“Many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:42,43 ESV).
To give Christ the preeminence means that I value His will and His opinion above the wills and opinions of anyone else, including my own. That means the closer I am to the Lord the less of a man-pleaser I will be.
It is, I believe, human nature to want to please other people. Some people have a very bad case of it. They want to please everybody. That’s an extreme; of course some people only want to please themselves! But in the middle of those two extremes is where most of us are. We are very sensitive to what other people think: we want to be accepted, we want people to like us. And when other people are in a position to give us what we want it opens us up to fear fear of rejection, fear of punishment, fear of not getting what we want. It can all be summed up as the fear of man.
Most Christians I know want to please God but they also want to please people or please themselves and Jesus said no one can serve two masters. I’m not saying be rude and abrasive and uncaring. Jesus certainly was not rude or mean. But He always pleased His Father. He didn’t try to please people. You can love people, but you can’t please them.
There are three areas in which the fear of man finds expression. They are:
1) desire for appreciation,
2) desire for compensation, and
3) desire for promotion.
These three desires are very natural and very human, but they are also very self-centered. Now don’t feel condemned. If you’re human and you know it raise your hand! There’s nothing wrong with being human. You need to admit to being human because only then can you begin to deal with the weaknesses that are inherent in human nature.
All of us have some of this in our lives, we just need to recognize it and deal with it. For me, pastoring a church was one way I sought fulfillment in all three of these areas. I wanted to be appreciated, I certainly wanted to be compensated, and I wanted to be promoted meaning that I wanted a bigger church and a larger circle of influence. And when you can do what you think God wants you to do and be appreciated, compensated, and promoted all at the same time, then it is very difficult not to become trapped by that way of thinking. I thought I would be fulfilled, but instead I was in bondage to the fear of man.
Things were fine until I stopped being afraid of man. I began to look to God to fulfill my needs and I stopped caring whether other people appreciated me, or compensated me, or promoted me. God showed me that ministry was not about me, it was about Him. And so I started living for Him and speaking the truth. I stopped being afraid of people, and when they realized they couldn’t control me anymore, they didn’t want me to be their pastor.
Let’s look at the desire for appreciation. We all want to feel appreciated, wanted, and needed. I always joke that no one is truly appreciated until they are dead, so appreciate me now and avoid the rush. But really, the desire for appreciation is a snare. Why? Because it makes you a slave to other people. You start performing for them, working for them, and everything rises and falls based on other people liking you or not liking you. Can you see how this is going to be a problem?
Or how about the desire for compensation? We all want to be paid for our work, and the workman is worthy of his wages, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean doing everything with an eye towards getting rewarded; looking to other people to properly appreciate and compensate you for all you do. Well, that can become a snare. What if doing the right thing costs you your job or your position? You’ll be tempted to cut corners, keep people happy and avoid offending the people who have the power to reward you. That’s one reason why I could never go into politics, because you are required to be a man-pleaser. If you were to do the right thing, every single moment, you would undoubtedly offend the very people who were financing your political career. Pastoring is about the closest thing to politics I have ever been a part of, and I know now that I cannot go down that road.
How about the desire for promotion? The desire to succeed, to get ahead, to get noticed, to move up. I’m not saying that God wants you to be a failure, but I will say that the way God defines success and the way we define success are two different things. Paul was successful because Paul was obedient to the call of God on his life. But in the eyes of the world, and especially in the eyes of the Jews, Paul was a failure who wasted his education and squandered his gifts. See? Success is measured differently in the Kingdom of God. So how does the desire for promotion become a snare? Well, we start looking to other people to reward us, to help us climb the ladder, and then we get to the top of the ladder and find out it’s leaning against the wrong wall. By then it’s too late.
So you take all three of these the desire for appreciation, the desire for compensation, and the desire for promotion and it all leads to one thing: the fear of man. We become totally enslaved to people, and we become man-pleasers instead of God-pleasers. Like every other kind of fear, the fear of man is based on a misconception that people can reward me, and people can punish me.
But what does the Bible say? It says a man can have nothing unless he receives it from heaven. It says every good and perfect gift comes from God. It says God is the One Who promotes a person. It says if we trust in the Lord we will not be afraid of man, or what man can do to us. Again, all this hinges on our relationship with God, and how well we know Him. We only look to people when we believe that God isn’t enough. What a relief to know that even if other people fail to appreciate you, compensate you, or promote you, God does appreciate you! He will reward you, and He will direct your paths according to His Purpose, and His Purpose is good. His thoughts toward you are good. He knows you better than you know yourself, and He is certainly far more faithful than people. He is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. And so, with this kind of relationship with God, I can go without the approval of man.
That is the kind of person that can really serve people. You can’t serve people if you are in bondage to them. Sometimes love requires you to say and to do some tough things.