Pleasing God or Pleasing People?

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Matthew 16:23

When Jesus told His disciples that He had to go to Jerusalem and be killed, Peter said, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Most of us would have said something similar: “We won’t let that happen; we’ll defend you, and so will hundreds of other people.”

Peter was probably surprised by Jesus’ response, “Get behind me, Satan!” That comment was directed, I believe, to Satan. But the following words were meant for Peter who had let Satan speak through him. Jesus said, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”  When we want to please people rather than God, we are a stumbling block to them, and we open ourselves up to being used by Satan.

Peter might have expected Jesus to be pleased with his concern and loyalty. But Jesus’ words indicate that He heard Peter suggesting that He take an easier route to avoid suffering. Jesus wanted to please God. That meant doing God’s will God’s way. That meant dying and then being resurrected from the dead (Matthew 16:21).

In 1 Thessalonians 2:4-6 Paul writes about people-pleasing tricks used by some such as flattering speech or putting on a mask or pretext to cover up our real motives. The word please used here means “to strive to please, to accommodate one’s self to the opinions, desires, and interests of others; to please oneself and therefore to have an eye to one’s own interests.”* People-pleasing is ultimately self serving. We please others so they’ll be pleased with us.

As the time approached for Jesus to be taken up to heaven, He “resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51 NIV) Other translations say Jesus set His face “steadfastly” or “like flint.” He was determined to please God the Father and do His will.

Are you determined to please God and do His will even when people are not pleased with you? Is your mind on the things of God or the things of men?


What acts of people-pleasing do you see in Jesus’ instructions on giving (Matthew 6:1-4), praying (Matthew 6:5-15), forgiving (Matthew 6:12, 14-15), and fasting (Matthew 6:16-18)? How can you please God in these things?

Read Galatians 1:6-12. How did Paul contrast his preaching and that of some others? Does verse 10 imply that the different gospel these others were preaching sought the approval of men rather than God?

Read 2 Timothy 4:1-8. What does Paul instruct Timothy to do in spite of any opposition he might find? How does he encourage Timothy to believe it will be worthwhile as he describes his own expected reward for pleasing God rather than tickling ears with what people wanted to hear?

Nancy J. Baker

*Greek transliterations and their definitions are taken from the lexicon provided by

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