Do you feel exhausted from trying to keep people happy all the time? You know God tells us to love others and yet something doesn’t feel right. Let’s see what the Bible truly has to say about being a people-pleaser and what you should be doing instead.
Why Do We Please People?
Firstly, let’s consider why we regularly seek to please people. Research says that the need to please people could be described more deeply as the need to belong. Belonging is a natural human need. God said ‘It is not good for man to be alone’. We genuinely do need people around us to live a happy life. While we may need people, but we don’t need everyone’s approval, especially if it is costing us our comfort or causing us to betray ourselves.
It is natural to fear being alone. If we are alone, we tend to think that we are unlovable or simply not good enough. Have you ever felt like this? It’s a truly horrendous feeling. But if you are living for the approval of others, you are actually placing your self-worth in their hands. The truth is that people are flawed. People make mistakes. People change their minds. And everyone is different. Taking one course of action may make one person happy and yet greatly distress someone else. Attaching your self-worth to the approval of others isn’t just unhealthy, it’s counter-productive.
People Pleasing Can Be Chronically Putting the Needs of Others Before Our Own:
If you’ve been in church for a while, you will have heard plenty of verses about serving. You know that the last shall be first and the first shall be last (Matthew 20:16). Jesus came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45). And that as followers of Jesus were are called to ‘deny ourselves (Matthew 16:24)’. We are told in church that our own needs are secondary to those of others. Unfortunately, you can’t pour from an empty tank. So many Christians experience burnout because they didn’t learn how to say no. They needed a rest but they still said yes because they thought it was ‘the Christian thing to do’.
We misinterpret these verses and believe that our needs don’t truly matter. Yet, Jesus tells us how much God cares about our needs (Matthew 6:32). Having healthy boundaries is imperative to lasting service. Yes, we are called to love others and serve in our church, our community and our workplace. It was never meant to be at the expense of our health or our sanity. When you start to betray your own needs, you may find that you begin serving with a bad attitude. There have been seasons in my life where I was given so much responsibility at work and it was almost impossible to complete all of the tasks expected of me as a leader in my church. Rather than actually communicate my work hours to my pastors and share that this was not sustainable, I continued to push myself through and show up to every meeting and extra-curricular event.
Do you know what? I had a bad attitude the whole time. I complained to my husband because I was stretched so thin. I was resentful that my pastors didn’t seem to value my work or that my full-time job as a Christian teacher was also serving God – and in fact, was my primary calling at that time. I had late nights at church and if I was tired the next morning at work, I would resent it for impeding my ability to serve with excellence in my workplace which was my primary calling. I didn’t even serve in church to please people. I just didn’t know how to communicate that what I was asked to do and what was expected of me were two entirely different job descriptions.
I was afraid of upsetting people. I was afraid of letting people down. I was afraid of going back on my word. In meetings, pastors would use this phrase, ‘People will say, Oh I can’t serve. I don’t have time. I’m a teacher’. I knew it wasn’t directed at me. I think they didn’t even realise how hurtful that phrase was. But nevertheless, it made me feel like I couldn’t say no because they wouldn’t understand. Instead of doing what was best for me, I sacrificed my needs for the sake of the church. My contribution may have made things easier for the team, but it wasn’t actually pleasing to God at all. I was serving my church but it wasn’t done in love. I served out of obligation and the Bible makes it very clear that God weighs the motives of the heart more than our actions.
In saying all of this, I have now learned that it is okay to say no and take care of my own needs. I encourage you to do the same. Let’s look a little deeper at some of the other issues that can cause us to find ourselves in these kinds of positions.
Often people-pleasing actions and motivations are driven by fear.
If you are prone to people-pleasing, it may be helpful to stop and reflect on some of the following questions:
- Am I afraid of being rejected or abandoned if I do something that displeases someone else?
- Where did that fear come from? Was there something in my childhood or was there a particular experience where I felt that?
- Am I afraid of conflict or being criticised by others?
- Have I experienced something specific that motivates me to avoid those experiences at all costs?
If you’re like me, you may find yourself saying something along the lines of, ‘I just want everyone to be happy’. ‘I don’t want others to be upset’. For me, I am a hugely empathetic person. I have described my empathetic tendencies as ‘debilitating’ at times. I didn’t grow up in a home where I was taught to regulate my own emotions. My parents were highly emotional and all of us would take on the emotions of each other and conflict would get very loud.
In my own reflection, I can see that my people-pleasing tendencies at times can be motivated by my own fears. I just want to make people happy because I am afraid of what will happen if they are not. I am afraid of feeling their emotions and not being able to handle the weight of them. For you, it may be something different. But generally, people-pleasing is a guise for self-pleasing. We may be ultimately trying to gain something (approval) or avoid something (conflict).
