Paul's ministry example continues with a segment of parallel warnings. As apostles and teachers "approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel," Paul and his team knew that God tested their hearts. This recognition undergirded their determination to not try to please men. In part, that meant they didn't use flattery (trying to attract people by giving false praise) or cover up greed with a spiritual-seeming mask. They could stand with God, and the Thessalonians, as their witnesses to their desire to please God, not man.
Yet what captured my attention most from this section is the latter portion: "We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else." To me this goes beyond not just trying to please men. Consider this with me briefly.
"Trying to please men" implies some sort of effort. In fact, the Greek word this phrase comes from, aresko, means to strive to please, and includes the idea of accommodating oneself to someone else's "opinions, interests, and desires". I can't help thinking of Julia Roberts in "Runaway Bride." She plays a woman who didn't even know how she liked her eggs, because she always ordered them the same way her boyfriend did. That's a perfect picture of "trying to please men". In the movie it's sad; in ministry it's spiritually disastrous. In ministry situations it can be challenging (you want them to like you so you can build relationships), but it's crucial. One of my spiritual gifts is encouragement, so I have studied Barnabas in-depth. I can completely understand how he could be "led astray" with Peter with the Judaizers came to Antioch.
Most mature Christians probably make a sincere effort to not be people-pleasers. But Paul's words go further. He says, "We were not looking for praise from men". "Looking for praise" literally means "seek glory". While "seek" (or "looking for") is used for intentional seeking, it is also used for something far more subtle: "Crave". We can resist the temptation to intentionally accommodate people's "opinions, interests, and desires", and still retain the subtle craving for their praise. In fact, some of our biggest disappointments come when we feel that we didn't get the positive feedback- the "praise" - we had hoped for.
Thankfully, there is a craving that can go deeper than our understandable human craving for approval. Luke 12:31 uses the same word: But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. When our focus is on the kingdom of God, all other cravings come into balance. We no longer crave people's approval or praise. And in the paradox of the kingdom, it is within the community of believers that we are able to find our soul's deeper longing met fully. We learn to appropriately value others and look out for their interests; to honor others; to show gratitude. We give and receive appropriate "praise", when we stop looking for it and focus on Jesus together. Consider just a few passages:
- Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
- Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)
- How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? (1 Thessalonians 3:9)