Here is a useful description of a particular kind of person: “Someone everyone considers helpful and kind. When you need help with a project or someone to help you study for an exam, they’re more than willing to step up” (webmd.com, Oct. 25, 2021). That sounds terrific, doesn’t it? Being considered helpful and kind is a great goal, but this is the description of a people pleaser.
The article continues, “Signs you may be a people pleaser can include: Agreeing with whoever is in front of you.” You say things you don’t really believe to avoid a conflict with that person’s opinions.
Another sign is, “Apologizing for things that aren’t your fault.” Now, that might mean you are Canadian—I kid—but it could mean you are a people pleaser. “If someone feels bad, you may blame yourself or fear that person thinks you’re the problem. It’s good to say you’re sorry if you’ve hurt someone, but there may be a deeper issue if you’re frequently apologizing for things you have no control over.”
Another people pleasing tendency is, “Not being able to say no. If you find it difficult to tell others no when they ask you for something, you may be a people pleaser. Many people pleasers prefer making up excuses later to get out of a commitment instead of saying no from the start. If you do follow through, you can regret not having the strength to stand up for yourself.” You say yes when you mean no, and then flake out later because you never intended to say yes in the first place.
Another sign: “Changing your personality depending on who’s around you. People pleasers tend to shift their behavior and attitude to match that of the person or group. That can lead to you acting in ways that are out of character or participating in actions you disagree with just to fit in socially. People pleasers tend to do anything possible to avoid conflict, even if it means turning into an entirely different person.”
Do any of these signs sound familiar? Are you a people pleaser? This is an easy trap to fall into because everyone wants to be liked and accepted. But this mindset can create big problems and lead us into behaviors we should avoid.
Who Comes First?
In Galatians 1:10, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” The Revised Standard Version reads, “Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ.”
If Paul had been trying to win a popularity contest, he could not have been a servant of Christ. You cannot be a people pleaser and be a servant of God. Yes, God wants—even commands—us to love and serve others. He commands that we be servants to other people. But He is also a jealous God and does not want us to have any other gods before Him.
You could be putting pleasing people ahead of pleasing God. Serving God and doing the right thing means that you may become unpopular. There are times when you have to accept and embrace friction: This is who I am and what I stand for. If you don’t like it, then that’s just tough.
Chancellor Gerald Flurry has said that Imperial Academy and Armstrong College are here to train leaders. This is the West Point of God’s Church. We are training leaders for God. You cannot be a godly leader and a people pleaser!
Paul and other leaders of the Bible had to build this mindset. They needed to learn that God always comes first.
Peter and John were arrested by religious leaders and brought before their council for preaching the truth. “And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18).
Satan is a bully. He intimidates. He causes people in the world to go along with his way of thinking. He gets people to bully, badger and intimidate others all the time. God’s apostles were preaching the truth, and these men said: You, shut up! Do not preach that way anymore!
We are all subject to intimidation. We are all vulnerable to being bullied. I recently heard an interview between two prominent doctors discussing that when covid-19 lockdowns were put into effect, a lot of bullying went along with it. If doctors disagreed with the lockdowns, they were silenced, blacklisted and kicked out of their jobs. There were many professionals, successful adults who knew the truth but shut their mouths and succumbed to the bullying.
Put yourself in that situation. It’s easy to criticize those doctors who caved in to the pressure, but we have never experienced the kind of pressure those men did. Experience that kind of pressure and see how brave you are. Satan bullies people all the time—and young people are susceptible to it as much or more than anyone.
A Daily Mail article titled, “What It’s Really Like to Be a Pupil Today as Trans Hysteria Grips our Schools,” was written by a 14-year-old girl attending a school in southeast England. She wrote, “It feels like trans is all anyone talks about.” The teachers and administrators are pushing this movement, and there is enormous peer pressure. There are definitely students becoming transgender because of the pressure.
She wrote, “It felt as if they joined in because it meant they were seen as cool. You get special treatment if you say you are trans or non-binary and suddenly become the center of attention when you ‘come out.’”
Satan takes advantage of this desire to fit in. Obviously, nothing this dramatic has happened in God’s schools, but we have had problems. We are all susceptible to the pressure to go along with the desires of others to please people rather than God.
Acts 4:19-20 continue, “But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard’” (rsv). 1 Thessalonians 2:4 says, “but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please men, but to please God who tests our hearts” (Revised Standard Version).
They weren’t trying to please men. They weren’t afraid of what men would do or say. They could not have done their jobs if they’d been concerned about that.
Acts 5:27-29 say, “And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”
How real is God to you? Do you fear Him enough not to fear people—what they think or say? Some have been coaxed into doing things they knew were wrong. They didn’t like it and didn’t want to do it, but went along because they were too afraid to stand up for themselves.
The problem of people-pleasing shows in a lot of different ways. But disobeying God to please people is the most obvious and egregious example.
