A Liberating Truth for People Pleasers
Word on the street was that Greg started a cult.
The rumor began with someone I thought was a friend. A big name on the university football team, a go-to on the field — a hater behind my back.
When I heard what he was saying, my first response was frustration. If the natural response is fight or flight, I found myself gravitating toward the former. But God was gracious, and soon I calmed down.
The emotion that took its place next, however, caught me off guard: regret. Had I said something too extreme? Had I been a little too vocal? Should I have lingered a little more at their parties and laughed a little more at their jokes? I failed to win him. And now, how many others would stay away from our Bible study because of his slander?
From there, the descent was gradual. I started to be invited out less and less. I saw pictures of different parties and cabin getaways on Facebook. Lines began to be drawn, and I was on the other side. Wallowing in self-pity and shame, wishing I had been a cooler Christian, Jesus confronted me one night through his word.
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18–20)
Maybe I was excluded and lied about, not because I failed as an evangelist, but instead because King Jesus had chosen me. Maybe Christ was the cause. Maybe I was not of this world. If I was of this world, Jesus had said, the world would love me as its own. But if I was his own, the world would persecute me.
That night in God’s word, my weaning from people pleasing began. One of the most liberating, expectation-changing, Jesus-endorsed truths that set me free was the tried and true statement, Haters gon’ hate.
Before that night, I had sinful expectations. Secretly, I was hoping to be loved by God and the world. Secretly, I wanted God to change my life but not my reputation. I didn’t want to be a Ned Flanders. I wanted to be liked — for Christ or otherwise. I, the servant, had expected to be treated more favorably than my Master — and the world chose a murderer over him.
But I was not greater than my Master. I would not — and should not — be liked by everyone. Jesus wasn’t. I should be thought well of by outsiders (1 Timothy 3:7) — many should see a good lifestyle and approve of it — but Jesus’s word to every follower of his would come to pass: “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22).
Through my teammate’s slander, some at the university were defriending me. Instead of this being an embarrassment or a failure, it was the natural consequence of being Christ’s. I was a citizen of another realm, no longer who I used to be. And as E.T. illustrated way back in the 80s, people often dislike what they do not understand.
Do you expect to be liked by everyone?
Paul taught that everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). He did not say, “Just the awkward, hyper-spiritual, loud-mouthed-and-lacking-love believer.” He said all. And to help us, God gave us a book full of godly, yet hated men and women pursuing righteousness.
Are you more well-liked than your Master?
No amount of winsomeness or political correctness will make us loveable to a world that crucified our Jesus, if he really is our Lord. And we shouldn’t seek to be the world’s friend: “Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). What will it take to make the world love us as its own? Compromise.
Proclaim Christ a little less; indulge a little more. Hide your light under a basket. Become less salty. Keep your faith to yourself. Warm yourself at the fires of this world, and keep it low-key. But Jesus offers a warning and a blessing to pierce the temptation to people please through compromise:
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” (Luke 6:22)
Beware when all speak well of you. Be surprised if no one despises your faith, your zeal, your singular devotion to Christ. Examine yourself if you never give offense to anyone. You may be seeking to receive your glory from men instead of God (John 5:44). You may be striving to please man in a way that disqualifies you from serving Christ (Galatians 1:10).
But blessed are you when they hate and exclude you for his name’s sake. Blessed are you when haters hate, for it is evidence that you are his (John 15:19). “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13), but rejoice. For “it has been granted [literally, “graced”] to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29). Endure, and you will be sons of the Most High, and your treasure will be great in heaven (Luke 6:23).
Expecting the antagonism of our neighbors, co-workers, and family members is one of the first steps to actually loving them. If we never expect enemies, we might spend our lives trying to make sure we don’t have enemies instead of accepting it and doing good to them anyways. But Jesus assumes the world’s hostility and commands,
“Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35–36)
The world loves those who love them back. But when our enemies hate us — and some will — we return them good. As Charles Spurgeon quipped, kindness is our revenge. Goodness heaps hot coals on their heads (Romans 12:20), and finds a way to do it in love.
But it is hard to avenge ourselves with love when we are frantically trying to get everyone to like us. We can spend so much time trying to avoid being disliked that we never give much thought to how to respond when hate inevitably comes. We double down on our efforts to win them over, often by concealing our love for Jesus, instead of being who he has made us while doing good. God says that some will never be our friends, and he instructs us on how to respond to them: with love.
Carl Trueman observes, “A man without enemies is a man without honor.” Jesus says that a Christian without enemies is a servant unlike his Lord. And a man unlike Christ is not truly wise or happy.
Yet Jesus says,
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” (Luke 6:22–23)
What the world excludes, God calls blessed. The one spurned, reviled, rejected, for Christ’s name, is called child. Haters are gonna hate us because they hated him first (John 15:18). But when they do, our response is not fear, sorrow, anger, or regret. It is a joy that leaps at being associated with Christ and a love that avenges their hate with kindness.