Humanitarian activities, social services, and help organizations all operate under a charter of providing for the needs of others. When properly administered, these actions and entities serve a vital interest in helping to meet the temporal needs of people in dire emergencies or other overwhelming circumstances. But such is not the mandate for the church. Certainly, the church is composed of individual saints, and it is surely called to minister to the needs particularly of its members. But its allegiance is not to men nor to the meeting of human needs. It must be first and foremost a Godward entity. In writing to the church at Galatia, Paul disclaimed an approach dictated by man’s needs or desires. “If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10b). Paul is emphatic: the church must not seek to please men. He does not suggest that pleasing men is even a secondary goal. Rather, it is a competitor with the true goal of the church, which is the glorifying of God (I Cor. 10:31). The church has a legitimate function in helping others—that is a different objective from seeking to please them—but it must be subordinated to its purpose of giving the Lord preeminence in all things (see: Col. 1:18).
Pleasing men is the wrong motive for service in the church. Many churches today call themselves “seeker-friendly”; they canvas the perceived needs of those around them (in some cases of both the saved and the lost) and seek to meet those needs. And while it is certainly advisable to recognize particularly the spiritual needs of both the church and its community, Peter understood the motive of Christian service to be “that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (I Pet. 4:11b). The church is properly constituted to glorify God not to meet men’s needs. When the latter becomes its motivation, the church also has forsaken its mission. The church must preach Jesus Christ in order, first of all, that God might be glorified and, then, that men might be saved and edified.
Pleasing men leads to the wrong method in the church. You will search in vain for an example of God asking His people to give Him direction regarding how He is to behave toward them. Yes, believers are instructed to petition the Lord for their needs. But the consistent method of ministering is “Thus saith the Lord.” The method in the church always begins with God and travels downward to men. A ministerial methodology that begins with man’s needs and seeks for a solution will invariably miss the real need, manufacture the wrong solution, and, perhaps unwittingly, mock God in the process. Soon church soup kitchens and clothing drives, youth activities and audiovisual experiences cease to be a means to an end; they become the end. And what began as a method to reach others becomes the message.
Pleasing men leads to the wrong message in the church. The Word of God is the material of the church, setting forth the church’s proper doctrine, practice, ministerial functions and focus. When the question “What do the people need (or want)?” supplants the simple exposition of the Word, the emphasis shifts from the Word of God and its eternal, authoritative truth to the desires of men and their temporal, pervasive pressures. The Word of God must never become subservient to the whims of men. God’s exhortation to “Preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (II Tim. 4:2) did not come with an expiration date on it. God did not offer a disclaimer, “Oh, yes, somewhere around the 21st Century, meeting men’s needs will supersede these instructions. You can forego preaching (or at least downplay it) and start finding out what the people really want and give them that instead.” Rather, He warns: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine . . . And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (vv. 3a, 4). Since many will refuse to hear, is the church to change its message? No, it is to endure (v. 5), and, as Paul did, it is to keep the faith (v. 7). Where the message remains faithful to the Word of God, God is free to work in salvation as well as to meet temporal needs. May the church be faithful to its mandate.
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