The Disease To Please

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Spiritual Life


A Meditation on John 5:44.

Deep within the human psyche, in many ways tainted, twisted and perverted by┬ásin, lays a powerful need to be accepted by others. All of us want to feel connected to those who accept us for who we are. But “peer pressure” can have a downside. In her best-selling book, psychologist-author Harriet Braiker called it, The Disease to Please. [1] This disease can plague those in Christian ministry. By the way, that’s all of us! But the need for acceptance and approval from others raises an important issue every true believer must deal with, and it is this: Do we do what we do for acceptance, approval, adulation, and applause from peers, or do we do what we do by faith for the glory of God?

This issue ever confronts the motives of God’s ministers. Admittedly, I have spent many early Sunday mornings wrestling and agonizing over whether or not to say this or that, all the while being conscious that if I preach this people will be offended, and if I preach that God’s truth will not be honored. More often than not, I find myself between the Rock and a hard place! (See Deuteronomy 32:4.). I might also confess that praise can be as disconcerting as it is seductive. As many of you know, after preaching I, like many other pastors, tend to get melancholy as a gnawing debate occurs within me as I question whether I attempted to honor God or man. (By the way, very often pastors cannot do both!)

If directed toward God, the desire to please Him has an upside, but if directed toward people, the desire has a downside. Jesus addressed the religious folk in His day about it. He boldly told them, “I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves” (John 5:42). From our perspective, believing He is the Son of God and knowing the spiritual condition of the Pharisees at that time, these words do not appear harsh and judgmental. But to the people of His day, who did not believe that Jesus was the Christ, His statement was tough, too tough in fact, for them to digest. Why was that so so?

As is true in our day–Have you read and heard the constant blurbs and kudos with which Christian leaders and authors praise and recommend the book of another, in some instances I am convinced, without even having read it?–the religion of Jesus’ day had morphed into a MAS, a “mutual admiration society.” Religious people valued the strokes of the folks more than the approval of God, and this bent of character–the disease to please–caused them neither to receive nor believe in Jesus. As one pastor counsels, It is not possible that you can believe, until you cease from your present earthly-mindedness, and honestly desire God’s praise more than man’s. [2] The point: Amidst congregational life, a craving after the flattering fictions of others can indicate a much deeper problem lurking in the human heart: that of unbelief.

As Jesus asked of the MAS of His day, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another, and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?” (John 5:43-44, NASB). Fixation upon peer approval incapacitates people’s ability to connect with Jesus. As one commented, Our Lord tells the Jews that they were not likely to believe, so long as they cared more for the praise of man than the praise of God. [3] So how are we doing in the ministry today? Evidencing a heart of unbelief, do we care more for the immediate applause of people than for the ultimate approval of God?

All of us suffer from a “disease to please,” and this sickness can produce┬áspiritual complications for us. Anglican Pastor J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) wrote that persons who privately care for anything more than God’s praise . . . will go on to the end of their days doubting, perplexed, dissatisfied, and restless, and will never find the way to peace. [4] We must remember: According to Jesus, ulterior motives for doing can become insurmountable barriers to believing.

Believers can only be immunized against “the disease to please” by cultivating a humble heart before God in which condition they covet God’s approval more than men’s applause. Let’s all remember that, “By humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, and honour, and life” (Proverbs 22:4, KJV).

In the meantime, we ought to strive to heed the apostle’s counsel, and “not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God” (1 Corinthians 4:5, NASB).

[1] Harriet B. Braiker, Ph.D., The Disease to Please (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2001).
[2] John Charles Ryle, “St. John. Vol. I,” Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (London: James Clarke & Co. Ltd., 1969): 322.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.

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