that they may be saved” (emphasis added).

A genuine gospel minister is one who labors for the glory of God and the spiritual benefit of his people. Man-pleasing, flattery, and glory-seeking have no place in the life of a gospel minister. If you’ve started to fall into patterns of man-pleasing, it is time to repent, ask God’s forgiveness, and plead for the Spirit’s help to get back on course. A ministry built on a desire to gain people’s favor will ruin both the minister and his hearers. But a minister who, by grace, commits himself to please only Christ will enjoy a good conscience, persevering faith, and an effective ministry.

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