And right there you have the problem with the much of the American church today, and much of the church of history: striving for the wrong approval and working to please the wrong person. Was St. Paul cold-hearted or indifferent to the needs of others? Surely not. He didn’t purposefully offend. Far from that, he went out of his way to avoid giving offense in his ministry, but never at the expense of law and gospel, never at the expense of the centrality of Jesus Christ, for without the proper distinction of law and gospel and the centrality of Christ there is no God-pleasing and truly Christian ministry.
Paul says, “If I were still trying to please man,” and pay attention to that “still.” There was a time when he was zealous for the approval of colleagues and the people, and that was when he was a Pharisee, progressing quickly up the ranks, an impressive pupil of the leading teachers and a promising rabbinical prospect. Those days had passed, though. Why? Because Christ had knocked him off of his high horse, so to speak, and rather literally. While on his way to persecute Christians Jesus Christ had appeared to him and made him a Christian himself. And for a faithful Christian, pleasing Christ and Christ’s approval is paramount, much more important than pleasing or receiving approval from anyone or anything else.
Remember that. Who have you been trying to please lately? Whose approval have you sought? Whatever the answers, if Christ has not come first, repent, and rearrange your priorities. Remember also that your pastor and church also need to have their priorities in order. Christ comes first. Everything else is secondary. What Christ says is what the church must proclaim. What Christ wills is what the church must seek. What Christ loves is what the church must love. What Christ commands is what the church must obey. Christ is the foundation, the focus, and the future. Will the church in the process please some and receive their approval? Most certainly, but not because of carefully crafted and weasely schemes, but rather because Christ has promised that His Spirit will bless His bride’s efforts in His name—here more, there less, now in this manner, then in that manner, all as He sees fit, all in Him, all through His Word and Sacraments, and in no other way. All else is icing on a cow pie. It may catch your fancy, but in the end it does not nourish, and is fit only for the fire.
Your heavenly Father loves to be pleased with you. And He is not hard to please, because where He sees His dear Jesus, there He sees His child, innocent and perfect. Remain in Christ, His Word, His promises, His way, and His name. Delight to please Him, repent when you grieve Him, and know that through faith in His kindness you have the Father’s approval, you are His own dear creature and child, made His own in Baptism and in the Good Shepherd’s care. And do that not alone, but with your fellow Christians, who gather together to serve the same Lord of the same tender mercy, who support the ministry of the Word for their own edification and preservation as well as the conversion and salvation of their neighbors.