I am a pleaser. I never thought of Paul as being a pleaser.
Paul, in my mind, is a combative extrovert. I see him as one of the people who stands on the street corner with a megaphone, telling people to repent, having the gentleness of a sledgehammer.
Never mind that I know better.
When you read the beginning of Galatians, it’s easy to get that picture, with Paul saying “Damn anyone who preaches a different gospel than I preached.” Having staked out this ground, he says “Does that sound like someone trying to make you happy?”
But then he says, “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
I read that sentence several times the other day. The word “still” jumped out at me. Because I never thought of Paul as a pleaser, as a person doing things to win favor, to build reputation, to develop a resume. In fact, in one letter he outlines all the things that should give him great favor in God’s eyes and says that he writes them off as worthless.
And then I realized that only pleasers are able to generate lists of how we built our religious reputations in impressive ways. We carefully cultivate the right kind of serving, the right kind of humility, the right kind of indignation. We learn the rules carefully so we can keep them better than anyone else. We are really nice, in whatever way our group defines nice.
And Paul says, “I used to do that, all the time.”
In this letter, Paul is going to talk about freedom from the kind of religious rules we follow to please other people. He’s going to talk about freedom to follow Jesus. It helps me to know that he’s experienced both.