People Pleasing and Kingdom Ethics

A Crowd 

I just heard a country song the other day that said, in essence, “I don’t care what people think about me. I’m gonna be my own man.” It reminded me of a DC Talk song “Jesus Freak” – ‘I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus Freak…’ Now there is much to say in the Bible about people pleasing – that we should be more concerned with pleasing God than man. However, so much of present-day evangelicalism has forgotten the need to be conscientious of what people think of us. We have bought into the pietistic “just me and God” mentality that anything short of “I am an island” is deemed people pleasing.

There are two areas we should be concerned about what other people think. One, our relationships with non-believers should be characterized by a good reputation. The Gospel demands that we be different, but does it demand foreign-ness to the way the world operates that non-believers believe they could never be a Christian because it is so weird? That is, too many times Christians have tried to make their own subculture – from t-shirts, to bumper stickers, to romance novels – that we have failed to apply the Gospel to our everyday living. It’s as if Christians are meant to be seen as floating above hard circumstances in life. When someone dies, we are supposed to fight back the tears and say something spiritual. When we come in contact with a non-believer, whatever the conversation, we are supposed to turn the conversation into a rote three-minute prsentation of sin, Christ, faith.

What this communicates the non-Christian is that a decision is more important than a life-change. A life change does not entail them changing their name, their clothes, their music (necessarily). And so we ask someone to begin coming to Bible studies, prayer groups, Friday night fellowship – when they don’t know the language. It would be like expecting a Chinese man to speak fluent English upon stepping off the airplane. Not all things in China need to be desisted in order to be an American.

What I am saying is this, in the name of devotion we too many times deny the Name. We equate true spirituality with being strange.

Second, as Christians we are adopted into a family. We have expectations on how we should live. We cannot take our Bible into our prayer closets and shut the world outside. First John tells us that we know we are believers if we love the brethren. How many times in college did I forsake the fellowship so that I could be alone with God. Not that spending time alone with God is not needed. Rather, I am speaking about the kind of spirituality that declares, “I don’t care what you say about me, I love Jesus and that is enough.” Is this not reductionistic of the Christian life? Hasn’t God called us to care that my brother thinks that I sinned against him when I said such-and-such? Hasn’t God given us the family to keep us from sin – because we are afraid of what they and non-believers will think? Our Christian family is the incarnate expression of God’s displeasure with sin.

We need to start caring what people think if we want to be holy. Otherwise we will continue to walk around thinking that we have elegant garments when, in fact, we are buck naked.

Comments 5

  1. Matt,
    Good post and very timely. Living in a culture that is fiercely independent, be-your-own-man, we have a great struggle to see ourselves as slaves to Christ. There is a practical everyday holiness that we all must seek God’s grace to exhibit in our lives (Hebrews 12:14 points us in that direction).
    I like the reference to having a good reputation as well. I am preaching through Acts and I was struck by Acts 5:13; “but the people esteemed them highly.” I believe the “people” were unbelievers who observed the lives of the believers and had high regard for them because of their conduct and obviously the manifestations of God’s work.
    “, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” 1 Cor. 6:19b-20.

  2. Great point from Acts. You’re right the early Christians had a reputation of being different than the surrounding culture but it was in a way that people wanted to emulate. Instead of fleeing the city during plague the Christians served the sick at the risk of their own lives. So much of the culture Christians in the West have built is comprised of comfort and goods. May God help us to lay our live on the line in such a way that people want to emulate it and be a part of it.

  3. Matt,
    I appreciate this post and agree with many of your observations. However, I am not sure about the statement “so much of present-day evangelicalism has forgotten the need to be conscientious of what people think of us. We have bought into the pietistic “just me and God” mentality that anything short of “I am an island” is deemed people pleasing.” Do you really think that this is a problem with “much of present day evangelicalism?” Granted there are well known Evangelicals that this characterizes, but it seems like a lot of Evangelicals are pretty content with G-rated movies and fifty year long friendships where Jesus is rarely or never mentioned. I could be wrong on this and indeed we are living in different parts of the country so the ethos of the Evangelical culture could be different. What are your thoughts?

  4. I think you mention another dismal aspect of evangelicalism – albeit an addition to what I have mentioned. In this post I wanted to look at the individualistic culture we reside in in Christianity. I am also speaking from a context where as a Christian in college, I rated how well my relationship with God was by how much time alone I was spending in ‘quiet times.’ I am not advocating eschewing the quiet time but merely tempering it with Chrisitan community. I can recall several conversations where people think the solution for their loneliness is more solitude!

  5. MW,
    I agree with what you said. I think I was just wanting to press you and force you to nuance it a little bit more….You are right on though with people thinking that “quiet times” are the fix all for everything.

    Thanks,
    hs

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