People-pleasing shows when you see someone doing something wrong and look the other way to avoid confrontation: That is their problem or I don’t want anything to do with that. Maybe you are among people saying or doing inappropriate things, and you go along or join in. Someone confides in you something you know they should not be doing or thinking and you just act like it’s OK. You don’t want to come across as better than them, so you keep quiet.
These people-pleasing tendencies destroy your ability to lead. They destroy God’s ability to use you to build the Body.
Exodus 23:2 says, “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment.” That is essentially saying, don’t be a people pleaser; don’t follow the crowd; don’t go along with something you know is wrong. Every single one of us has to be willing to take a stand and say no!
Don’t Be Afraid
People-pleasing is a product of insecurity. If I just go along, then people will accept me. There are more subtle ways in which this character flaw shows: you might act like the people around you; you pretend to agree with everyone even when you don’t; you can’t say no.
It can be great to be reliable—the go-to guy. However, there’s a point where that can become overly burdensome, and you begin resenting someone for making so many demands. Are you too nice to say anything about it? It’s good to examine your motives: Am I doing this because I’m afraid to say no? Am I doing this because I genuinely want to help people? Is this what God wants me to do? Or am I just too afraid to have an uncomfortable conversation?
It’s one thing to avoid starting a conflict, but if you avoid conflict at all costs, you won’t stand up for what you believe in or the people you believe in. You will just go along in order to keep the peace.
Look to Christ’s example. He served people all the time and kept the law perfectly. But He was no people pleaser. Matthew 22:15-16 say, “Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.” Verse 16 in the New International Version says, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are.” The English Standard Version says, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.”
These people opposed Christ and tried to entrap Him, but they knew He didn’t do anything to receive recognition from people. He didn’t make His decisions based on what other people thought. He lived in a way that showed He was a man of unshakable principle. Can people say this about you? You are not swayed by opinions. I know that about you.
Christ was a servant, but He was not a people pleaser. John 5:41 says, “I receive not honour from men.” I don’t accept glory from people. I’m not interested in crowd approval. What motivated Christ? He wanted to obey His Father. That was the guiding principle in everything Christ did. If that created problems with the people around Him, so be it. That is the way Christ thought—that is the way He conducted Himself.
What about you? It’s very easy to go along with others, join the crowd, prioritize their opinions over what is right. In the short term, it’s a lot more problematic to go along when people are doing the wrong thing. Ultimately, you have to move past even following people to do the right thing. If you’re only doing the right thing because everyone around you is doing it, at some point, you won’t do that anymore. The support won’t be there, and you are not going to make it.
You have to build a strong relationship with God. Seek His approval, and love Him with all your heart. The opinions of people around you are totally secondary to what God thinks.
Where to Gain Confidence
Here’s another sign of a people pleaser: “Your worth depends on how others see you. People pleasers need validation from others to feel good about themselves. They can go to extremes to earn words of praise from others. The confidence of a people pleaser rises and falls based on how others perceive them” (webmd.com).
Do you have to receive praise from others to feel good about yourself? Do you do things only because you want praise? Is that what you are after? A man named Lecrae Moore said, “If you live for people’s acceptance, you’ll die from their rejection.”
Christ faced all kinds of opposition during His ministry. John 12:37 and 42 say, “But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him … Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue.”
Some of the leading men, the authorities, were very impressed with Christ and believed what He preached. But because of the Pharisees, they did not want to confess it outright. They believed, but they didn’t want to say it because they feared the Pharisees’ reaction. “… lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (verses 42-43).
John gets right to the heart of the problem. It’s a real mark of maturity to get to the point where if you receive praise from God, that is good enough. As long as God is happy with what I’m doing, that’s good enough for me. Very few people make it to that point.
Christ directly interacted with thousands of people, healing hundreds and hundreds of people. But by the end of His ministry, only 120 disciples were willing to stick with Christ after He had been savagely crucified.
Even the Apostle Peter denied Christ. When the people said, Weren’t you associated with Christ? He said, No, I don’t know anything about that! Peter had people-pleasing tendencies. A major reason why Christ didn’t have more people stick with Him was because they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.
Satan turned the mob away from Christ, and many thought it was too costly to follow Him. We have to learn not to be swayed by Satan. If you have people-pleasing tendencies, Satan will use that to manipulate you. Being a people pleaser is building your life on sand. When storms and pressures come, your principles will be swept away.
Build your house on a rock. Look to God for your sense of worth. Let Him define who you are, what’s important to you, and what you stand for. Look to Him for motivation, for confidence. Don’t be afraid to stand up and tell the truth even if it means confrontation, even if it’s uncomfortable.
If you’re in the habit of people-pleasing, then work to get out of it. Learn to say no in something small and express your opinion about simple things. In your relationships, don’t pretend to be someone you are not—be genuine. If there’s something you disagree with, don’t just go along but take a stand for what you believe. God will give you more confidence with every step forward you take.
Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe.” Fearing people is a dangerous trap, trusting God is where you will be safe. Avoid the trap of being a people pleaser and become a God pleaser.