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.

7 Comments

Filed under Christian Living, Counseling, Ethics, Evangelism

7 responses to “People Pleasing and Kingdom Ethics

  1. Devin

    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. hs

    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. hs

    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

  6. DifferingView

    To a point, I can agree with some of the comments the author made, but I have to disagree with other aspects.

    It’s kind of dangerous to instruct Christians to ‘care about what other people think.’

    Contrary to what the author states, many Christians already get bombarded with this message about caring about the views and feelings of other people.

    Most of us Christians repeatedly get hit upside the head to think about how we impact other people or how we are viewed by them.

    Most Christians are very passive people, very non-assertive, who run around trying to please other people because they fear conflict (it’s far easier to ‘go along and get along’ than it is to speak up and disagree with someone else); most Christians don’t want to disappoint others; they are taught that Christians are supposed to be “nice” all the time, etc.

    Many Christians (and even Non Christians who have low self confidence) are stunted and held back in their personal, professional, and spiritual lives precisely because they allow the opinions of other people to dictate to them how they live their lives.

    There is definitely a current of thought among a significant amount of Christians that being a “good” Christian means
    – behaving like a doormat;
    -being nice all the time to all people, no matter how abusive, rude, and hostile those other people are being;
    -caring way too much about what other people think;
    -never saying “no” to people, even though these people are taking advantage of them

    In other words, many Christians are taught by other Christians and the church in general to put way too much emphasis upon the views, feelings, and criticisms of other people, and this is a huge detriment to Christians on a personal level.

    I am constantly hearing pastors in TV sermons or on blogs preach to Christians about not being selfish, putting the needs of other people first, etc, which would be fine in a way, but such points are over-emphasized and twisted to the point that some Christians get this faulty idea that it’s “sinful” for them to ever get their own needs met, and to not let people take advantage of them.

    The message they get from such sermons or blogs is that being a Christian is equivalent to being a doormat.

    There are a lot of Christians who care more about the feelings and opinions of other Christians (and non Christians) than what God thinks.

    This has created a lot of very passive, fearful Christians who permit themselves to be controlled and manipulated by other people, so these kinds of “door mat Christians” become ineffective to God.

    And when you keep thinking you have no choice but to allow people to use you and abuse you (that is, that constantly “turning the other cheek” is the “Christian” thing to do in all circumstances – even though it may NOT be), you wind up resentful, bitter, frustrated, angry, and tired.

    And it’s not biblical – the Bible does not say that Christians are to go through life being doormats.

    I had a Christian parent who raised me that being a good, proper Christian means to behave like a doormat and just take abuse and rudeness off people.

    This parent (and many other Christians) seem to think it is “Un Christ like,” or “not nice,” or “unbiblical” to say ‘No’ to people, or to defend yourself from verbal/ physical/ financial abuse.

    Such Christians think self defense, adhering to healthy boundaries (that is, not permitting people to use and mistreat you) is a form of selfishness, and that Jesus wants all Christians to go through life just taking mistreatment off people.

    I lived the “doormat lifestyle” for over twenty years (part of which consisted of me caring way, way too much about other people’s opinions, trying to gain their approval) and all it got me was heartache and abuse.

    I was trying hard to gain the approval of people and not the approval of God.

    I cared too much about what other people thought, and due to my parent’s distorted views of the Bible on this issue, I was pretty much taught that pleasing people was the same thing as pleasing God (and it is not).

    Some people are abusive, selfish jerks who only want to use you, and you have to learn that it’s perfectly fine and biblical to say “No” to such people and their manipulative requests, and to cut them out of your life if need be.

    But Christians rarely hear those messages, instead they get hit over the head even more with these bogus messages about “putting other people first,” and “stop being selfish” (self defense is often equated to being “selfish”). So Christians get guilt trips for naturally wanting to not put up with abusive or rude behavior.

    I no longer care what other people think about me. I don’t allow their opinions or disapproval or judgments to dictate my life or my choices.

    Caring what other people think about you or your choices in life is to be imprisoned to what people want, and it might impede you if God has directed you to do something that other Christians (or Non Christians) think is idiotic.

    If Noah had cared about the opinions of other people (and Noah was scoffed at by his neighbors for building the ark), he would not have obeyed God and built the ark.

    There are times when it’s perfectly fine, biblical, and acceptable to totally disregard the opinions of other people, not to mention it’s healthy and the only way you’re going to keep your sanity in life.

    Maybe the author meant only to address how the church at large comes across to (un saved) society in general, but on a personal, individual level, Christians need to be encouraged to buck the trend of “caring about what other people think.”

  7. Differing View,
    Did you read the post? It appears that you are making a lot of claims that are peripheral to what I am actually talking about. What I am trying to correct is the proneness to be lone-ranger Christians. We need to care what people who have been born again think…they are God’s provision in our life to keep us from doing sinful and foolish things. Sure, there are times when we need to go against the grain, but the default should be to seek and submit to counsel.

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