by Mike Ratliff
10 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10 (NASB)
Regardless of how many in the “visible church” feel about it, our Lord was quite serious when he said that the gate that all true believers enter to begin their pilgrimage as Christians is small, narrow, and hard to find and the way they go from there to Him in eternity is straight and narrow and full of tests and trials. As we meditate on these things it can be quite disturbing as we witness once solid Christian leaders begin to compromise; some even to the point of apostasy. In any case, we must be honest, those who are compromising like this who were formerly quite solid in their ministries are doing so for the very same reason that any one else is deceived.
What causes deception? We like to believe that people lying to those they deceive causes deception. However, if we think critically about that (yes, I know that post-modernists have lost that ability, but humor me) deception is not the direct result of the lie, but is only takes effect when the one being deceived desires something from the deceiver such as a relationship or something else that is offered. The deceived believe the lie in order to receive something else that they want. What has this to do with compromise in ministry? When theologians, preachers, or Christian leaders who once were not compromised suddenly appear to make these strange decisions, if we take the effort to dig into what is going on, invariably we will find that they are doing what they are doing in order to please someone else. The motive is that of gaining the approval of man. Yes, there will be some with discernment who will notice and make an issue of it, but these people go ahead and do what they do because they see the gain they will receive as being higher than what they will have lost by not doing so. Of course, that gain is from man not God and the heat they will take from those with discernment, well, who listens to them anymore anyway?
In 1 Thessalonians 2, the Apostle Paul writes about his arrival to Thessalonica from Philippi after he and Silas had been released from jail after the miraculous earthquake that resulted in the salvation of the jailor and his family.
1 For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. 3 For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. 5 For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness— 6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. 7 But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. 8 Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 (NASB)
Notice that Paul focuses on his motive and the result in his ministry to the Thessalonians. He and Silas boldly proclaimed the gospel there in the midst of much conflict, but the motive was never to please any man, but only to please God. This accounts for their boldness. They did not preach according to the people’s felt needs. They did not preach what made people feel good about Paul’s ministry so they would be sure to come back and be part of the relationships there. No, Paul says that his appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive. Instead, they preached only the Word God gave them to preach and put the result in God’s hands. If they did it the way its done the Seeker Sensitive way today it would not be that way I assure you. Paul says that he and Silas did not seek glory from people in any way. Watch the videos of these rock star leaders like Stephen Furtick and listen to Rick Warren pat himself on the back and you will hear exactly the opposite. It is all about “look at me and my ministry and what we have done for this many people and what we can do for you!” Now what was it that Paul and Silas preached to them again?
9 For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; 11 just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, 12 so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. 1 Thessalonians 2:9-12 (NASB)
Interesting isn’t it? The focus for Paul in his ministry was the gospel and making disciples. This is why we have all these epistles in the New Testament from Paul that are full of doctrine.
If you have read many of my posts then you know I am a big fan of Puritan John Bunyan. He was educated at a grammar school level. He learned his theology by studying the Bible and being discipled at his church. If you “moderned” up the language of one of his sermons a bit then took a sermon on the same subject from a theologian at the seminary at Chapel Hill then asked people to compare them to determine which came from the more educated man that most would say that Bunyan’s sermon would be the far more theologically advanced. Why is this so and what does this say? It is so because in our time these theologians are plagued with the fatal disease of being man pleasers while John Bunyan had no such problem. Also, Bunyan knew his Bible far better than most theologians in our time who have very advanced degrees. He learned his theology by studying the Bible not by wasting time in anything else.
When we are saved it is the result of God’s work from beginning to end. Our regeneration makes us new creations. Any unbelief that remains in us is part of the rebellious, fleshly past and is dealt with through the mortification of sins. Those long time Christian leaders who have turned away from the path and are now revealing hearts that are not marked by faith, but by sight. This is unbelief. Ministering as a man pleaser is also the fruit of unbelief. It is not ministering by faith, but by sight. Pragmatism, therefore, is not ministering by faith, but by sight. Pragmatism and being a man-pleaser go hand-in-hand.
Is it possible for an unbeliever to fake it for many years and appear to be a very popular Christian leader then eventually fall away in dramatic fashion? Yes, I believe that is possible, but I also believe it is possible for any Christian to make shipwreck of their faith, giving in to their flesh and become callous and hard toward God. These people may indeed be believers, but they are no longer in the race. I know a few pastors who lost their ministries due to divorce. They are now out of the ministry and have remarried. Does this mean they are not believers? Some would say so, but I don’t believe that. However, I know the devastation this has caused in their lives and in the lives of their families. I pray that none of you end up like that. Please pray for me that I don’t either.
Soli Deo Gloria!