People Pleasing is Actually Self Pleasing
You may genuinely believe that you have the best interests of others at heart but the chances are that if you are a chronic people-pleaser, the person you are really looking out for is yourself. In my mind, I tell myself, ‘I don’t want to upset them’, which is 100% true. But the deeper issue is that I don’t want to feel their negative emotions myself. I don’t want to experience conflict. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to handle their emotions and I want to avoid feeling like that. If we are also constantly trying to keep people happy, when someone is upset, we can tell ourselves that we have failed. We can also take this on and it can feed that fear of not being good enough.
It’s ironic because you are sacrificing your needs ‘for the sake of others’. But really, what could be going on is that you are sacrificing your needs (rest, time etc.) for other things you think that you need (approval, elimination of conflict etc,). Most psychologists will tell you that there is a lot more of ‘self’ going on in these ‘others-orientated’ actions than we initially realise.
What does the Bible Say About People Pleasing? Bible Verses About Pleasing God and Not Man:
So now that we have established a little bit about people-pleasing and the motivation behind these behaviours, let’s look at what the Bible has to say about being a people-pleaser.
We Should Seek God’s Praise and Approval More Than The Approval of People
The most important thing to address is that we should be seeking God’s approval more than striving to please people and “make them happy”. There are many verses in the Bible where this concept of people-pleasing vs pleasing God is addressed. Here are a few:
Paul said, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”(Galatians 1:10)
This verse cuts deep. It challenges us that if we are motivated by the desire to please others, then we aren’t servants of Christ. As people who dedicate so much time to serving God, this can be a really challenging concept. Paul makes it clear. You choose one or you choose the other. Who are you trying to please? Who are you working for or performing for? Unfortunately, there will be people who believe Jesus in their hearts but will be more concerned with what others think:
Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in [Jesus]. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God”.(John 12:42-43)
In the book of Acts, Peter and the other apostles talk about their faith in Jesus. They are told to stop preaching the message and after this encounter, they are actually flogged. Nevertheless, here is what they had to say:
Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! …. When [the Sanhedrin] heard this [testimony of Jesus rising from the dead], they were furious and wanted to put them to death.(Acts 5:29)
Paul explained that we only have one master. There is only one person we should be trying to please and we can’t afford to be distracted by the things other people worry about. He says,
“Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.“(2 Timothy 2:3-4).
God is our commanding officer. Any other commands that contradict what he has asked of us must be ignored. We only have one master. We need to seek God’s approval more than being concerned about pleasing people. The Bible makes this very clear.
God Tests Our Heart and The Motives Behind Our Actions
While people may see our actions, God sees our hearts. We may be able to ‘keep others happy’ by saying or doing what is right in their eyes, but God sees our motives as well. We can be acting in a way that appears godly but if we are doing it motivated by selfish gain or our actions are done out of fear or obligation then God will not be so impressed. Here are some verses which speak about the attitude of the heart.
“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”(1 Samuel 16:7)
“We speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else“(1 Thessalonians 2:4-6)
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.”(Ephesians 6:5-9)
This is a great reminder to sit with God and ask yourself what your true motives are. Ask him to reveal to you any impure motives and to show you what he asks of you today.
We Are Called To Obey God Even if People Don’t Understand
Unfortunately, being a follower of Jesus means that there will be many times when others don’t understand why you do things the way you do. I cannot tell you how many people asked me why my husband and I wanted to get married before we moved in together. To everyone else, the way Christians live is counter-cultural. I know that when I started sharing the Gospel with fervour on my Instagram page, some of my friends stopped following me. They couldn’t understand why I was so zealous. When you’re living like this, you simply can’t care what others think. You need to stand your ground and do what you know is right according to the Bible.
Paul explains that being obedient to Christ meant that he was put in chains:
“This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.”(2 Timothy 2:8-10)
In the end, Paul was actually killed, as were all except one of the other disciples. They were more concerned with obeying and pleasing God, even when the religious teachers at the time didn’t understand. Even when it cost them their very lives. Imagine if they cared more about what others thought of them? We would never know of Jesus today!
The Praise of People is a Temporary Reward – The Reward from God is Eternal
Maybe your love language is words of affirmation. There is nothing wrong with being thanked or praised by others. But you can’t live off the praise of people. I know someone like this. Always looking to impress. Always fishing for a compliment. As a friend, it is truly exhausting how much the person needs their self-worth propped up. Human praise only goes so far. It only energises you for so long. And then, if you’re addicted, you’ll do something else to get another shot.
