As a motivator for some years now, I often challenged teens not to conform to peer pressure but to let God’s Word transform their thoughts and actions (Romans 12:2 NKJV). Recently, I realized we adults suffer from a subtler form of this problem called people pleasing.
Those of us who dislike conflict and change (or is that all of us?) find this problem particularly painful. If we’re going to conquer it, though, we have to take an honest look at the pitfalls of putting others’ opinions over what we know God has asked us to do.
Pitfall #1: Pretense over Transparency
Perfectionism often goes hand-in-hand with people-pleasing. We want others to think we have our lives, jobs, and relationships immaculately intact. We crave acceptance and applause at the cost of quenching the impact our messy, imperfect stories can make.
Can you imagine if the Apostle Paul had attempted to cover up his past crimes against Christians? He would never have gained anyone’s trust or been half as effective in spreading the gospel. Instead, he proclaimed from the rooftops “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15 NKJV).
Are we afraid God can’t use cracked vessels? A quick study of Scripture reveals the very opposite is true. In fact, He chooses the most unlikely people to accomplish His will. Yes, transparency makes us vulnerable, but it can also open doors to the most unexpected, amazing places.
Pitfall #2: Conformity over Convictions
Think about some “gray areas” where godly people often hold varying convictions. Keep in mind that a conviction is a personal belief, not a gold standard.
Since we just talked about transparency, I’ll give a personal example: With rare exception, I don’t watch R-rated movies.Now, does the Bible say, “Thou shalt not watch R-rated movies?” Of course not. In fact, I have friends who can see past the content while still enjoying the story, and I’m happy they can.
If I went to such a movie just so I didn’t “make waves” in a party, I wouldn’t hurt anyone but myself. In I Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul cautions against injuring our consciences or someone else’s. However, other people can’t respect our convictions if we aren’t open about them. It’s better to be lovingly honest and remember that true friends will respect our boundaries if we communicate what they are.
Pitfall #3: Peacekeeping over Conflict
Gray areas aside, life does contain black and white, right and wrong. God’s Word provides clear direction on many topics this world condones as “socially acceptable” or “freedom of choice.” It also makes plain there’s only one path to heaven through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV).
Certainly, there are times to keep quiet. Several years back during an election, I was acting as manager in my department. Needless to say, the candidates and their controversial platforms often became a heated break room topic. I kept a smile on my lips and my mouth shut, because I didn’t want to lose my effectiveness as manager.
However, we can all think of other situations when staying quiet becomes wrong, because silence often indicates acceptance. In those cases, people-pleasing can hurt our testimony and hinder opportunities to share the gospel. Whether at risk for rejection or not, we need to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15 NKJV).