Whom Are We Trying to Please?
1 Thessalonians 2:2-4
by Jeff Ropp
In recent months my understanding of Matt 7:13-14 has been filled with new meaning and appreciation as a result of facing opposition to the gospel of Free Grace. Matthew 7:13-14 reads:
Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Clearly Jesus is telling us that those who respond favorably to His gospel are a minority. "Few are those who believe in Me alone for eternal life," Jesus is saying. The majority of people will reject the truth that believing in Christ alone for eternal life is enough to guarantee one's eternal destiny. They will embrace a different gospel which emphasizes faith in Christ plus something else. According to the majority, such things as a commitment to obey, turning from sin, partaking of the Lord's Supper, baptism, social activism, or submission to Christ's Lordship must accompany faith in Christ for eternal life.
Because the majority of people will reject Christ's free offer of eternal life, we may be tempted to compromise the gospel message so the majority will not reject us. For example, a few months ago while I was meeting with two pastors from our community, the topic of salvation was addressed. Both of these pastors believed that a Christian could lose his or her salvation, and they could not understand how I could believe otherwise. After explaining how the Bible teaches eternal security, they still had a difficult time grasping this concept. I then began to wonder how many other pastors in my town believed the same as they did. I spoke to one other pastor who I thought might believe in Free Grace, and found that he did not.
This last December I was banned from speaking in a church because I had stated at a previous service there that one does not have to be baptized with water or turn from sin to obtain eternal life. After quoting John 6:47, I simply said that all one has to do is believe Jesus' promise to give eternal life to those who believe in Him. This is not what the elders of that church believed, so they said I would not be permitted to speak again in their church.
These two incidents made me realize that the majority of churches in town did not appear to hold to the freeness of the gospel. I wondered why our church seemed to be the only one that believes in faith alone in Christ alone.
In a discussion with some of our own church elders, the topic of saving faith and assurance came up. One of the men made the comment that if saving faith means being 100% sure you're going to heaven, then 90% of professing Christians are not saved. Now I don't know if his figure is accurate, but I do believe that his comment expresses a common concern about how few people truly believe that faith alone in Christ alone for eternal life guarantees one's eternal destiny.
It can be very intimidating to be the only church in town or in the county to preach the gospel of Free Grace, especially when many churches on TV and Christian radio are preaching something other than faith alone in Christ alone. We may feel pressured to compromise the gospel so that more people will come to our churches. Or we might be tempted to mix good works with the salvation message so other churches will perceive us to be a part of the mainstream.
An essential question to ask ourselves at this point is this: "Whom are we really trying to please by preaching this kind of message? Is it the Lord, or people?" More than one Christian has compromised the freeness of the gospel to be accepted among men. How can we avoid being people-pleasers when preaching the gospel of Free Grace? How can we develop greater courage to proclaim the freeness of eternal life in the midst of opposition?
The apostle Paul offers some helpful hints in 1 Thess 2:2-4. He states in v 2:
But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict.
Paul was bold even in the midst of opposition. Before coming to Thessalonica, Paul experienced suffering and spiteful treatment at Philippi. According to Acts 16:19-24, Paul and Silas were arrested on false charges, stripped, severely beaten without trial, and then thrown into prison where their feet were fastened in stocks.
If I had been Paul, I would have wanted to keep a low profile when I arrived at Thessalonica—at least until my back healed from the severe beating! But when Paul arrived, he spoke the gospel of God with boldness. And guess what? He faced opposition again. As 1 Thess 2:2 says he spoke "the gospel of God in much conflict" (cf. Acts 17:1-9). Paul was not intimidated by the opposition. He was not afraid to proclaim the freeness of the gospel. But when we are criticized for preaching the freeness of eternal life, we may quiet down. When people start threatening to leave our churches or withhold their finances, we may zip our lips shut. Paul faced opposition and yet he spoke boldly. How could he do that? He explains how in 1 Thess 2:3-4:
For our exhortation did not come from deceit or uncleanness, nor was it in guile. But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.
In v 3 Paul explains that the gospel did not originate from error or "deceit." Nor did it come from "uncleanness" or impurity. It was not sourced in "guile" or trickery. The free offer of eternal life is not a mistake, is not illegal, and is not a trick. Paul knew that the gospel message was not contrived by man. He knew that the message he preached was from God (cf. Gal 1:11-12). Paul acknowledges that the gospel was entrusted to him by God. Therefore, he proclaims the gospel not to please men, but to please God, "who tests our hearts."
When we are convinced that the gospel message is from God, we will be more concerned about pleasing Him than people. And if our motive is to please Him, then we will proclaim His message boldly without regard to the responses we receive from men.
Colossians 3:23-24 offers a timely reminder:
And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.
Holding fast to the freeness of the gospel will be worth all the opposition and rejection that Satan can throw at us, because "payday" is coming. Christ will richly reward those who faithfully proclaim His message of Free Grace.
Jeff Ropp is the teaching elder at Community Bible Fellowship in Medicine Lodge, KS where he and his wife Pat live with their three daughters, Grace, Haley, and Hope.