By Brooke Holt
“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” Matthew 11:18-19a
If one can define people-pleasing as a syndrome, then I have struggled with it and am hopefully on the road to recovery. Deep within me, I long to win the approval of people, especially the people dearest to me. Let’s face it; people can be hard to please. Jesus understood the challenge of people-pleasing, not only because he was God, but also because he experienced it himself. In this passage, Jesus taught his disciples about the absurdity of people-pleasing by comparing the religious leaders’ responses to the ministries of John the Baptist’s and his own.
Jesus wanted the disciples to understand that some people simply prove impossible to please. Quite often, these difficult people harbor a hypocritical spirit. They hold everyone to the highest of standards – everyone except themselves. John the Baptist proclaimed the Kingdom of Heaven and called people to a baptism of repentance. As a prophet, he lived in the wilderness and lived radically in all ways from his clothes to his diet. John lived an ascetic life – one the Jewish leaders did not understand, appreciate, or practice themselves.
Then we have Jesus, the very one to whom John’s whole ministry pointed. He not only proclaimed the kingdom of God, but also ushered in that kingdom. Unlike John, Jesus did not live in the wilderness but spent most of his time in Capernaum. There, Jesus frequently attended banquets and social gatherings in which he enjoyed food, wine, and good company. Jesus loved people as he found them while inviting them to embrace and live into the kingdom of Heaven.
The religious leaders condemned John for having a demon while simultaneously condemning Jesus for being a glutton, a drunkard, and a friend to sinners. Later in this chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus compared these leaders to children in the marketplace: “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn” (Matthew 11:17). They do not want a Messiah who celebrates, and they do not want a prophet who fasts.
As Jesus’ ministry continued, it became clear he had no desire to please people. Pleasing his Father in heaven drove his passion and commitment. Jesus spoke the harshest words not to the gluttons, drunkards, or sinners but to the hypocritical religious leaders. These men put on a great show with their outward appearance and their words, yet their hearts were far from God – so far that they did not see him standing in their midst.
Do you struggle with the desire to please people, or do you struggle with a hypocritical or hypercritical spirit? God would have you to rest assured that if you are in Christ, you are perfectly loved and secure. His heart’s desire is for you to live loved and thus free from the need to please anyone but him.
If you struggle with a hypocritical or hypercritical spirit, the Lord invites you to let go of your striving and of your expectations for others. God has done what you or nobody else could ever do. He fulfilled the Law so that you could be free and then allow others to live in freedom as well.
Come Lord and have your way in and with us. Forgive us for pride, for hard-heartedness, and for a hypocritical spirit. May your Spirit cleanse us, heal us, and sanctify us in your truth. We long to receive fully the gift of your Son and your kingdom. Amen
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Our honest prayer before God is evidence that we understand the ways He loves, cherishes, sees, and hears us. Through prayer, we can acknowledge with Hagar, “You are the living One who sees me” (Genesis 16:14). When we pray, we are affirming the same. Why do we often hide from this privilege? Why do we avoid God, the One who sees us as we are and stands ready to provide and answer us in his holy, timely way? In this 8-week study on the prayers of Job, Ruth, Hannah, and David, grow your prayer life by facing your honest need and bringing your whole self before God. Acknowledging God as the One who guides your path can change your heart. It can take you past fear and into faith, strength, and hope. Learn more about Honest Prayer.
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