“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?” – Galatians 1:10.
At this time of the year most of us see the opportunity for a new start. Whether you are one who makes New Years Resolutions or not, there seems to be the sense of “Do Over” that comes almost as soon as that ball drops in Times Square, and the Bowl season begins to make way for the roundball & puck.
The question cited at the top of this post was posed by the Apostle Paul. His question raises another, more fundamental question: Who are we to live to please? I hope that question will be given consideration for this new year (and every year).
It would not be appropriate to suppose Paul suggests that affirmation from the people around you is a bad thing. On many occasions he expresses his thankfulness for having been well received, for the friendships with many among whom he lived and ministered. Yet, his question should remind us, as the Westminster Catechism says, “The primary purpose of man is to glorify and enjoy God”.
While earning esteem at work, in your neighborhood, or among family members is often a good thing, Paul reminds us that when this is our driving motivation we are often out of accord with the very purpose for which we are created, and for which we are redeemed.
So how do we know when we are falling into this? (Yes, when, not if.)
The great English Puritan, Richard Baxter, provides us with some thoughts, and exhorts us: “See therefore that you live for God’s approval as that which you chiefly seek, and as that will suffice you.”
You may discover yourself by these signs:
1. You will be careful to understand the Scripture, to know what pleases and displeases God
2. You will be more careful in the doing of every task, to fit it to the pleasure of God rather than men.
3. You will look to your hearts, and not only to your actions; to your goals, and thoughts, and the inward manner and degree.
4. You will look to secret duties as well as public, and to that which men do not see as well as those which they see.
5. You will revere your conscience, paying close attention to it, and not slighting it; when it tells you of God’s displeasure, it will disquiet you; when it tells you of His approval, it will comfort you.
6. Your pleasing men will be charitable for their good, and pious (holy) in order to please God, not proud and ambitious for your honor among men, nor impious against the pleasing of God.
7. Whether men are pleased or displeased, how they judge you or what they call you, will seem a small matter to you, as their own interests, in comparison to God’s judgment. You don’t live for them. You can bear their displeasure, and comments, if God is pleased.
These will be your evidences.