"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." 1 Thessalonians 2:4 (ESV)
Sometimes I confuse the command to love with the disease to please. Wanting to please other people and not disappoint them seems to be part of my peacemaking makeup. It’s something I can catch myself being resigned to having to deal with rather than being determined to overcome.
Why is that?
We all want to be liked. And there's nothing wrong with that. God wired us for relationships and community. But we cannot be so desperate for the approval of people that we're willing to live in disobedience to God. The ultimate motivation of every believer must be to please God first and foremost.
We see this kind of heart in Paul as we read the words he penned to the people of Thessalonica. Specifically, he wrote, “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” (1 Thessalonians 2:4).
Paul goes on to state that he never made use of flattering words in sharing the gospel with the Thessalonians, nor did he or those with him ever once seek glory for themselves. (1 Thessalonians 2:5-6) They simply loved people enough to offer them the hope and truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ — both in their actions and their words. They did this from hearts filled with tremendous tenderness. (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8) But the only approval they ever sought after was that of God.
So what does it even mean to live “approved by God” (1 Thessalonians 2:4)?
The Greek verb we translate as “approved” is dokimazō and can mean “to prove” or “to examine.” It refers to justifying or proving the quality of something or someone. So when Paul says he has been approved by God, he is saying that he himself had to go through a certain level of examination before he was entrusted with the gospel. Although we aren't told explicitly when Paul's testing took place, Scripture suggests it could have taken place during the three years Paul spent in Arabia. (Galatians 1:16-18)
Paul also states in the last part of 1 Thessalonians 2:4 that God “tests our hearts.” The verb “tests” is in the present tense. This implies that the approval process is an ongoing one that we need to be aware of — one that takes place before God entrusts us with His plans and purposes and also while we are walking out our God-given responsibilities.
Why so much testing? Because we serve a God who sees and cares about the inner workings of the human heart. (1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Chronicles 28:9; Psalm 139:23; Proverbs 17:3) And He needs to know who it is that our hearts ultimately beat for — people or Him.
The question of who we live to please is a vastly important one. So important that we find Paul addressing it again in his letter to the Galatians: “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” (Galatians 1:10, ESV). This tells me we need to ask ourselves regularly who we're living to serve. Especially if we want to be people God works through.
Wherever we focus our attention the most will become the driving force in our lives. And I’m pausing to ask myself today, Do I want to be liked, or do I want to be obedient?
The more I focus on trying to figure out how to please people, the more of a magnified force people-pleasing will become in my life. The more I focus on trying to figure out how to please God, the more of a magnified force He will become in my life. And the more He will be able to use me for His Kingdom purposes.
My focus. My choice. God, help me live obediently for You today.
Father God, please help me release the pressure I put on myself to be all things to all people in my relationships. I want to please You more than anyone else in my life. Help me order my steps and prioritize my attention toward You and what You are asking of me and calling me to today. Help me hear Your voice above all the commands and requests that come my way. Help me practice grace toward myself in my limitations so I can see more of Your strength in me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
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Though it may be difficult, it is crucial for us to be honest about our limitations as humans. But what do we do when another person doesn't respect our limited capacity or agree with boundaries we’ve put in place? Lysa TerKeurst understands this struggle. That’s why she wants to offer you a never-before-seen bonus chapter: "How To Be an Absolute Disappointment and Live To Tell About It." In this chapter, Lysa will help you resist the temptation to give in to another person's demands — by identifying mindsets that may have been hurting you, not helping you. Sign up to receive the free chapter here.
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FOR DEEPER STUDY
Colossians 2:10a, “and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.” (NIV)
How does this verse serve as a catalyst to help you break away from people-pleasing today? We'd love to hear from you in the comments!
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