June 20, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 2:4 (NRSV)
[B]ut just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.
Most of us like it when we make others happy with the work we do. We’re glad to please our customers, our colleagues, and our bosses. But sometimes we can be so focused on pleasing people in our work that we forget to please God. The example of Paul and his colleagues in 1 Thessalonians encourages us to seek to please God most of all in everything we do.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we began to examine the question of motives. In writing to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul and his colleagues state that their motives were not impure or unclean (2:3). While, like all human beings, they had a variety of motives, or as we might say, mixed motives, the church planters were not trying to take advantage of their converts for their own personal gain. In this way, Paul and Co. distinguished themselves from many of the so-called wandering philosophers in the Greco-Roman world who sought mainly to enhance their own lives through their work.
The following verse continues to address the matter of motives. The letter writers say, “but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts” (2:4). Of course, Paul and his team were glad when people responded positively to their message. But their happiness was not their primary motivation. Rather, they sought to do their work in a way that pleased God most of all.
It’s important to note what the writers added about God in this verse. They seek to please “God who tests our hearts.” This activity of God is found in many places in the Old Testament. In Jeremiah 17:10, for example, it says, “I the LORD test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.” So, though God cares about the results of our actions, the “fruit of our doings,” God can look inside of us, to see our true motivations, hopes, and yearnings. This means that our inner motives and our outer actions need to be in alignment if God is going to be pleased with us. The fact that God can see our true motives gives us ample reason to make sure they are honorable.
Now, given what I said yesterday about mixed motives, it’s likely that there are times when we truly seek to please both God and people. When Jesus was making a table for one of his neighbors in Nazareth, for example, I expect he worked to please God and satisfy his neighbor. There was nothing wrong with this. The problem comes when our desire to please people is so much stronger than our desire to please God. In this situation, it becomes very difficult to act for God’s purposes and glory more than our own popularity.
Let me offer an example from my own professional life. As you know if you’ve been reading Life for Leaders for a while, I was the senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in Southern California for 16 years. In that role, I was the primary preacher for the church. I can truly say that I sought to please God in my preaching. But I also wanted the approval of my congregation. Most of the time this wasn’t a problem. But sometimes as I was preparing a sermon, I realized that I had to say some things that would make some of my people uncomfortable. Perhaps the Scripture passage I was using addressed a certain kind of sin I knew to be common in my congregation. As I considered what I would preach, I admit that I was tempted sometimes to backpedal, to avoid saying anything that might upset my congregants. There were times when God and I had to have a long conversation about this, as I confessed my fears and desires in order to align my heart with God’s own heart. I remembered that I was not called to please my people in my preaching so much as to help them know and follow Christ faithfully. I wanted them to grow deep in their faith and realized that sometimes that requires a stern word from Scripture.
By God’s grace, I think I was able for the most part to say what I was true and pleasing to God, even if I felt tension about that. I suppose there were times when I let my desire to please people take precedence over my desire to please God. I’m putting myself forward as an example here, not so much because I did it all perfectly, but because my situation might help you think about the choices you’re making in life. Perhaps there are occasions when you are tempted to please people rather than God. In those times, we need to be honest with God, knowing that the God who loves us already knows everything about us. Remember, God is the one who searches our hearts.
When I use the example of my work as a preacher, I’m aware that most readers of Life for Leaders are not working in churches or religious organizations. So I need to emphasize that no matter what work you do, assuming it isn’t obviously evil, you can please God through your work. You glorify God when you seek to do work that is excellent, just, beautiful, truthful, and loving. When you strive to treat your colleagues, your superiors, and your direct reports with kindness and respect, God is pleased. When you do your work not only for your own benefit, but for the benefit of others and the common good, you are giving God pleasure. Yes, if you do excellent, moral work, that might also please your boss. And that’s not a bad thing. But no matter what you do in work, no matter whether your work is paid or unpaid, you have the opportunity to offer it to God as worship, to do it for God’s pleasure.
In which situations do you feel a strong desire to please people most of all?
Where do you think this desire comes from? What have you had experiences in life that would make this particular desire so strong?
What helps you want to please God most of all?
In what ways are you able to please God in your daily work? (Work refers to both paid and unpaid work.)
Talk with a Christian friend or with your small group about how you can seek to please God most of all in every part of life.
Gracious God thank you for the amazing fact that you care about us and what we do with our lives. Thank you for the truth that we can live in such a way that you are actually pleased. What an amazing thing to think that we can please the God of the universe!
I pray, Lord, that you will grow my desire to please you most of all. Especially when I feel torn between pleasing others and pleasing you, may your pleasure matter most to me. And since I know that you look upon my heart, on what’s inside of me, may my motivations and desires glorify you. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Some Are Called to Go, More Are Called to Stay
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.