Methods matter. Some folks today are using methods that are unworthy of the gospel. They use gimmicks to entice. They use “worship aids” to manipulate emotions. You can’t watch religious television without feeling people are being baited. They are being sold the gospel of blood and sacrifice at a bargain basement price. They are buying into the prosperity preachers as opposed to the humble and lowly Jesus who came to serve. Some use methods that are man-centered. They boil down to little more than pop psychology with some Scripture sprinkled in. Here’s the test for all we do and say: Is the Gospel they are preaching centered on God’s glory or on raising money and getting a crowd?
We are not called to play to the crowd or feed off the crowd. We are called to play to an audience of one. Can you imagine Jesus waiting until the crowd got into his message at the Mt. of Beatitudes? His message was so contrary to the way people think, I doubt seriously if he got many amens.
I love Paul’s method in 1 Thessalonians when he confronts his critics. “As you know” appears seven times…you know I=m telling the truth, you know and God knows what the real deal is. Unfortunately, we have people pleasers today. They are flattering and appeal to our flesh. You can’t please the flesh and please God at the same time. Did the Psalmist have anyone in mind when he wrote, “They speak vanity everyone with his neighbor; with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.” Flattery is a form of manipulation. When someone flatters, in reality, they are seeking to control. They will tell you what you want to hear so the flatterers can get what they want out of you.
The enemies of Paul accused him of being a compromiser and “adjusting” the Gospel to fit the Gentiles. Some commentaries indicate they may have twisted and distorted his philosophy stated in 1 Corinthians 9:22—“I am made all things to all men that I might by all means save some.” Lacking any discernment, they accused Paul of playing both sides, working both sides and trying to appease both sides. They said, “When he’s with the Jews, he lives like a Jew. When he’s with his new Gentile friends, he lives like a Gentile. He’s a people pleaser, and therefore you cannot trust him!”
Paul clearly stated in Galatians 1:1, 12, “My ministry nor my message came from man.” They wanted to level three accusations at the Apostle. 1) Your message is too easy. 2) Your message appeals to the flesh. 3) Your message rejects the law. The reality was that the Judaizers were the false teachers and man pleasers.
Galatians 4:17 states, “These men are paying you special attention, but not sincerely.” I like the Williams translation of this verse–“They want to shut you off from me, so that you may keep on paying them special attention.” Later on in Galatians chapter six, Paul exposes them as false teachers for gong back to the Old Testament laws and ceremonies. t The Judaizers were cowardly compromisers who mixed Law and grace, hoping to please both Jews and Gentiles, but never asking whether or not they were pleasing God.
In his classic and pivotal commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther wrote, “No man can say that we are seeking the favor and praise of men with our doctrine. We teach that all men are naturally depraved. We condemn man’s free will, his strength, wisdom, and righteousness. We say that we obtain grace by the free mercy of God alone for Christ’s sake. This is no preaching to please men. This sort of preaching procures for us the hatred and disfavor of the world, persecutions, excommunications, murders, and curses.”
If Paul had wanted to be popular, he would have flattered people. Instead, his letters are full of rebukes and confrontations. He is constantly correcting the church. If they weren’t walking with God, they would quickly hear about it from Paul. Paul would have never been persecuted, beaten or jailed if he had been a feel-good, compromising preacher.
I am often reminded of the story about Vance Havner preaching at Winona Lake in the mid 20th century. He got up during one of the morning sessions and said, “I’ve been reading this morning from the Apostle Paul. I’ve also been reading some of Norman Vincent Peale. Personally, I find Peale appalling and Paul appealing.”
Paul asks and answers two questions. With these simple questions and responses, the issue is settled. The first question deals with his attitude. Was he seeking approval of men or of God? Just read verses 6-9 and you’ll find the answer to that question. Paul understood we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of our lives. He wasn’t about to play popularity games. Paul didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear. He told them what God told him to tell them.
In writing to the Corinthians he observed, “The Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.” What Paul preached was the opposite of what both were looking for and would never make a preacher popular.
Dr. Robert Gromacki writes, “Paul adapted his method of evangelization but never his message to his audience. To the pagans he referred to the God of Creation in Acts 14, and to the Jews he pointed to the revelation of God in the Old Testament in Acts 13, but his message always centered in redemption through faith in Jesus Christ.”
The second question dealt with his aspirations. “Do I seek to please men?” 1 Thessalonians 2:4 says, “We speak, not as pleasing men, but God, who tests the heart.” You wouldn’t preach “Anathema” if you were trying to get a crowd. You don’t pronounce a curse on people if you are about to take up an offering or go into a building program. If you think they are about to elect you “Preacher of the Year,” that’s not the kind of speech you make. Paul wasn’t running for office; he was running to the cross. He wanted to glorify God because the truth of the gospel was being perverted.
Again, John MacArthur writes, “By nature, people pleasers are not martyrs. The desire to escape ridicule and trouble is one of their hallmarks. Pleasing men does not bring the severe persecution Paul endured and is totally incompatible with being a bondâ€‘servant of Christ. Paul’s Jewish accusers were men pleasers. It was “to make a good showing in the flesh” that they tried “to compel [Gentile believers] to be circumcised,” for the very purpose of not being “persecuted for the cross of Christ” (Gal 6:12). Paul’s first purpose was “to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9). And pleasing the Lord Jesus Christ meant that he had every right to pronounce a curse on anyone who tried by a doctrine of works righteousness to detract from the gracious finished work of the Savior (cf. Galatians 2:21). His second purpose was to see men saved and that required strong denunciation of any false gospel that would damn them by its deceit.”
You and I have a decision to make. We have to make it every day. Do we live, serve and preach, so that our church will think we are the greatest pastor they’ve ever had? Or do we live, serve and preach so they will see and know the glory of God revealed through a humble servant? The answer to that question will determine if we find wood, hay and stubble or gold, silver and precious stones at the great judgment of our works in the body.
© 2007, Michael Catt
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.