Jesus speaks about earthly praise vs heavenly praise. He explained that if you do things so that others will see you and praise you, then you have received your reward in full. But better things are in store for those who wait to receive their reward from God in heaven. This is what he says,
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”(Matthew 5:1-4)
Whether it is verbal praise, money, gifts, fame or status, none of these things will last with us in the next life. Jesus warned us:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”(Matthew 6:19-21)
We are Called to Deny Our Impulses and Desires To Please Others
It may come naturally for you to try to please people. Perhaps you were raised in such a way that you were taught that your job was to keep people happy and maintain the emotional equilibrium of others. Speak to any trained psychologist and they will tell you that this is entirely unhealthy. It’s something you need to learn to let go of. There comes a point where Jesus asks us to give up the things that are comfortable and familiar for His Perfect Ways.
“Then [Jesus] said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”(Luke 9:23-25)
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”(Galatians 2:20)
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”(2 Corinthians 5:14-15)
From these verses, it is quite clear that there are things that God requires us to give up. Being a people-pleaser as a Christian is one of them. It is not Biblical or beneficial.
Jesus Was the Opposite of a People Pleaser.
I was looking up verses to share for this section. There are too many to count. If you would like to read more about this, flip open to any chapter in the Gospels and you will see how both Jesus actions and words infuriated the Pharisees. They regularly told him he was blaspheming or told him off for healing on the Sabbath. Jesus always had some smart rebuttal. He definitely was in no way trying to be accepted by the other teachers of the law. Right from the start, they wanted to kill him for what he said. And in the end #spoileralert they did, in fact, murder Jesus.
At no point was Jesus at all concerned with what people thought about him. He proclaimed who he was and yet he was misunderstood. Jesus was intentionally antagonistic in an attempt to uncover the truth. If Jesus was not concerned with the opinion of people, why then, as followers of Jesus do we think being a Christian means we need to be a people pleaser?
We Are Called To Love People – Not To Please Them (There is a Difference!)
I think this is something that people often get confused about. We think that loving people is the same and making people happy. We equate people-pleasing with loving people and therefore a fulfilment of God’s command to love others. But what did Jesus really say?
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”(John 13:34-35)
“The most important [commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”(Mark 12:29-31)
Before we are called to love people, we are called to love God. If our loving actions toward people are dishonouring God or we care about their opinion of us more than we care about God’s opinion of us, then we have it wrong. You can love someone without pleasing them. I love my daughter by giving her a healthy breakfast even though she would love to eat biscuits when she wakes up. Sometimes she isn’t happy that she doesn’t get what she wants. My job isn’t to keep her happy. It’s to teach her to be healthy and responsible. That is also loving.
Setting boundaries can also be loving. Telling someone ‘no’ can be loving. We need to change the way we think about ‘loving others’. We don’t have to give up our lives for everyone every moment of the day. That’s not sustainable and it’s not what Christ has asked us to do.
We are Called To Be a Light, To Be Authentic and People of Integrity.
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”(Matthew 5:13-16)
It doesn’t say, ‘let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and commend you on your achievement’! Your good works toward others are meant to point others toward God.
For us to stand out in this world, we need to be different. We need to be salty rather than trying to blend in with others. We shouldn’t hide our light because we are afraid of what people will think of our faith. We are called to be true representations of God’s light on Earth so that others can come to know him. As soon as we start being concerned with our own appearance, it muddies the waters. People can sense the confusion. Our purpose needs to be clear. We live not for ourselves but for God.
The Bible says, “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord”(Romans 14:7-8)
We are called to not just read our Bibles but to actually do what it says. We are called to be people of integrity. We shouldn’t change who we are or how we behave based on the ever-changing expectations of other people.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it-not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”(James 1:22-25)
Some Final Thoughts on People-Pleasing and The Bible
Hopefully, now you have seen enough verses to understand that God really does not support our striving for human praise. He wants us to be so focused on serving him alone. He doesn’t want us to be distracted from our purpose because we are too busy swaying side to side to meet each person’s expectations. We are called to be strong people, not doormats! I hope these verses have given you something to think about. This is by no means a comprehensive post on this topic, despite it being nearly 4000 words! I also still have so much to learn.
Share Your Thoughts Below!
I would genuinely love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
What are your experiences with people-pleasing?
Why do you think people-pleasing seems to have become a part of Christian culture despite it being unbiblical?
How have you learned to overcome to need to ‘keep people happy’?
What taught you to focus on God?
May we grow stronger together.
In Christ’s Love,