I am a recovering people-pleaser. Everyone likes for people to be happy with them, but this impulse has led me to compromise what I believe is right, do things I am not comfortable with, and grow upset or depressed when others are mad at me.
Jesus points out people-pleasing as unhealthy and spiritually dangerous.
People-pleasing impedes faith. He interrogates a group of unbelieving Jews: “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”(John 5:44). Whose “glory” do we seek? Who do we want most to be happy with us? If people are this important to us, faith (the unseen) will always take a backseat to people (the seen).
People-pleasing robs us of courage. How can we stand up to people when we feel so strongly that we need their approval? John tells us of some Jewish rulers who believed in Jesus, “but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God”(John 12:42-43). We need courage to follow Jesus—bucking the trends of our culture, insisting on holiness in our own lives, and holding up under the assaults of skeptics. People-pleasing makes us afraid.
How do we overcome it?
We seek God’s glory. Jesus says flatly, “I do not receive glory from people”(John 5:41). His self-worth and praise come from another source. He is driven by what God thinks of him and his choices. People can think what they want. For his disciples, each moral issue or concern boils down to the simple question: Will God be pleased with me if I do this?
We serve in secret. In advanced cases, people-pleasing can lead us to do good things just so that people will see us and respect us (see Matt 6:1-18 and Matt 23:4-7). Jesus’ antidote is to give, pray, fast, and do our righteous deeds where no one can see us (Matt 6:1, 3, 6, 17-18). This is brilliant. It sifts our motives. If we are people-pleasers, we will have little use for service to Jesus that the broader world overlooks. Do I still serve Jesus when no one else knows?
We remember that others’ rejection is their problem. Jesus excels at this. He never seems to take rejection personally: “I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you”(John 5:41-42). Notice that Jesus pins their rejection on them, not him! He does the same with those who reject him in his hometown (Luke 4:22-30). He encourages his disciples not to take rejection of their message personally (Luke 10:16). Of course, it is always appropriate to consider whether we are at fault. Yet even when we are doing right, there are some people we will never be able to please. When others do not like some superficial trait about me—or treat me poorly—or do not respect godly priorities in me—or are unwilling to accept some imperfect part of me--that is not my problem. People-pleasing is not always possible—and Jesus teaches me to be OK with that.
As Jesus works on my unhealthy devotion to people’s approval, I find freedom. I can make my own choices without worrying about their popularity. I find courage to say and do what I believe is right. I find comfort in knowing that God is pleased with me. And I find peace in knowing that others’ rejection is not my business.